Did tarot start with the Gypsies? And what About Fortune Telling?
Let's begin with these questions by taking a closer look.
What is Tarot?
Tarot is a deck of 78 cards that came into existence in Italy in the mid 1400's. At that time, the cards where used for the card game called Tarocchi which is played by rules much like Bridge.These original decks were hand painted commissioned works, made at the request of wealthy merchants. The earliest known deck dates to about 1441. It would not be until after the invention of the printing press that tarot cards would be mass produced. It was not until the 1909 that a deck with esoteric meanings and images was published. This deck is known as the Rider Waite Smith deck. The second deck to be published was the Thoth deck created by the controversial occultist, Aleister Crowley.
But before all this...A French occultist, Eliphas Levi, found that the 22 Trump cards of the Tarrocchi deck neatly correlated with the Tree of Life, the foundation of Kabbalah. It was this connection that he utilized tarot playing cards with mysticism and magic.
• Some added interesting info and dates...
Eliphas Levi was born in 1810, Arthur Edward Waite was born in 1857, Edward Alexander Crowley (Aleister Crowley) was born in 1875. And what is the link with these three besides tarot? Both Waite and Crowley translated and published some of Eliphas Levi's written works. Levi's works became a major part of the foundation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a magical paternity started in 1888 by William Westcott and Samuel Mathers; the order 'died' in 1903. However, both Waite (joined in 1891) and Crowley (initiated in 1898) had been members and when the HOGD was no more, both men created a spin-off order of their own.
Art by Morgaine du Mer
Prints available at MagickMermaid
Gypsies, or more properly, the Romani people, are traditionally and historically a nomadic people.
They are found all over the world today, but where do they come from originally?
With advances in genetics and DNA testing, it has been found that their origins are from Northern India and Pakistan. Exactly why they migrated as they did is still in question for the Romani people have no written history.
When the word 'gypsy' is mentioned it often brings to mind the idea of a psychic fortune-teller. Where the idea of gypsies being fortune-tellers comes from cannot be totally nailed down, it is a bit like the 'which came first, chicken or the egg?' question.
Palmistry and Vedic Astrology has a very long history in India and the Far East, so it would stand to reason that a people who originally came from India and the Far East would likely be skilled in these practices. Even today, the cultural structure of the Romani has its foundation in Caste system found in Hinduism.
In the early 1300's there was a linguistic association made. The language of the Romani contain many dialects that originate from Sanskrit. A group of Romani was compared to another group called Mandapolos due to the language spoken. Mandapolos is thought to be derived from the Greek word that means 'fortune-teller'.
With a nomadic lifestyle one must be quite creative and adaptive in making a living. With the Indian and Hindu origin of the people, they likely already had the know-how for reading palms.
So did the early Romani utilize this 'fortune-teller' image and give the people what they were looking for? Or did the 'label' fit from the start and just grow from there?
As for the cards, given that Tarot is known today as a form of divination, it is easy to see that the people and the cards would go hand in hand. The Romani did arrive in Italy roughly the same time that the first tarot (game) cards are known to have appeared.
Is there such a thing as Fortune Telling?
Fortune telling is a term used for the practice of divination. There is a distinction between the two terms; divination was conducted during a religious ritual, where as fortune-telling is less formal and more personal. Divination can be done with many different tools or none at all. Cards of any kind, not just tarot cards, can be used as well as tea leaves, the lumps and wrinkles on one's head, a persons palm and the classic crystal ball.
"You will meet a tall, dark and handsome man."... this idea comes from the early days of cartomancy (using playing cards for divination) in the 18th century. Each court card in a standard deck of playing cards had been given specific meaning in the form of 'who' as in what they looked like and their age. Readings done during this time was more of a form of parlor entertainment than it was actual divination. These types of meanings given to the cards have come a long way since then, as has the art of cartomancy.
Today, tarot is more of a guidance tool. The cards reflect a different perspective than what a person may be clinging to. It introduces to the mind other possibilities and situations that had not been previously considered. However, there is still a bit of mysticism to the cards depending upon who is doing the reading. This is where intuition and psychic impressions come into the picture. It is not the cards that can predict the future, it is the reader who taps into the interconnectedness of the collective consciousness. And then there is the person who is astute in logic progression; 'If you do 'A', then 'B' will happen'.
All good tarot readers as well as psychics will say that no future is set in stone. That there is the current path that one is on and that path can be changed. If a reader tells a client that their relationship is headed towards a nasty ending, then there is already trouble in the relationship. In order for that to change, the person must take steps to change it. The relationship could be healed, or could end on a softer note. Either way, the person receiving the reading has been given a seed of thought to contemplate and prepare for, or take necessary measures to avoid.
What about things like pregnancies and accidents? There are specific cards that are indicators of these things, but they each have other meanings as well. It is all in the intuition of the reader that deciphers what the specifics in the card are relevant and important in the reading.
So what can we formulate from all this information?• Did the Gypsies really bring tarot cards to the world?
I feel pretty safe in even saying 'absolutely not!'
Coincidentally, they were in the same place at the same time, however, evidence and logic would have it that the two never had any connection.
• How so?
Though they where both in Italy at the same time, Tarot cards where only for the elite. They where the only ones who could afford them. The Romani people had a hard enough time making a living and were always on the move; there would be no way they could possibly afford to commission a deck to made for them, let alone stick around long enough for its completion.
• How about fortune telling?
Is it just coincidence through a logical view of events and how these typically progress? Or is there really some magic to it all?
Predicting the future can be done, but is quite rare. I believe that it is a bit of both a lucky and, or, logical guesswork, but at times, can be truly intuitive.
I am reminded of an account told to me by someone who was at the World Trade Center on that fateful day. He was to attend a meeting and minutes before the meeting he had the strong urge to leave the building. He did not know the 'why' for the impression he had, but heeded the feeling. He did not predict the attack specifically, but something deep within told him that he should not be in the building. He is alive today because of it.