The tarot (first known as trionfi and later as tarocchi, tarock, and others) is a pack of playing cards (most commonly numbering 78), used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play a group of card games such as Italian tarocchini and French tarot. From the late 18th century until the present time the tarot has also found use by mystics and occultists for divination. Tarot cards are used throughout much of Europe to play card games.
In English-speaking countries, where these games are largely unplayed, tarot cards are now used primarily for divinatory purposes. Occultists call the trump cards and the Fool “the major arcana” while the ten pip and four court cards in each suit are called minor arcana. (Pips are small but easily countable items. The term is used to describe the dots on dominoes and dice, the symbols that denote suits and value of playing cards). The cards are traced by some occult writers to ancient Egypt or the Kabbalah but there is no documented evidence of such origins or of the usage of tarot for divination before the 18th century.
The Major Arcana (greater secrets), or trump cards, consists of 22 cards without suits: The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgement, The World and The Fool. Cards from The Magician to The World are numbered in Roman numerals from I to XXI, while The Fool is the only unnumbered card, sometimes placed at the beginning of the deck as 0, or at the end as XXII.
The Minor Arcana (lesser secrets) consists of 56 cards, divided into four suits of 14 cards each; ten numbered cards and four court cards. The court cards are the King, Queen, Knight and Page/Jack, in each of the four tarot suits. The traditional Italian tarot suits are swords, batons/wands, coins and cups; in modern tarot decks, however, the batons suit is often called wands, rods or staves, while the coins suit is often called pentacles or disks.
The Rider-Waite tarot deck (originally published 1910) is one of the most popular tarot decks in use today in the English-speaking world. Other suggested names for this deck include the Rider-Waite-Smith, Waite-Smith, Waite-Colman Smith or simply the Rider deck. The cards were drawn byillustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of academic and mystic A. E. Waite, and published by the Rider Company.
The variety of decks in use is almost endless, and grows yearly. For instance, cat-lovers may have the Tarot of the Cat People, a deck replete with cats in every picture. The Tarot of the Witches and the Aquarian Tarot retain the conventional cards with varying designs. The Tree of Life Tarot’s cards are stark symbolic catalogs; and The Alchemical Tarot, created by Robert M. Place, combines traditional alchemical symbols with tarot images.
These contemporary divination decks change the cards to varying degrees. For example, the Motherpeace Tarot is notable for its circular cards and feminist angle where the male characters have been replaced by females. The Tarot of Baseball has suits of bats, mitts, balls, and bases; “coaches” and “MVPs” instead of Queens and Kings; and major arcana cards such as “The Catcher”, “The Rule Book”, and “Batting a Thousand”. In the Silicon Valley Tarot, major arcana cards include The Hacker, Flame War, The Layoff and The Garage; the suits are Networks, Cubicles, Disks and Hosts; the court cards CEO, Salesman, Marketeer and New Hire.
The Eclectic Tarot, which you see here, is a 78-card Austrian deck, published in 1986.
Josef Machynka used an eclectic mix of tarot traditions for inspiration, and his major arcana have detailed and vivid scenes, while the minors have suit elements arranged in geometric patterns .