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13 Myths and Facts About Tarot You May Not Know

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I'm a professional tarot reader with 23 years of experience. For me, tarot is a fascinating system that reflects all human life.

Myths and Facts About Tarot Decks and Readings

Myths and Facts About Tarot Decks and Readings

Tarot Reveals Hidden Secrets

Whether it's revealing your future, explaining your feelings, relating to Archangels, or involved in spell-casting, a deck of tarot cards holds infinite possibilities. I’ve been using tarot for decades, yet I still have so much to learn and understand. I love learning new tarot insights and learn new things every day.

13 Myths and Misconceptions About Tarot

  1. Tarot was the first deck of cards ever invented, and playing cards were inspired by tarot.
  2. Tarot cards were invented by the Romani people as a fortune-telling tool.
  3. Tarot is not a game. . . it's a serious, mystical spiritual practice.
  4. Tarot decks were designed for telling fortunes.
  5. Tarot is occult, pagan, satanic, anti-Christian.
  6. To read tarot, you need to have certain special powers or knowledge.
  7. Your first tarot deck must be given to you.
  8. You can't do your own tarot reading.
  9. You mustn't use tarot cards for anything but telling the future.
  10. There is only one right way to read a tarot card.
  11. Reversed cards mean reversed fortunes.
  12. Tarot cards are magic.
  13. Tarot is dangerous.

Each of these myths is debunked below.

13 Facts About Tarot

Here are 13 things you may not know about our favorite divination method. Bear in mind, kiddos, history is not a cemented, factual thing like those things we were taught in school. Like science, our perceptions change and are challenged constantly as more information comes to light. The developments in tarot I cover here could very well be modified as time passes.

1. Tarot Did Not Inspire Playing Cards

Playing cards were first developed in China in the 9th century, donkey’s years before tarot came on the scene in the 1430s. Playing cards were so adaptable that they were culturally appropriated throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Playing cards formed the basis for other decks and games, like tarot.

2. The Romani Didn’t Invent Tarot

Neither did the ancient Egyptians, Celts, pagans, or ancient society. The idea that the Romani brought tarot cards to the world is simply a romantic myth.

Earliest evidence of tarot cards appears in Italy and France during the the 15th century. Playing cards had arrived in Italy approximately 100 years earlier.

There is speculation that the French/Italian tarot was a development of Mamluk cards from Persia, which were a kind of playing card deck that were heavily decorated and used the suits coins, clubs, jugs, and swords.

Mamluk Kanjifah cards (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Mamluk Kanjifah cards (CC BY-SA 4.0)

3. Tarot Originated as a Game

Fortune telling with tarot didn’t become popular for another couple of centuries after the deck was first invented. Meanwhile, the Italians were having a raucous time playing games of triumphi or triumphs with the 5th suit, the Major Arcana or trump cards. The Majors depict all kinds of mystical, spiritual, and Christian allusions because the players understood the power of these allegories. Card games were perceived as ideal opportunities for moral and mystical education, and rightly so. Later, when the Italians got bored with Triumphs, someone came up with a new variation called tarocchi, and in other countries, the game morphed into the modern version of bridge.

The term ‘tarot’ likely came from the Italians and tarocchi. The river Taro was a center of industry and paper production, so the deck might well have been named for the place where the cards were printed. But the term didn’t come from Egypt, neither is it an inaccurate anagram of ‘rota’ (wheel), as some teachers will try to tell you.

All this is explored in the excellent book, The Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination by Robert. M. Place. Before launching into the book’s main discourse of symbolism in the cards, the author gives a very useful potted history of the origin of the cards. It should be on every tarot reader’s bookshelf (or, as in my case, on a Kindle app).

4. Fortune Telling With Tarot Is a (Sort of) Modern Development

Fortune telling, or cartomancy (to give it the correct name, i.e. reading with cards), didn’t become popular until the 18th century, though it’s perfectly possible that divination with tarot occurred a lot earlier because playing cards were often used for fortune-telling in the Renaissance. Robert M. Place is pretty sure that some form of cartomancy was happening in the Middle Ages, and possibly earlier, because of a link with throwing die (dice).

Nevertheless, formalized tarot divination wasn’t documented until much later. The year 1781 was the turning point, the year when Court de Gébelin published the first occult interpretation of the tarot. So this is when tarot officially became a tool of divination. Yay.

But after it became a tool for divination, it also became fashionable to attribute all kinds of nonsense theories to the tarot, like Egyptian or Romani roots. Several other occult systems were conflated and shoehorned into tarot, such as astrology, Hermeticism, and the Kabbalah. The mash-up of meanings works for some, but you have to remember that those things were never built into tarot and the iconography of the cards is mainly Christian.

Many of the occult theories are historically unfounded and at times the occult interpretations of the Tarot actually contradict the iconography present in the illustrations on the cards.

— Robert Michael Place, The Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination, Penguin Publishing Group.

5. There Are Four Archangels in the Major Arcana

  1. The first angel appears in the Lovers card: There is some disagreement whether this is Raphael or Michael. In the first Italian decks, there was no angel and the card was simply named ‘Love.’ The angel’s place was occupied by Cupid. Later, as more decks were published, the card was renamed and sexy Cupid was ousted by the more acceptable image of a mighty angel bestowing his approval on the Lovers' union taking place below. I’m going with Raphael, as he is the angel of healing and lovers.
  2. Temperance is often represented by an unnamed angel, indicating we should be listening to our higher, spiritual nature. In the Bible, Revelation 10:1-2, there is a description of a ‘great angel,’ usually thought to be Michael, standing with one foot on land and the other in the ocean. Some tarotists are convinced Temperance is Gabriel.
  3. The Devil is also an angel. I always thought it was Lucifer, but apparently not. It is Uriel, who appears to teach humans that we create our own bondage by our habit of chaining ourselves to earthly possessions and attachments. He looks terrifying but is, in fact, trying to point out that he knows what’s best and to release us from our addictions and attachments. But that would mean I would have to let go of my tarot deck habit, wouldn’t it?
  4. In Judgement, Gabriel is seen blowing his trumpet, calling forth spirits from their graves, symbolizing immortality and showing that death is not the end of existence. Gabriel is the angel of resurrection and revelation, so it makes sense that he is on this card and not on Temperance.
Archangel Uriel as the tarot Devil

Archangel Uriel as the tarot Devil

6. You Don’t Have to Be a Witch, a Pagan, or a Psychic to Read Tarot

It’s true. Anyone can learn to read tarot. It’s a skill and an art; it takes loads of practice, but it can be learned. There are psychic readers who use tarot as a kind of jumping-off point. They tend to be less interested in the traditional interpretations and are able to 'clairvoyantly see’ what the rest of us cannot. I am very jealous of their skills.

7. The Rule That Someone Should Buy Your First Deck for You Is a Myth

I have no idea where this ridiculous old wives’ tale came from, but you won’t be any less of a tarotist if you purchase your own deck. Take no notice of superstitious nonsense.

9. Yes, You Can Do Your Own Readings

And while we are on silly stuff, the idea that you shouldn’t read tarot for yourself is also false.

8. Tarot Cards Are Not Magic; They're Just Cards

It’s true. Tarot cards themselves are not precious, mystical things. They consist of images printed on paper, usually made in China. They don’t have spirits living inside them.

However, it is possible that they are imbued with their owner’s energy and so, if using a second-hand deck, it might be wise to give them a bit of a shake-out to remove those unwanted vibrations. Having said that, there’s no need to take care of them like your newborn baby. You don’t have to sleep with them. They don’t need padded boxes or silk wrappings. They will be perfectly happy stored in their original box. Several of my boxes are even repaired with tape.

The magic of tarot happens when those images and symbols connect with something in your own imagination, memory, and emotions.

9. Tarot Cards Can Be Used for Other Things Besides Readings

There are lots of other things to do with a tarot deck. Here are four:

  • To Write Fiction. A deck of tarot cards and an explanatory reference book are brilliant tools for a fiction writer. Use tarot cards to plan out your novel. Use them to develop characters. Use them when you get to a ‘what’s next’ moment.
  • To Meditate. Tarot is perfect as a focus for meditation. Sit with your chosen card and visualize yourself entering the card and conversing with any figures you meet or meditate on the properties of a particular Major Arcana card.
  • To Journal. Journaling is easy with tarot. Draw a card in the morning and, in the evening, journal about how its energy manifested in your life throughout the day.
  • To Cast Spells. Tarot is great for adding a bit of extra power to spellcasting. Simply choose the card or cards that reflect what you are trying to achieve with your spell and lay them in sight while you perform the ritual. Discover how to do it here: How to Use Tarot Cards for Spells and Rituals.
Other things you can do with tarot cards: Tarot journaling is both cathartic and educational.

Other things you can do with tarot cards: Tarot journaling is both cathartic and educational.

10. If You Keep Using Tarot, You Will Never Stop Learning About It

Tarot is an elegant system which reflects the whole of the human experience. You can never learn all there is to know about it. It constantly throws up new insights.

11. You Don’t Need to Use Reversals When Reading Tarot

What? Gasp! No reversals? What are you talking about? But it’s true. All the meanings and possible interpretations are contained in the upright image.

Think of each card as a container holding all its particular wisdom, from negative to positive. Or perhaps it is easier to think of it as a sliding scale from the worst event, energy, or outcome to the most positive.

The skill of a good reader is understanding how to pluck the accurate interpretation. And to do that, you will use context, the situation, the question, any information the client shares, the surrounding cards, and your intuition. You see? No reversals necessary. You’ll find that by using all your cards upright, but taking into consideration the sliding scale, your readings will become much more nuanced and accurate.

12. You Can Use Playing Cards to Read Tarot

You can read tarot sans images and sans Major Arcana. All you do is transfer your knowledge of the minor cards to the 52 cards in a regular playing card deck. You’ll have to merge the Pages and the Knights into the Jacks, but it's pretty easy. More information here: How to Read Tarot With Playing Cards.

13. Tarot Is Not Dangerous

I’ve had numerous questions and comments about how the cards might be a tool of the Devil. It's odd, really, when you consider the origins of the tarot in Roman Catholic Italy and when you look at the iconography, which is overwhelmingly Christian. So, no, tarot is not devilish or dangerous.

Having said that, harm can happen when an inexperienced or malicious reader tells a client or friend that they, or someone close to them, is going to die or suffer some other horrible event. It’s really important to cultivate a gentle way of reading and to take into consideration how a person might feel. Don’t go blurting out some message that will cause sleepless nights or mental distress. Make sure your client leaves feeling upbeat.

Tarot Myths Debunked

If you have questions on any aspect of tarot, then ask below. I’ll be happy to answer as soon as I am able. However, please don’t request a free reading or for me to interpret your cards.

Maybe you have a tarot fact you would like to share? Don’t keep it to yourself—let’s hear it.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Bev G


Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 10, 2020:

Thank you, Kalpana. Good to meet another tarot enthusiast.

Good luck on HubPages!

Kalpana Iyer from India on October 09, 2020:

I love checking tarot card readings on YouTube. I follow someone called The Tarot Priest and Tarot by Anisha and their readings have always been so accurate. It is a practice that I am very intrigued by.

I have always seen your comments on the forum and I am glad I checked your profile today, Bev. The feeling is similar to that of a kid in a candy store. So many interesting tarot-related topics to choose from :)

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 19, 2020:

Hi Madison, yes, we have to acknowledge that good old Uriel is trying to help us. Of course, it's up to us whether we take notice or not :)

Madison Pascual Munar from Philippines on August 19, 2020:

ohhh great article! I never knew and would have not known that the Devil is an angel... I want to agree that there is an angel that would guide us by not only showing the good and the beautiful things, but also the other side... which is what makes us humans...

kinda afraid of the devil before... now I'm more afraid of my selfish goals and worldly desires...

thanks for sharing

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 19, 2020:

Wow, St Nine, a comment almost as long as the article :D

Thank you so much for sharing your stories and I am horrified that your cousin-in-law died in the Marchioness tragedy. I'm not surprised that you were so affected. It must have been awful.

Yes, indeed, open minds all the way.

Thank you again.

Saint Nine on August 19, 2020:

Interesting, thank you. I must admit that I was a bit sceptical when I was notified of an article entitled “13 Facts about Tarot...”. I can't say that I believe in divination, but I'm not so arrogant as to dismiss it as superstitious nonsense. Even if they don't have any supernatural qualities, I believe they can still be a useful tool and give insights in a manner similar to ‘Oblique Strategies’. I don't know if you're familiar with these cards? They were developed by Brian Eno and my uncle, Peter Schmidt (he was my father's half-brother, hence the different surname – mine is Pretzel). My uncle was Eno's teacher at art college and they developed a strong friendship and collaboration. The cards are intended as a tool for artists (mostly painters, musicians and writers – my uncle was a painter and Eno is best known for his music) when they find themselves stuck (eg writers' block) but can be applied to any situation (for example, I once used them to ask what to do about an unrequited love and drew a card that said “Listen to the music from the other side of the door”. They can be quite cryptic, but the whole idea is to make you think differently about whatever you've consulted them for). My uncle died tragically young, aged 49, and even though I only saw him once or twice a year, he had a profound influence on me and was one of the most serene and beautiful people I've ever had the privilege of meeting. If you'll indulge me while I give a little personal background: my parents and teachers thought I had talent as an artist and during one visit they asked Peter to look at my paintings. He said “They're very nice, but they don't say anything to me. Your poetry and music say a lot more.” My parents were a little upset with him for saying that, but I thought he'd hit the nail on the head. I may have had a facility for drawing, but I never felt inspired, was always at a loss for what to paint. The poetry I used to write was a lot more heartfelt. I was about 15 at the time and had started playing the drums about two years before then. I'd met a guitarist in the year below mine, through my brother, and we were quite serious about our music. I'd started playing a year before I met him when a bunch of friends, including a few that later became Bad Manners, had decided that we wanted to form a band. Of those, the bassist and I were the serious ones. The others were in it mostly for a laugh and it never got very far. My parents wouldn't let me play at home. In fact, I bought my first kit in secret, telling them I was just going to look at it. I'd borrowed money from two dozen friends, in amounts ranging from 50p to £2, with the bassist lending me £20, to raise the £40. About ten of my creditors came with me to Battersea and helped me carry it back on the bus! I was a big Roxy Music fan back then and my uncle noticed the stickers and posters on my door and walls and said, “Oh, you like them? I know him,” pointing at Eno, “would you like to meet him?” Of course I said yes. Sorry, that may not be relevant, except to say that my uncle was interested in Tarot.

There was one story I wanted to share with you that is a bit more relevant. In 1989 my wife and I decided to separate. She moved in with her cousin who had just moved down from Manchester. Our breakup was amicable and we were still good friends and I visited them in their flat. Kate, my wife's cousin, had just started reading Tarot cards and she offered to do a reading for Jo (my wife) and me. I don't remember the details too clearly, but I do remember that something bothered her. She asked us to shuffle again and then a third time, but she didn't say anything, apart from “I must be getting it wrong.” She'd only been doing it for a few months. I do remember that death came up on all the occasions, but I also knew that death wasn't necessarily to be taken literally. It could, for instance, have signified the death of our marriage. However, in hindsight I think she was a bit shaken, although she shrugged it off and we thought no more about it. A couple of weeks later, at a mutual friend's house, my wife told me about an odd dream she had had in which she had woken up (in the dream) and was pressed up against the ceiling. She was finding it hard to breathe and a black cat wandered in. She tried to get the cat's attention, to get it to help her, but the cat couldn't hear her. Four weeks after that Kate and Jo were on the Marchioness. If you don't remember, the Marchioness was a pleasure cruiser that was hit by a dredger in August 1989 with the loss of 54 lives. Kate has been invited to the party and had invited Jo. Jo survived, despite being in the bottom deck of the boat – she'd been a regional champion swimmer in her early teens – but Kate drowned. She was only 24, Jo and I were both 30. I'm fairly convinced that Kate saw something in the cards that was some kind of premonition. Jo told me that she was certain that her dream was also about The Marchioness. She said that when the dredger hit the room she was in it filled with water almost instantly and she found herself pressed against the ceiling unable to breathe before she was sucked out. She surfaced two bridges downriver! She's also convinced that the black cat in her dream was me, although I don't know why she thought that.

It was definitely a strange and weird experience. To be honest, I found it very difficult to come to terms with. Jo had suffered a major trauma and Kate had died so tragically young. Jo and I were no longer together, so I felt I had no right to let it affect me as much as it did. In hindsight I probably had a minor breakdown. People thought I was being a little odd, but they put it down to shock and grief. I only remember feeling incredibly raw and exposed, but I also felt painfully alive and connected. I remember telling my brother, sometime around the end of September/beginning of October, that something was happening, something big, something really big. I could feel it. Whether I really did sense the fall of the Berlin wall, I can't honestly say. I only know that the sense of some big change stopped when the wall did come down. The feeling went away. Incidentally, I was born in Berlin and I was two years old when the wall was built. I have no real memory of that, more just vague recollections. They may well be imagined as I was so young, but the wall was a constant presence in those early years (after spending a year here in London and another in the USA, we finally moved here when I was eight and a half). Perhaps those facts gave me a spiritual connection or a sensitivity that was amplified by those events? There was one other thing that happened around that time that was both joyous and very painful which added to the turmoil, but I won't go into that, I've taken enough of your time.

Anyway, thank you again for your interesting article. I hope that I've at least made the case for keeping an open mind, however sceptical you may be. Oh, one last thing, my online name of Saint Nine isn't any claim to anything, it's a rather bad pun on the fact that I'm a drummer: Saint = St and nine in Roman numerals = ix, ie Stix. Sorry about that