However, Tarot cards were not always used for divination. When they first appeared in Europe in the 15th century, they were used purely as playing cards, with apparently no mystical connections. It wasn’t until the 18th century that occultists started widely using them and the divination systems began to develop.
The first proper Tarot cards were apparently created between 1430 and 1450 in northern Italy, although similar cards were used centuries earlier. They quickly spread throughout northern Italy and became a popular game for nobles.
Although widespread occult use of the Tarot didn’t begin until the 18th century, it was connected to divination as early as the 16th century. A book written in 1540 outlined a simple method of divination, in which Tarot cards were used to select an oracle, though they didn’t have any meaning in themselves.
Certain manuscripts in 1735 and 1750 described a simple divinatory system for Tarot cards, but their real initiation into the occult can be traced back to Antoine Court de Gébelin in 1781. He believed that their origin was in ancient Egypt, and that their symbolism contained within them the lost knowledge of Egyptian mysticism and magic, hidden in a simple game by Egyptian priests. De Gébelin also claimed that the Tarot was brought to Europe by the Romani people (Gypsies), who he believed to have been descendants of the ancient Egyptians.
When Egyptian hieroglyphs were deciphered, nothing in them supported de Gébelin’s theories. However, by then the belief in Tarot cards originating from ancient Egypt had become firmly entrenched in occult practices and endured to this day.
In the 19th century, the famous occultist Eliphas Lévi connected the Tarot to the Kabbalah, the Jewish system of mysticism. This fueled a new belief that the cards were keys to the ancient mysteries of the Tree of Life – a belief preserved to this day in Hermetic Qabalah, a Western mystical tradition that includes elements from Jewish Kabbalah, astrology, alchemy, pagan religions and Enochian angelic magic, to name a few.
The Tarot is comprised of archetypical symbolism that crosses the boundaries of culture and time. This is why it has been linked to almost every mystical system and religion known to man, and many groups have recognized it as universal body of knowledge, relevant to any path and belief.