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The Roots of Tarot

April 29, 2015, 4:05 AM

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By: J Nihteagle

 

 

 

DIVINATION:

 

As any Diviner worth his or her weight in salt can tell you, may be defined as an attempt to elicit information from some occult entity or some deeply hidden dimension of the mind, information often considered beyond the reach of our rationality. Such questions are usually about future events, inexplicable past disasters, things hidden from sight or distant in space, and so on. As a practice, divination has its roots in very ancient history, in Babylon and Egypt and China.

 

In the past almost anything could be, and was, used to divine by: the entrails of animals, the features of the human body, the stars, the weather, the elements, flights of birds. Sometimes the will or fate or the goddess Fortune, as the Romans named her, was discerned by casting or drawing lots, symbols or runes or alphabetical letters inscribed on bones, dice or slips of wood.

 

Each divination system worked differently, but basically each symbol was associated by tradition with a certain meaning when it showed up. This type of divination carried the Old French term sortilege, derived from the Latin sortilegium. In medieval Europe the type of sortilege available to the literate man or woman, became popular. You obtained guidance by randomly opening what you considered a book dealing with the activity of divine powers, a copy of the Bible, the Iliad or the Aeneid, perhaps with eyes closed, pricking a line of text with a needle and interpreting it as an oracle.

 

One of the Fathers of the Christian church, Saint Augustine himself, confessed to using this type of sortilege in times of crisis. Tarot cards and what we think of today as regular playing cards are not quite the same thing, although they are close cousins. The Tarot deck appeared out of the blue during the fifteenth century as a colorful variant of the standard northern- Italian playing card deck in either Milan, Ferrara, or Bologna – Tarot historians have not made up their minds as of yet.

 

One of the earliest Tarot decks, the Milanese cards, was probably introduced to France by Soldiers returning from their occupation of Milan between 1495 and 1525. The French so-called Marseilles pattern appears to have been copied from these Milanese cards, and represents what most people today regard as the conventional Tarot deck.

 

 

 

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