Foundation of Tarot: History & Variation

My intention, in joining up with Magickal Mavens, is not to share a bunch of information or even to help you get started on your tarot journey. While I truly do hope that anyone reading this feels empowered to pick up their first deck and get started, there are so many other people who do it better. My goal here is to share my opinions about tarot, I have lots of them! However, in order to make sure everyone feels welcome, I feel like I should introduce you to tarot itself and how I got started with it.

Tarot is a system of Cartomancy. Basically, people have been using cards to tell the future since playing cards were invented. Honestly, I have never seen any evidence that playing cards have always been used to tell the future, so I am taking this with a grain of salt. Humans would use just about anything to try and tell the future with, from bones to runes to tea leaves, so maybe it’s perfectly true.

One of the first tarot decks was the Visconti-Sforza tarot deck. In this case tarot referred to the name of a game. It had (probably) about 78 cards following a similar structure to the modern tarot, with 22 Triumphi or Trump cards (the major arcana) and 54 suit cards (minor arcana). Major Arcana cards represent different archetypes and occult concepts, such as the High Priestess and the Hermit. Minor Arcana cards represent, in my opinion, the journey you go on through different aspects of your life, until you reach a point of fulfillment and accomplishment.

There are other forms of Cartomancy as well, such as the oracle form and the Lenormand. Oracle is fairly free, with no strict numbers of cards, and no particular cards have to be represented in an oracle deck. Most oracle decks are affirmation decks. The cards go over positive themes and are intended to be used for self-love and positivity. My favorite oracle decks are decks with both positive and negative cards. Balance in my tarot practice is very important to me. Lenormand is completely new to me, and I do not own any Lenormand decks. From what I understand, it is a 54 card system based on modern playing cards, and each card is associated with a symbol and a meaning. It seems like the least flexible form of Cartomancy. I look forward to exploring it in the future!


Modern tarot is based mostly on the Rider-Waite deck. The Rider-Waite deck (later called the Waite-Smith or simply the Smith deck in honor of the actual artist) was created by several people from an occultist group in 1910, and it was based on western symbolism and occult practices. So while playing cards may have been used for divination since around the 1400’s, the system that we use today has only been around for about 100 years.

My first deck was the Golden Tarot by Liz Dean. I would not recommend this deck for beginning readers. It is a pip deck, which means the suit cards look like playing cards with just 5 swords on the 5 of Swords card. This made it incredibly difficult to connect to and memorize as a beginner. I struggled with it for over a year before I purchased my next deck, the Idiosyncradeck. This deck had scenic suit cards, which allowed me to make a guess as to the meaning without looking it up, and also gave me an image to connect the meaning and the name of the card.

When recommending tarot decks for new readers, a lot of people offer up the Smith deck. Unfortunately, I have never felt connected to that deck at all. The characters are all dressed in medieval outfits, in what to me feels like an attempt to legitimize the practice by adding a sense of age to it. While I am so grateful for the Smith deck and the impact it has made on the tarot world, I just don’t want to buy it. Instead, I would recommend the Linestrider tarot. The images are more modern, easier to connect to, and the book that it comes with is fantastic.

I started reading the cards about three years ago. This hardly makes me an expert on tarot, so why take my advice? Well, I am obsessed. After I graduated college, I found that I had a hole in my life. While I attempted to fill it with youtube videos, I missed studying. Note taking, buying school supplies, learning new things, challenging myself on a regular basis. Tarot filled that hole for me. There are countless books to read, infinite interpretations of the cards, and 78 cards with about 5 keywords each to study regularly. I own as many decks as I can afford, and with each deck there is more to study. Every reading is an opportunity to challenge myself. Trust me, because I love this, and spend all of my free time learning more about it.

With that said, always do your own research. There is always more to learn, and if you are interested in something I have mentioned, look it up!

Hopefully this gives you something to think about, and a good base to help you understand any of my future articles if you are unfamiliar with tarot.

See you soon, Mavens!

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