History of the Tarot of Marseille
Legend has it that the origin of the Tarot goes all the way back to an Egyptian occult tradition. Egyptian priests were the only ones to possess occult understanding of the cards, a privilege they used to predict important events in the lives of the kings. The term Tarot is derived from the Egyptian words "Tar" which means "path" or "road" and "Ro" which means "king" or "royal." Thus, the word Tarot could be translated as "the royal path of life."
Other theories claim the Tarot is of Gypsy or Bohemian origin. There is also mention of the legend of the Templers, who were the first to use the Tarot around 400 A.D. Many people tend to believe the Tarot is of Hindu origin, its name being derived from the word "Taru" meaning "collected wisdom." There’s also talk of the similarity between the term Tarot and the name of the sacred texts in the Jewish tradition, the Torah.
In the second half of the 18th Century, Marseille became one of the most important production centers of Tarot cards. But the Tarot-of-Marseille appeared long before that, the first proof of its existence dating back to the year 1400 A.D. in Italy.
It was the Italians who introduced the personages and scenesthatappearin the 78 cards or `blades’ we know today. At the time they were given the name "Tarocchi."The cards were painted by hand and were real works-of-art, reserved for the most fortunate.
In the era of industrial printing, a number of workshops engaged in ferocious competition to corner the market on sets of Tarot Cards. It was Grimaud who emerged as the victor, publishing the famous deck called the "Ancient Tarot-of-Marseille," which was later adopted and popularized by Paul Marteau in 1930.
Structure of the Tarot of Marseille
Even if there are many divinatory tarot decks, the most widespread one is the Tarot of Marseille. It contains 78 cards, also called Arcana, divided into 56 minor Arcana and 22 major Arcana. Only the latter ones are used to read the future.
The Tarot of Marseille has several distinct characteristics, like the order of the 22 major Arcana, also called trumps or even major figure cards, which bear their appropriate card number (using roman numerals) at the top of the card and their name at the bottom. The Arcanum of the Fool is the only unnumbered one.
Designed using symbols, illustrations of characters, and colors, each trump has a very specific meaning. Some people claim that the 22 Arcana represent the path trod by the soul from birth to enlightenment.
The 56 minor Arcana are divided into four Suits: Cups, Swords, Rods and Coins.
Several different spreads can be used in a Tarot Reading. The most commonly used with the Tarot of Marseille is the Greek cross spread.