The History of Things


History of Tarot cards and the History of their Use is really not so far apart.
Here is a compiled list 'Fortune telling devices' - alphabetical of course :}
Alectromancy: by observation of a rooster pecking at grain
Astrology: by the movements of celestial bodies.
Astromancy: by the stars.
Augury: by the flight of birds.
Bazi or four pillars: by hour, day, month, and year of birth.
Bibliomancy: by books; frequently, but not always, religious texts.
Cartomancy: by playing cards, tarot cards, or oracle cards.
Ceromancy: by patterns in melting or dripping wax.
Cheiromancy: by the shape of the hands and lines in the palms.
Chronomancy: by determination of lucky and unlucky days.
Clairvoyance: by spiritual vision or inner sight.
Cleromancy: by casting of lots, or casting bones or stones.
Cold reading: by using visual and aural clues.
Crystallomancy: by crystal ball also called scrying.
Extispicy: by the entrails of animals.
Face Reading: by means of variations in face and head shape.
Feng shui: by earthen harmony.
Gastromancy: by stomach-based ventriloquism (historically).
Geomancy: by markings in the ground, sand, earth, or soil.
Haruspicy: by the livers of sacrificed animals.
Horary astrology: the astrology of the time the question was asked.
Hydromancy: by water.
I Ching divination: by yarrow stalks or coins and the I Ching.
Kau cim by means of numbered bamboo sticks shaken from a tube.
Lithomancy: by stones or gems.
Necromancy: by the dead, or by spirits or souls of the dead.
Numerology: by numbers.
Oneiromancy: by dreams.
Onomancy: by names.
Palmistry: by lines and mounds on the hand.
Parrot astrology: by parakeets picking up fortune cards
Paper fortune teller: origami used in fortune-telling games
Pendulum reading: by the movements of a suspended object.
Pyromancy: by gazing into fire.
Rhabdomancy: divination by rods.
Runecasting or Runic divination: by runes.
Scrying: by looking at or into reflective objects.
Spirit board: by planchette or talking board.
Taromancy: by a form of cartomancy using tarot cards.
Tasseography or tasseomancy: by tea leaves or coffee grounds.

Lets take one, that is not Tarot and see if we can find when it started with PROOF.

First of all you need wax made into candles.......... maybe the History of Bees.... Lets go to Egypt! Maybe Mesopotamia!


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Now some facts.
The word ceromancy is based on the greek word for wax -Keros
This type of divination is very popular in Spain and Mexico.
This form of divination is considered old. (How Old?)

Now animal fat on plants for light did not solidify into shapes when cold
so one can throw out Eygptian sources.
Candles were expensive- so I guess you could discard Mr and Mrs Average Medieval.
The Church? They gathered all their candle stubs and re melted them.
So it looks like an answer to 'how old' is not too old.
But a part of me wonders if like those tomatoes and stones that have images of Christ or Mary within them tell us that a 'thing' like a wax image as a secondary use (candle=light 1st use) is just like Tarot.
A pattern formed in a game, from the images in the hand were always a possibility to divine.
The people who played the game were in a time of famous Fortune Telling.
Signs and Portents for battles, marriages, Popes, Kings, plagues and crops.
So it is very hard to discover the 'Truth' of Things, let alone the History.
Fortune plays a part.
In the great Triangle fire NY 1911- they could not name many victims because they were immigrants and could not write in English. Slave quilts- the same. Those who might have used Tarot in a divinatory way, may not have been able to record anything. Not many people could read or write.

Ross G Caldwell

That's the thing I always think "tarot historians" conspire to suppress: TRUTH.

That's a terrible libel. There is no conspiracy to suppress anything related to Tarot history.

I wish there were a court somewhere where you, for example, would be the plaintiff, claiming I am suppressing "the TRUTH" about Tarot history, and I would be the defendant.

I'm pretty sure I'd win, and recover costs and damages - whatever my reputation is worth.

Alas, there is no such court except that of public opinion, places like this. So here we are.

What truth, then, have I and people like me, so-called Tarot historians, conspired to suppress? In other words, what is the substance of your charge, the evidence?

...a game, a card game, really?

Yes. It was, and is. It is also used for other purposes.


That's a terrible libel. There is no conspiracy to suppress anything related to Tarot history.
In another thread, I posted the following:
......Some people make a lot of angry noise over those who "pile esoteric stuff onto Tarot." That's crass hypocrisy! From a historical perspective Tarot was originally a game deck, and then fortune tellers piled all sorts of divinatory stuff onto it. Live and let live. Use it however you wish and do not condemn those who use it differently.
It immediately met with the usual rebuttal, that maybe people pretended that it was just a game in order to avoid persecution. Otherwise, it evoked no response, because that is not what people want to believe. It's frustrating, to say the least.

It is indeed possible for historians to be wrong, because the nature of the discipline precludes absolute logical proof of certain conjectures, but some folks think that justifies ignoring the relevance of historical research, which is a totally absurd assumption.


Cartomancy: by playing cards, tarot cards, or oracle cards.

Cartomancy could also include by maps.

For example, Fleury in his memoirs tells how in 1794 he was taken along by his actress friend Aucune to consult the famous cartomancier Martin from Piedmonte (rumour had it he had driven into Paris in a carriage pulled by dragons). He had set himself up in a hotel and was all the rage apparently with all the high lords and ladies of the republic. The Comedie Francaise, to which Fleury and Aucune belonged, had been dispersed, some of its members imprisoned and facing the guillotine. Aucune wanted to know whether the comedie would be reunited. After singing his own high praises in an Italiante accent (I am unique! Even the police consult me!" and going through his price list for the various types of questions he could answer, Martin hurdled himself on a chair at the table using his crutches (he had no legs apparently, his body joined his feet at the shins*). The table was covered with a large map of Paris (sur la table qu'une grande carte de géographie de Paris), heavily stained with large yellow rings and smaller red ones (it also served as a table cloth, and so was stained from the dinner plates and wine glasses - Martin had no particularly 'pious' regard for the tools of his trade apparently). A cherub of a boy present threw a crown of paper flowers onto the map. Aucunes was instructed to place her finger inside the crown at the southern point, Fleury to the north, then followed a series of instructions until they met at the Choisy le Roi et Charenton; "There is your answer!" proclaimed Martin - and indeed the comedie did establish itself again at the Choisy le Roi. (Aucune sought out a place there and with a great deal of determination in meeting a number of obstacles secured it - with what one might interpret as a superstitious zeal that the possibility of the comedie being reunited depended upon her finding a venue there.)

As for when did cards begin to be used for fortune-telling? No doubt by individuals in an ad hoc, lottery, sortiledge sort of way from the moment the game appeared. There is no evidence of a widespread systematic form of reading with the cards however until the 18th century.

As for tarot historians wanting to suppress truth - a bullshit and unnecessary remark.

* D'Ambly in his book on playing cards and cartomancy makes the somewhat unkind remark that Martin avoided having to beg on the streets with a pet poodle by giving pretty women the shake down.


Fascinating list! I guess all this shows that people will eventually gamble with anything. Whether this form of gambling is "divine" is a different question.

But Tarot has its own creation myth, which is fun. However, like any myth, it holds no more water than the world being created in six days. The same disciplines used in determining that the creation of the universe was a bit more complicated than "let there be light" are used in assessing Tarot history. Logic demands that if one accepts observation and deduction as mainstays of the scientific method, in accepting one, you must accept the other. I find the acrimony against simple observation quite disconcerting, smacking of Creationism.


Thank you Kwaw for extending my list. I did not know about Maps.
I also have divining by Clouds for Heavens sake! There is a big crocodile over me right now- I had better not go swimming lol.

Now to that thorny question that I hoped would not rear it's head.
People with an agenda suppress the Truth- historians try to unravel the Truth.
The Catholic church is not 'a Historian', as that institute is confusedly blamed for hiding the 'Truth' quite often. Especially with Tarot, which is our passion. It is a myth. It was/is a large organisation covering a huge area of land and peoples and because of that had a slow pondererous way. Individuals within it had agendas and like cream -evil rises to the surface when looking at History. Are the accepted stories of the Borgias True? Or have we accepted a rival families agenda? Every Dominican priest a Torturer? Or were there Twelve?

You also have to use common sense. Here on the History forum we must accept that Tarot has a physical history and that came after paper somewhere in the 15th Century. It was used as a game when complete or cojoined (playing cards and trumps).
We know what one half is = playing cards and what they were used for-
The other half or Trumps is where the puzzle is.
I started this thread because I read that people would still like to believe that TAROT came along with the ark (a Poll) and that poll was started in 2003!!!!!! Lets move on from the same old objections, myths, predjuices, and plain wishful thinking and find the 'Truth'. Or as much of it as still can be found.


Now some things I want to know.

Is there some consensus yet as to whether TAROT (not Triumphs) had a definite number of Trumps when it first became a game? (8-12-14-16-18-20-21??????)

Has the area of Origin as yet been decided? (Rome. Ferrara,Florence Milan Bologna etc etc????) Or is it still just somewhere in Northern Italy?

Has the date of origin at least been exacted to a decade? For example somewhere between
1430-40; or 1440-50 etc. (or even 1420-30) or even later?

On and from a personally curious point of view.......
Why does anyone think The soldier Malatesta wanted a specific deck of cards from the Sforza's (nee Visconti)?

Hows that for a sensible start?



Now some things I want to know.
Is there some consensus yet as to whether TAROT (not Triumphs) had a definite number of Trumps when it first became a game? (8-12-14-16-18-20-21??????)

When we take as the start of Tarot the first note with "Tarochi" in Ferrara 1505, then the expectation is relative high, that this deck version had 22 trumps inclusive Fool, cause the "Sermones de Ludo cum aliis" (with a list of 22 trumps in the typical Ferrarese sequence) ...
... appears in a manuscript, about which Ron Decker once noted: "The manuscript pages have many different watermarks. All of them date from around 1500 and come from places near Ferrara. The order of the Tarot trumps, as given in the manuscript, is the Ferrarese order. The author was definitely a monk. One of the sermons is about the stigmata of St. Francis, so I think it likely that the monk was a Franciscan. I do not know on what basis others have declared the author to have been a Dominican."

From this coincidence of time/location with "1505/around 1500" and Ferrara/around Ferrara and from the condition, that the Boiardo Tarocchi poem (also called "game of passions" later) with a 4x14+22-structure should have clearly existed before (also in Ferrara), it seems rather plausible, that the 1505 deck also had this structure.

Has the area of Origin as yet been decided? (Rome. Ferrara,Florence Milan Bologna etc etc????) Or is it still just somewhere in Northern Italy?´

If we speak still of Tarot and not of Trionfi, we have two "Tarochi" notes in June 1505 and December 1505 in Ferrara, and an Avignon "Taraux" note, which involves also the Piedmontese region in December 1505 (Aignon is in this time not part of France, but papal country). Following Tarochi or Tarocchi notes appear mainly around Ferrara.

If we speak of Trionfi notes meanwhile and not of Tarot notes, then we have, that Florence has now the majority of very early Trionfi notes (1440-1450) and it has also the first with Giusto Giusti and September 1440. ( )
So the general suspicions about the first use of the word "Trionfi" for playing card decks (whatever these decks have been composed of) have shifted in the last 2 1/2 years ... (since November 2012, start of the Franco Pratesi works ) ... from other locations (Ferrara/Milan/Bologna) to Florence (without possibility to exclude an origin at another place).

Has the date of origin at least been exacted to a decade? For example somewhere between
1430-40; or 1440-50 etc. (or even 1420-30) or even later?

If we speak still speak only of the word use of "Trionfi or similar", then the expectation is big, that it started a short time before the proven September 1440. In the discussions appear the "battle of Anghiari" (June 1440) or the council of Florence (January 1439 till July/August the same year) as possible backgrounds. But earlier use of the word is still possible.

I hope, that it is noted, that I carefully avoided to speak of the deck compositions or the used motifs for "Trionfi decks".
We know, that the Michelino deck (called a "ludus triumphorum" in 1449) had a composition of likely 60 cards and of these 16 were trumps and the trumps depicted 16 Greek gods and the deck was made before ca. 1425.
We don't know, if anybody else than Jacopo Antonio Marcello called it a Trionfi deck before 1449, from the above noted statements it should be clear, that this is not expected for "before 1439 or little earlier")
Further we know, that Cary-Yale Tarocchi and Brera-Brambilla deck should have been produced before 1447. The suspicion, that these decks were part of the decks, which were called "Trionfi" is traditionally very big and generally this is assumed as proven.

On and from a personally curious point of view.......
Why does anyone think The soldier Malatesta wanted a specific deck of cards from the Sforza's (nee Visconti)?

... .-) ... he had already one, why shouldn't he get a second ? Perhaps he is the first recorded Trionfi card collector?
Likely he wasn't the only collector.


A list with all known Trionfi documents (1440-1465)...

An overview about their distribution in time:




Aye Huck, you are a good Tarot Man. Thank you and bear with me as I go back and forth.
For Tarot (Tarocchi) there is physical proof 1505 in Ferrara, with 22 Trumps/ also in Avignon at the same time called Taraux. (Tick)
There are card games, that have a series of images in a group (Trumps) called Trionfi and these seem to be in Florence, but could possibly also have arisen in Milan/Bologna/Ferrara.
Examples are Cary-Yale Tarocchi and Brera-Brambilla

Earlier than this you have a card game with trumps (possibly called Trionfi??)- 16 trumps made c. 1425. No one really knows if this card game was known as a Trionfi, but it was called "ludus triumphorum" in 1449.

So you have a spread of years 1425-1505 when proof of a card game with a group of Trumps (more than German playing card decks 56/54/52 with Highest trumping cards) was played with????? Somewhere in those 80 years a trumping group became Tarot as we know it today. More likely closer to 1505 than 1425.

Is that right ? (what I have written)

Now as to my personal question about Malatesta. I know he already had a deck.
It just seems to me, that there was something particular that appealed to him and I wondered what that may have been. Today it might be said he had a Caesar Augustus complex, I imagine he would have liked that theme in a deck. Is that what he saw?