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The tarot is a set of cards used in fortune telling. A few years ago, tarot cards would have conjured up images of Gypsies, who didn't begin using tarot cards until the 20th century. Today, the cards are popular among occultists and New Agers in all walks of life. According to Grillot de Givry (1971):
“The tarot is one of the most wonderful of human inventions. Despite all the outcries of philosophers, this pack of pictures, in which destiny is reflected as in a mirror with multiple facets, remains so vital and exercises so irresistible an attraction on imaginative minds that it is hardly possible that austere critics who speak in the name of an exact but uninteresting logic should ever succeed in abolishing its employment.”
The modern tarot deck has been traced back to 15th-century Italy and a trick-taking game called "triumphs" (tarots in French; Decker 1996). The traditional tarot deck consists of two sets of cards, one having 22 pictures (the major arcana), such as the Fool, the Devil, Temperance, the Hermit, the Sun, the Lovers, the Hanged Man, and Death. The other set (the minor arcana) has 56 cards with kings (or lords), queens (or ladies), knights, and knaves (pages or servants) of sticks (or wands, cudgels or batons) , swords, cups and coins.
There are many different tarot decks used in cartomancy. The meanings of the figures and numbers on tarot cards vary greatly among tarot readers and advocates, many of whom find connections between tarot and cabala, astrology, I-Ching, ancient Egypt, and various other occult and mystical notions.
The oldest playing cards date back to 10th-century China, but the four suits of tarot and modern playing cards probably originated with a 14th-century Muslim deck (Decker).
According to de Givry, in the modern 52-card deck of ordinary playing cards, sticks or wands = clubs (and announce news); swords = spades (and presage unhappiness and death); cups = hearts (and presage happiness); coins = diamonds (and presage money).
According to Ronald Decker, the Muslim sticks represented polo sticks. As Europeans were not yet familiar with polo, they changed the suit of sticks to that of wands, cudgels, or batons.