That the Tarot originated in ancient Egypt as a divinatory tool is a romantic misconception. Ron Decker’s meticulous scholarship will surprise practitioners and academics alike, revealing the Tarot’s true evolution and meanings as its inventor(s) understood it.
The Tarot consists of the Minor Arcana, four suits of cards similar to our modern deck, and the Major Arcana, twenty-two allegorical or “trump” cards. Decker says the four-suit deck was invented in Asia Minor before AD 1000; Italian courtiers added the trumps in the 1400s. But Tarot was first used as a game. Tarot divination was only created in the 1700s by a Parisian fortuneteller who based the trump images on Hermeticism, which merges Greco-Egyptian alchemy, astrology, numerology, magic, and mysticism. Today, the suit-cards are often traced to the ancient Jewish Cabala. But, says Decker, they, too, acquired their meanings only in the 1700s, and he cites a lost numerical system based on Cabala at that time.
Decker’s interpretation integrates three whole systems-astrological, arithmological, mystagogical (concerning initiation rites into the Mysteries). His depth of knowledge makes the book a must-have for serious students of Tarot and esotericism.
Noted art and playing card historian Ronald Decker deeply probes the Hermetic, Neoplatonic and Kabbalistic esoteric systems studied by Renaissance intellectuals and finds sufficient significant congruency between their symbols and tarot cards to build his intriguing theory that the tarot trumps may well have originated as a device with multilevel meanings developed for psychological and philosophical introspection, possibly divination.
Most important to Decker’s theory is his close examination of the life and theories of eighteenth century Parisian card reader Jean-Baptiste Alliette, who, perceiving the Hermetic resonances of the cards, first popularized the use of tarot cards for divination purposes under the pseudonym “Etteilla”. His card interpretations became the basis for those of the Order of the Golden Dawn, and indeed form the basis of most tarot card interpretations used today.
Obviously this is an impressive book not to be missed; as readable as it is learned, it should have a definite appeal to tarot historian and tarot reader alike.
—Paul Huson, author, Mystical Origins of the Tarot