A UTORBIS.net April 2004       

Schuetze from Hofaemterspiel

Frequently Asked Questions

In the moment we do not have an own FAQ. There are various in the web: Critical Review of some Contents of the TarotL Tarot History Information Sheet
by Huck Meyer


Inaccurate: The tarot comes from Egypt; India; China; Fez, Morocco; the Sufis; the Cathars; Jewish Kabbalists or Moses; or the origin of the tarot is unknown.

Current Historical Understanding: The tarot originated in northern Italy early in the 15th century (1420-1440). There is no evidence for it originating in any other time or place. The earliest extant cards are lavish hand-painted decks from the courts of the nobility

The time of origin depends on, what one defines as Tarot. If you think of a 4x14 + 22 - deck, then there is NO EVIDENCE at all in 1420 - 1440. If you accept the Michelino deck as Tarot, 16 gods + some smaller cards in unclear number and as suits birds, 1417 - 1425 would be correct. When you don't accept the Michelino deck, but a 5x14-deck or 5x16-deck with unkown motifs with "correct" suits, then "there is no evidence before February 1442 or (perhaps) 1.1.1441" is correct. When you don't accept a deck as being Tarot without 22 special cards, then you've "no evidence before the Boiardo poem". If you demand also the "right motifs", then there is no evidence before the list of the unknown preacher late in 15th century.

When you also demand the "right numerology", you've a problem.

"(1420 - 1440)" is only estimation, it hides, that there is no positive information before the above mentioned dates. With the same logical right you could say 1380 - 1440.


Inaccurate: The word is Egyptian, Hebrew, or Latin; it is an anagram; it holds the key to the mystery of the cards.

Current Historical Understanding: The earliest names for the tarot are all Italian. Originally the cards were called carte da trionfi (cards of the triumphs). Around 1530 (about 100 years after the origin of the cards), the word tarocchi (singular tarocco) begins to be used to distinguish them from a new game of triumphs or trumps then being played with ordinary playing cards. The etymology of this new word is not known. The German form is tarock, the French form is tarot. Even if the etymology were known, it would probably not tell us much about the idea behind the cards, since it only came into use 100 years after they first appeared.

The use of the word Tarocchi and Taraux is proven for the year 1505 in two cases, one for Italy, one for France (recent findings of Depaulis and Francesschini). Before that date a use is unknown.


Inaccurate: The 52-card deck evolved from the tarot, leaving the Joker as the only remnant of the major arcana.

Current Historical Understanding: Playing cards came to Europe from Islam, probably via Muslim Spain, about 50 years before the development of tarot.

"About 50 years" is questionable, suggesting another answer to the first question above. The second part of the sentence: Playing cards appeared in China much earlier then in Europe, and were probably transported by Mongolians to the west. If they spread to Europe (only) via Spain, is quite insecure.

They appeared quite suddenly in many different European cities between 1375 and 1378.

Bern 1367 seems to be confirmed, earlier appearances are not impossible. "It spread probably in larger quantities since 1377 or little earlier in various cities of Europe," seems to be a correct sentence.

European playing cards were an adaptation of the Islamic Mamluk cards. These early cards had suits of cups, swords, coins, and polo sticks (seen by Europeans as staves), and courts consisting of a king and two male underlings. The tarot adds the Fool, the trumps, and a set of queens to this system.

The queens were at least added before Tarot. Already Johannes of Rheinfelden (1377) knew Queens. Not the tarot added them.

Some time before 1480, the French introduced cards with the now-familiar suits of hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds. The earlier suits are still preserved in the tarot and in Italian and Spanish playing cards.

The suits, that Johannes (1377) in his 60-card-deck described, are not like the Italian suits. It is also possible, that the Italians learned their suits by later influences, though, such a development is not necessarily likely.

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