Tarot and Religion: The History you need to know

Religious symbolism and Tarot go together like bread and butter. However, not all religions allow tarot cards for divination purposes. This article will analyze how the Tarot relates to religion and explain how religious and non-religious individuals can use it without issues.

Does Tarot come from a specific religion?

Tarot doesn’t come from a specific religion. There are no leaders in the Tarot, nor is there a sacred or original text. A lot of Tarot is personal interpretation instead of specific commandments. Furthermore, Tarot can be used for divination purposes, which is against some religious tenets, or it can be used for personal insight, which is fair game.

The Bible, in specific, warns against the use of divination, mediums, and any fortune-telling. If your religion is against divination, then the cards can still be used for purposes different than those.

Read More: Tarot, Witchcraft, and Christianity

Tarot can be used to hone your intuition, used as a reflective tool, and as part of meditation.  AIf Tarot is used in this way, many Christian religious are fine with it’s usage.

tarot cards on altar with rosery cross

One such example is an Archetype & Image Reading, where archetypal images are utilized to comprehend truths from the darkest recesses of our mind. 

In the rest of this article, we’ll be analyzing more about the origins of the Tarot and how religion has influenced it over the years.

Tarot History: Originally a game, not religion

Defining religion is the first step to establishing differences.

Religion is a set of organized systems, practices, and beliefs related to worshiping a superior and supernatural entity—God for Christians, Ahura Mazdā in Zoroastrianism. 

Tarot isn’t an organized set of practices.

Different tarotists have different interpretations of each of the cards. Tarot doesn’t worship any kind of deities and doesn’t enforce commandments of any kind to its users.

While one could argue that two Catholic priests will have differing interpretations of a particular Bible verse, they will engage in communion by following the same process. Not all tarotists use Tarot for the same reasons and much less the same way. 

Tarot is more similar to a game of cards than a religion.

The origin of the Tarot has been traced to the Italian card Trionfi, which is the pioneer of both modern card games.

Cary sheet, Milan c. 1500. – Wikipedia

The game involved Trump cards, cards with a higher ranking than others and would trump those lower than them. The word “trump” in card games also originated from this game, representing cards with a higher ranking than others that would triumph the lower ones.  

Christian influences on Tarot

As Tarot became more widespread and ventured into the hands of occultists, each individual added new dimensions of meaning to each archetype, based on their interpretation of the symbolism already existing in the cards. Antoine Court de Gebelin is the earliest example known, back in 1780. 

Christian influence on Tarot began back in the 15th Century, with Triomphi.

Two of the triumphal cars, carrying Chastity (pulled by unicorns) and Love, from a lavish illuminated manuscript (early 16th century) of Petrach‘s Triomphi

Tarot Trumps became popular as parts of parades during the Medieval period of Renaissance Italy, showing religious symbolism which drew on Christian allegory and teachings. Nancy Blicq, author of Medieval Tarot for Christians, described in her book how Tarot cards came to be in a time period of history where the Church was in power. 

However, as the game was based on Christian teachings, it was used for spreading the word of Christ and not for divination. The Tarot Trumps that came from this game would become the Major Arcana.

A noteworthy example of the Christian influence is The Devil Major Arcana. The Devil is a tempter, trickster, and deceiver of men. The Devil is a Christian concept, representing the most powerful evil spirit. 

The Tower is another example representing the Tower of Babel. In the Bible, the Tower of Babel is synonymous with hubris. 

Tarot as Archetypal Symbols

Tarot is all about archetypes.

Rider-Waite’s Tarot is one of the most widespread versions today, mixing religious symbolism with occult imagery on archetypes present since Triomphi.

We’ve seen the Devil and the Tower, but the entirety of the deck centers around archetypal characters in storytelling. 

The Fool is associated with innocence. His journey will shape his character.

The Fool’s journey of sanctification as a type of Christian imagery is the reason why the game was named Triomphi. It represents ‘overcoming’.

The Hierophant is the representation of traditional institutions, values, and wise teachers. The Moon represents loneliness, dreams, intuition, and people going through trials.

While Tarot has been molded by past Christian and occult influences, modern interpretations of the deck focus more on representing the archetypes than any kind of religious imagery. 

Modern tarotists have developed their versions of decks, for example, ​​The Modern Witch Tarot Deck. This tarot deck is filled with illustrations of stylish women, forgoing most of the occultist imagery present in the Rider-Waite deck and instead focusing on female power. 

While some minor themes in each of the Major and Minor Arcana archetypes are still present, most of the occult religious themes are not. 

We can conclude with this that, while Tarot has been definitely influenced by religion and occultism as the years have gone by, not every tarot deck is based on either concept and can very well focus on the ever-present archetypes of each card. 

Religious symbolism can exist in a particular tarot deck, but no tarot deck is whole without the 78 archetypes within its cards.

Final words

Some Christians avoid any kind of divination method due to their commandments forbidding them from using them. However, Tarot is a tool based on a game that can be used for personal experience without links to religion or even spirituality.

Not everyone uses Tarot as a means to divine, and it can be a tool for daily insight or self-reflection. Remember that Tarot, back when it was Triomphi, was a Christian game used for representing Biblical allegories through cards.

Tarotists might use it for meditation, others for divination, personal satisfaction, or even for profit. Likewise, it can be accompanied by occult beliefs. 

Each person should decide what is right and wrong for them. 

If you are interested in reading more about Tarot, try these articles:

Isaac Cotec
Isaac Cotec
Creator of HeroRise, Isaac Cotec has dedicated his life to empowering others through art and creativity. He is a scholar of the subconscious and has studied the power of symbolism to help create enduring change.

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