Nowadays modern playing cards are associated with poker, entertainment and extravagantly designed casinos in Las Vegas.
It's a curious irony that due to historical prejudice, our modern playing cards are the living descendants of Tarot cards.
In modern card games like poker, gin rummy, hearts and bridge card players compete by nominating certain suits or cards as tricks or "trumps." A symbolic gesture to the missing trump cards - the Major Arcana - that were removed.
Our modern deck of 52 cards is the edited version of the standard Tarot deck of 78 cards.
The only card remaining of the 26 lost cards known as the Major Arcana, is The Fool or The Joker as he's now known.
What happened to the 26 cards - which make up a third of the deck - and why were they removed?
The predominant theory is that Christian clergymen objected to the strong Feminine archetypes and symbolism in certain cards such as The Empress, Strength, The Star and The World among them. They perceived the return to the Feminine Consciousness, the underlying theme in the Tarot, as a heretical threat to the Church. The Papess card, #2 in the Major Arcana, in particular caused much consternation. According to Christian orthodoxy, there was a staunch principle that no woman ever was or could be a pope.
Joan of Arc, The Maid of Orleans, is one of France's heroines for her role during the third phase of the Anglo-French Hundred Years' War. She was demonised by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon who declared her "guilty" and she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431 at nineteen years of age. Twenty five years after her unnecessary death, an inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Callixtus III, examined the trial, debunked the charges against her, pronounced her innocent, and declared her a martyr.
Joan of Arc remains a popular figure, to this day, in literature, painting, sculpture and the Tarot.
Clerical pressure forced French artists and painters to change the Papess into the Roman Goddess Juno, the protector and special counselor of the state. Her Greek counterpart is Hera. For example, the Tarot de Marseille has a version, known as the Tarot of Besancon, which removed the controversial Papess and Pope and replaced them with Juno, the Roman goddess and with her peacock while the Pope became Jupiter.
The Besancon Tarot deck was popular among Catholics living in places that bordered Protestant communities while Protestants and Catholics living outside disputable areas preferred using the Marseilles deck. There was a Belgian pack which even changed The Papess into a male figure called The Spaniard!
In most Modern tarot packs, notably the Ryder-Wate-Smith Tarot deck and The Golden Dawn Tarot deck, the Papess is known as High Priestess. Some older tarot decks still have the Papess instead of the High Priestess.
There are different theories about the origins of the Tarot. The word tarot and German Tarock derive from the Italian taroccho, which is a type blood orange as well as a Renaissance card game though the origins of the word are not certain. The Arabic word, turuq means ways. Alternatively, Tarot may come from another Arabic word called taraka which is to leave, abandon or leave behind.
Some tarot historians believe the Tarot originated as a card game in wealthy aristocratic salons in Milan or Bologna in Renaissance Italy. Another theory is that Tarot relates to the Taro River in Northern Italy while some occult writers claim that the Tarot came from Arabia, Ancient Egypt or the Qabbalah. There's a lack of documented evidence of the tarot's origins before the 18th century where it evolved into a divination tool.
During the middle ages the Tarot wasn't considered the frivolous and carefree card game it later became in the aristocratic Renaissance salons of northern Italy. The cards were forbidden in Florence in 1376, and then banned in Germany in 1378. They were censured in Marseilles in 1381. In 1423 St Bernardino of Siena said the Tarot was the intention of the devil. The Trump suit, known as the Major Arcana, was once called the "Rungs of ladder leading to the depths of hell!"
During the French Revolution, the Emperor and Empress cards were such controversial cards that they were replaced by the Grandfather and Grandmother cards. As they evolved into their modern counter parts, Cups became Hearts, Wands became Clubs, Pentacles became Diamonds and Swords became Spades.
The Tarot suits of Swords, Wands, Cups & Pentacles correspond to the four elements: Air, Fire, Water and Earth.
Despite judgemental clerics who went to great lengths to censure the use of Tarot, there was one individual who understood the inherent message in the Major Arcana.
Carl Jung recognized that the tarot depicts archetypes of transformation like those he had found in dreams, alchemy and myths. He also recognised the Tarot as having divinatory aspects similar to the I-Ching and astrology. Most importantly, Jung believed a person could use “an intuitive method” to understand and interpret, through the tarot’s mirroring of the collective unconscious, into a cognitive language relevant to a present, prevailing condition.
So when you take out a pack of cards for a quick game, think of the twists and turns of history that changed them from tarot cards into our modern playing cards!
These are the views of the individual reader