You may have seen tarot cards portrayed in popular media – mysterious figures on illustrated cards used to tell fortunes. But where did tarot cards come from, and what religious beliefs are behind them? As Christians, it’s important we understand the roots of practices like tarot so we can evaluate them biblically.
In this post, we’ll explore the history and religious origins of tarot cards. We’ll look at what the Bible says about practices like divination and sorcery. And we’ll give key takeaways for Christians to keep in mind when it comes to tarot cards and other occult practices.
Tarot cards have become an iconic symbol of mysticism and the occult. The striking artwork on the cards, combined with the mystical sounding names of the decks – like the Rider-Waite or the Thoth deck – give tarot an undeniable magical allure.
But when you actually look into the history and origins of Tarot, you discover something surprising – Tarot cards were never intended for divination or fortune-telling! They were originally created as a game.
So how did we get from a card game to a mystical practice of seeing the future?
In this post, we’ll explore the origins and history of Tarot cards. We’ll look at how they morphed from game to occult practice. We’ll see how they became intertwined with secret societies and new age mysticism.
And we’ll especially focus on what God’s Word says about practices like divination and sorcery. Our authority as Christians comes from Scripture, so we’ll look at relevant Bible passages as we evaluate Tarot cards.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
- Tarot cards were originally created as a game, not for divination.
- They became associated with occult practices in 18th century France and England.
- The Bible speaks against divination, sorcery, and “reading the signs.”
- Tarot cards are depicting in Scripture as associated with idolatry.
- Christians should avoid using Tarot cards or consulting card readers.
The Origins of Tarot
While Tarot has come to be synonymous with fortune telling, dream interpretation, and even psychological therapy, they originally had nothing to do with any of those things.
Tarot cards were invented in 15th century Italy for playing card games.
The name “Tarot” comes from the Italian word tarocchi meaning ‘playing cards’. The first decks appeared in Milan, Ferrara, and Bologna around 1440 AD. These cities were hubs of playing card manufacturing in medieval Italy.
The earliest decks had four different suits made up of cards numbered from 1 to 10, plus face cards like the King, Knight, Page and Queen. The suits were similar to normal playing cards, with cups, swords, coins and polo sticks (which later evolved into wands).
This early version of Tarot was used to play a popular card game called Trionfi – which means triumphs. The game was a bit like modern bridge, where players would take “tricks” to win the round. The player who won the most tricks collected points to win the game.
So in its earliest form, Tarot was simply a new type of playing card deck that let Italians play a fun game with friends!
But what about the Major Arcana cards?
Early Tarot decks only had the four suits with numbered cards and face cards. It wasn’t until the 16th century that Tarot expanded to include the 22 iconic Major Arcana cards with The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess and more.
The Major Arcana cards seem to reference mystical archetypes, so it’s often assumed they must have occult origins. But research indicates the Major Arcana were also originally designed simply as “trump” cards for the game of Triumphs!
The fancy new Trump cards gave the game more complexity, and allowed players to “trump” the normal suit cards and take more tricks. So again, the strange mystical figures like Death, The Hanged Man and The Devil were really just invented as special cards for a card game!
How did Tarot cards become associated with the occult?
If Tarot cards weren’t originally mystical or magical, how did they end up that way? When and why did folks start using them for divination and fortune telling?
The shift began during the 18th century, as Tarot became adopted by secret societies and folks with mystical philosophical beliefs.
Secret Societies in France
In France, Tarot cards became associated with a secret society of Freemasons called the Order of the Magdalene in Provence. Some Freemasons used the cards for meditation and ceremonial rituals as early as the late 1700s.
Here, the symbolic figures on the cards took on deeper mystical significance related to Freemason teachings. The cards represented complex mystical concepts which were said to reflect the esoteric “true doctrine” concealed beneath Christianity.
This new mystical and occult meaning imposed on the cards began their association with esoteric spirituality.
At the same time in England, Tarot was adopted by mystical occult figures like Eteilla and Jean-Baptiste Alliette. They published books which presented the cards as repositories of ancient Egyptian wisdom, and a way to tap into universal mystical forces.
Eteilla published the first Tarot deck intended for divination in 1789. His deck contained symbolic images meant to aid in fortune telling. He promoted Tarot as a way to understand dreams, predict the future, and explore secret knowledge.
So by the late 18th century, Tarot had morphed from a game into a mystical divination tool through its adoption by secret societies and British occultists.
Tarot embraced by New Age mysticism
In the late 1890s, a new generation became fascinated by Tarot cards and their potential for occult mysticism.
The most influential figure was Arthur Edward Waite, who commissioned the famous “Rider-Waite” Tarot deck in 1909. This wildly popular deck cemented Tarot cards as occult objects of divination in Western culture.
Waite wrote books expounding mystical theories about the symbolic power hidden in the Tarot’s Major Arcana. He believed the cards expressed a secret doctrine that could lead to direct experience of the Divine.
Waite helped kick off a new mystical religion called the Theosophical Society, which held that all religions contain fragments of one great ancient wisdom. Tarot cards became important mystical objects used for divination in this new religious movement.
And Waite wasn’t alone in embracing Tarot’s mystical side. The infamous occultist Aleister Crowley created the Thoth deck in the 1940s, full of bizarre surreal imagery. Crowley used the cards for divination and ritual magic within his new religion Thelema.
In the 1960s and 70s, New Age movements further popularized Tarot cards as tools for unlocking psychic ability and seeing the future. Mystics and psychics created new decks and practices linking Tarot cards to astrology, numerology and communication with spirits.
Today Tarot remains popular not just with practicing occultists, but with New Agers, artists and even therapists. The cards’ rich imagery lends itself to endless mystical interpretation and new invented meanings.
What does the Bible say about Tarot cards?
As Christians seeking God’s truth, what are we to make of Tarot cards and the mystical purposes they now serve? Should this practice concern us?
Let’s look at some relevant verses from Scripture about divination, magic arts and contacting spirits:
“Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:31)
“I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people.” (Leviticus 20:6)
“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
“…for rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” (1 Samuel 15:23)
It’s clear God takes very seriously anything resembling divination or the occult arts. These verses condemn turning to mediums, spiritists, fortune tellers and diviners – saying they “defile” people and are “detestable” to God.
The origins of Tarot cards may have been harmless – but their current mystical associations clearly fall under the Biblical warnings against divination and sorcery.
But aren’t Tarot cards just pretty pictures on paper? Does using them really “consult the dead” or contact evil spirits?
Scripture suggests objects used for divination are spiritually corrupted, associated with demons and forbidden for God’s people:
“But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “…You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:8-10)
In this story, the “sorcerer” Elymas sought to use occult arts and divination to turn people from God’s way. But through the Spirit, Paul identified Elymas as an agent of the devil promoting deceit and trickery.
The Bible continually reveals the true spiritual realm behind divination, astrology, psychics and occult objects like idols or charms. These are tongues used by demons to disguise their lies as mystical insight. As the verses warn, consulting such sources opens our spirit to defilement.
Tarot may seem like a harmless hobby, but we embrace the occult at grave spiritual peril according to God’s Word.
Tarot Depictions Reveal Troubling Symbolism
Many Tarot decks contain imagery that may seem strange – like death, the devil, hanged men, and towers being struck by lightning. What is the meaning behind these peculiar symbols so closely tied to Tarot cards?
When viewed Biblically, we can recognize many Tarot symbols as what Scripture calls “idols”. The Bible records multiple times how idolatry leads to consulting occult arts like divination.
For instance, King Manasseh in 2 Kings 21:
“He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.” (v. 6)
“Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.” (v. 9)
Manasseh’s idolatry led him to consult diviners as he embraced evil. This shows the spiritual connection between idolatry and occult practices like divination.
Tarot decks reveal this link through bizarre imagery tied to idolatry, like:
- The Devil – depicts a satyr-like Baphomet, an idol signifying occult enlightenment.
- Death – representing Nora, a Babylonian idol of the dead and underworld.
- The Tower – shows tower of Babel, an idolatrous affront to God.
- The Hanged Man – hung from the Tau cross, an ancient idol worshipped as divine wisdom.
- Judgment – shows sun worship idol of Egypt and the ritual weighing of souls.
The symbols embedded in Tarot associate the cards with idols, death and false gods. This should give us great concern about using this tool, spiritually speaking.
Key Takeaways for Christians
In light of the history and occult connections, here are some key takeaways for Christians regarding Tarot cards:
- The cards’ origins were harmless as game pieces. But they are now viewed as divination tools, against Scripture’s warnings.
- Associations with secret societies and occultists caused Tarot to become viewed as a source of esoteric spiritual insight. But the mystics were deceived.
- The modern New Age movement deepened the occult connections, popularizing Tarot as a way to glean psychic guidance and communicate with spirits. But Scripture forbids this as spiritually defiling.
- Tarot cards contain imagery spiritually associated with idolatry in the Bible – revealing their occult origins obscured by mystical meanings.
- As followers of Jesus, we should have nothing to do with practices He calls “detestable”, which only lead people astray.
The most important lesson is that our spiritual insight comes from God’s truth in the Bible – not occult tools offering mystical access to secrets and the spirit realm.
As Christians we take God at His Word about such matters. We focus on what Jesus said about truth, life and the Kingdom of God. And we pray for those still deceived by New Age mystical practices, that Christ would open their eyes to the Gospel message and real transformation by His Spirit.
Conclusion: Walk as Children of the Light
Tarot cards may seem intriguing and even psychologically insightful. But as Christ followers, we’re called to a higher revelation than Tarot could ever provide: God’s own truth and wisdom, and relationship with Him through Christ.
We don’t need to dabble in practices tied to idolatry, divination and demons. By Jesus’ blood, we have everything required for life, godliness and insight into the things above.
May we take seriously Christ’s call in Ephesians 5:8-12:
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
Let’s live as children of the light, exposing the fruitless deeds of darkness. And may we stay far away from divination tools like Tarot cards which can only mislead people into deception.