Beware of the Tarot
Tarot cards have been around in one form or another since early medieval times. Most historians will tell you that Tarot decks first appeared in northern Italy sometime between 1410 and 1430, probably beginning as extensions of the already existing four-suited decks of playing cards, and originally known as “carte da trionfi” or “trump cards.”
The oldest surviving decks of Tarot cards, painted by artists from the mid-15th century, were likely commissioned by the Visconti-Sforza family who ruled Milan at the time. Almost from the beginning, and certainly by 1540, Tarot cards were used to predict the future. Divination, however, may actually have preceded the invention of the Tarot; a book known as The oracles of Francesco Marcolino da Forli explains a simple divination system using the coin suit of the common cards.
Although not everyone believes in the power of the Tarot, it has clearly established itself as one of the most popular divination methods (if not THE most popular). Once conjuring up images of nomadic gypsies and dirty carnival booths, today’s Tarot practitioners are mainstream businessmen and women with attractive storefronts, slick websites, and in some cases, highly profitable corporations that employ hundreds of psychics. Tarot is big business.
But is the Tarot a legitimate form of divination? Can it really be used to predict the future? Or is it just “entertainment” as most phone psychics are required to tell you when you call their hotlines?
In the Netherlands, at least, the Tarot seems to be taken quite seriously. In August 2007, the Dutch government began funding Tarot card readings for the unemployed. That’s right, as part of the unemployment system, you can get a free Tarot reading to help you get back on your feet. And they might be heading in the same direction in New York City, which offers, among its institutions of higher learning, a Tarot school where anyone can enroll in a degree in tarot card reading.
If you think it’s only the poor, uneducated and bored who turn up for Tarot readings, think again. The rich, powerful, and well-educated are not immune to the allure of the Tarot. Christian Dior was reportedly in the habit of consulting the Tarot to determine the most opportune day to preview his collections, as well as the best time to sneak off for a little vacation. Ronald Reagan’s tenure as President of the United States was haunted by the whispers of tarot cards slipping into the White House through the back door. When Donald Regan, Reagan’s chief of staff, wrote a book detailing his time in the White House, he confirmed these speculations, revealing that Nancy Reagan had an almost obsessive interest in astrology and was, in fact, known to schedule some of the president’s official activities based on information from Tarot cards.
In June 2000, during the height of a controversial US presidential campaign, well-known astrologer Claudia D. Dikinis revealed that, according to her Tarot cards, George W. Bush would win the presidency, despite her personal preference for Al Gore.
In July 2007, Sanjay Dutt, a Bollywood actor, was found guilty of illegal possession of firearms and sentenced to six years in prison. Undaunted by his sentence, famed Tarot reader Mita Bahn quickly pronounced, after studying her Tarot cards, that Dutt would be released. She was right. Just two weeks later, Dutt was granted provisional bond.
If it seems like all these weird goings-on involve the rich and famous, maybe it’s just because they’re more in the public eye. In 1986, Theresa Jackson, a Florida woman, sat at a table and read Tarot cards with her 17-year-old daughter Tina Mancini. Ms. Jackson later told authorities that “the cards told me that one of my blond children was going to die.” Four days later, on March 24, 1986, Tina shoved a .357 Magnum pistol into her mouth and pulled the trigger on her.
While such anecdotes seem to suggest a real power behind the Tarot, it is admittedly circumstantial evidence: they may simply be unusual events that coincided with previous readings. Or maybe the readings themselves were a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’ll never know for sure. Unless, of course, you’re willing to dig up those old Tarot cards gathering dust in your closet… and ask them yourself. You dare?