The tarot (/'tæro?/; first known as trionfi and later as tarocchi, tarock, and others) is a pack of playing cards (most commonly numbering 78), used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play a group of card games such as Italian tarocchini and French tarot.
The first known documented tarot cards were created between 1430 and 1450 in Milan, Ferrara and Bologna in northern Italy when additional trump cards with allegorical illustrations were added to the common four-suit pack.
Divination using playing cards is in evidence as early as 1540, and by the late 18th century until the present time the tarot has often found use by mystics and occultists in efforts at divination or as a map of mental and spiritual pathways.
The English and French word tarot derives from the Italian tarocchi, which has no known origin or etymology.
Even today, the tarot remains unsurpassed at describing human emotion, motivation, and other universal aspects of our nature and experience .
Tarot was used as early as the 16th century to compose poems, called "tarocchi appropriati", describing ladies of the court or famous personages. In modern literature, two exceptional examples of novels centered on the tarot are The Greater Trumps (1932) by Charles Williams and Il castello dei destini incrociati (1969) (English translation: The Castle of Crossed Destinies ) by Italo Calvino.
Carl Jung was the first psychoanalyst to attach importance to tarot symbolism. He may have regarded the tarot cards as representing archetypes: fundamental types of persons or situations embedded in the collective unconscious of all human beings. The theory of archetypes gives rise to several psychoanalytical uses. Since the cards represent these different archetypes within each individual, ideas of the subject's self-perception can be gained by asking them to select a card that they 'identify with'. Equally, the subject can try to clarify the situation by imagining it in terms of the archetypal ideas associated with each card. For instance, someone rushing in heedlessly like the Knight of Swords, or blindly keeping the world at bay like the Rider-Waite-Smith Two of Swords.
More recently Timothy Leary has suggested that the tarot trump cards are a pictorial representation of human development from infant to adult, with the Fool symbolizing the newborn infant, the Magician symbolizing the stage at which an infant begins to play with artifacts, etc. In Leary's view the tarot trumps may be viewed as a blueprint for the human race as it matures.