A playing card, seventy-eight to the pack; fifty-six are called the Lesser Arcana and are divided into four suits; the wands or clubs, the cups or hearts, the Swords or spades, and the pentacles or diamonds. Each suit contains four court cards, the King, Queen, Knight and Page, with ten spot cards, numbered from ace to ten. The spots are usually presented in geometrical designs and sometimes combined with pictures illustrating the inner meaning of the cards.
The rest of the cards, known as the Greater Arcana, comprises a series of symbolic pictures. Each of the cards has a special title and a number. The doctrine behind these symbols has many forms and meanings; veiled as it is by symbols, it speaks many languages, and its emblems convey a message to students of alchemy and astrology. As one writer upon the Subject says "it is full of meaning no matter by what path the student may have approached the truth which is at the head of the ancient mysteries, and though its symbolism expresses Universal ideas it also represents a particular version of sacred science, being a Symbolic alphabet of the occult philosophy of Israel.;' In its present form the Tarot dates from the fourteenth century, but many authorities believe it to have come down to us from a much earlier Source. Those who credit the cards with a more modern origin derive the name from Tarote, meaning spotted, and in French frequently applied to the checker work on the backs of playing cards.
Those who connect the cards with many more centuries of age refer the name to Thoth, an Egyptian Deity resembling the Greek Clod Hermes, anti later identified with Hermes Trismegistus. Thoth was the God of intelligence, magic, Science and invention, who taught the people to write and calculate. The philosophical aspects of the subject are treated in Les 22 Arcanes du Tarot Kabbalistique, LeSymbolisme Hermétique, also the beautiful treatise Le Tarot des Imagiers du Moyen Age with specially designed set of the symbolical cards, all three of these works by Oswald Wirth of Paris; the Tarot of Bohemians, by Papus, the pen name of Dr. Gerard Encausse; An Introduction to the Study of Tarot by Paul F. Case, New York, 1920, and a general discussion is in Prophetical, Educational and Playing Cards, by Mrs. John King Van Rennselaer.