There are many stories about the history of Tarot cards, some details are a certainty, other information less so, their original essence lost in the mists of time. The following is based on information gathered together over a number of years & the details when woven together make a credible attempt at putting Tarot into some kind of historical & cultural order.
By suit they were said to represent four classes in society. Swords for the aristocracy, Cups for the churchmen, Coins for the merchants & batons/Wands for the peasants & were thought to teach nobleman the rule of life & to instruct in the way of labouring virtuously. In fact there is evidence to suggest that cards have been used to as a teaching tool, special packs for teaching children history & geography were still being used in France in the late C19. A pack in printed in England in 1692 taught the art of carving meat & fish.
The king of Clubs dissects a pickled Herring!It could well be that the Tarot trumps were devised separately as a means of conveying more complicated teaching about the world .It is generally accepted that the earliest playing cards originated in Korea & China, examples date back to C11.It is also accepted that tarot cards began as a form of playing cards.It is also possible that the Arabs may have brought the cards with them after attempting to cross the Mediterranean in C7.
Some think that the cards came from Egypt & the word tarot is derived from an ancient Egyptian word Ta-rosh meaning royal way. Torah, Hebrew for law is hoping to link the cards with the mystical system of Kabala.The Knights Templar get a credit with their invention. They were founded in 1188 but were eradicated by 1314.many have thought that the Gypsies brought the cards, but the Gypsies did not make an appearance in the west until the C15.
The Major trumps were in existence by 1415, when a tarot pack was created for the young Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti. The Visconti Sforza deck by Bonifacio Bembo.It is also reported that in 1379 by Cola di Covelluzzo, the cards turned up in Viterbo, northern Italy & were brought by the Saracens from Spain. The Saracens called the cards Nayb, The word Naibi could be a derivative, Naibi is a Hebrew word meaning sorcery. It may be worth mentioning here that the 4 suits at this time were said to mention aspects of the divine, in Islam it is not allowed to portray the Divine in a living image, so were adopted by the images of the suits, pretty much as we know them today, although wands/rods/batons were also polo sticks.
The Marseille & Spanish decks in particular, still have traces of that imagery in their minor arcana.The general concensus of thinking is that the cards we know were devised somewhere in Northern Italy & their makers were perhaps inspired by oriental cards brought from the east by merchants returning to the trading post of Venice, however the famous Cabalist & Tarot specialist, Paul Foster Case indicates Fez in 1200 as an important place in the development of Tarot by leading philosophers & theologians who would have gathered in Fez which at that time was a major city on the spice route & also a centre of great learning with a thriving university which had already been open for many years. It is very likely, that if this be the case, then the cards would have been absorbed on to the spice trail & possibly hit several destinations all at once.It is important to remember that at this time the world was opening up & flourishing.
As trade routes opened up, opposing factions had to deal with each others interests & philosophies. The church in the west feared threat to its position & new ideas could be openly discussed without a charge of heresy being brought. Translation became an important intellectual axctivity. Arabic & Jewish were made available to the scholars of Europe. The Normans in C11 broke up the Celtic beliefs & the Grail legends entered Europe through the courts of northern France.
Art & literature Of the C12 & C13 reflected mans increasing concern for his interior
development & his awareness of a need for psychological growth & a greater degree of spiritual maturity, something more than the church could offer.