Tarot Images

M1. Dreams are often full of archetypal and tarot images. The reason being that dreams are personal representations of images that society displays. And of course, the reverse is true as images in society come from the depths of individual artists’ psyches who are portraying their own dreams.

Tarot Images are from Dream

Many Tarot enthusiasts will tell you that the Tarot Cards originate from Egypt, or from the middle east or maybe from the gypsies of eastern Europe or other exotic lands, more than a thousand years ago or even before that.But let’s not speculate too much and try and stick to the facts.

In 14th Century Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was losing some of its power; and magical forces and superstitious practices, which had never fully gone away, were on the rise. That is why we see the start of The Inquisition, with its reputation for the torture of free thinkers, and also the burning of so many (mainly) women as witches. It was a cruel and highly political period of history right across Western Europe. This is also the time when the Tarot cards first appear.

The Tarot pack was first of all used for playing card games. But as time went on it became the haven for many other ideas as well. Popular images that people clearly wanted access to got stored  along with the cards already used in these Tarot card games.

The Tarot Pack

Nowadays, the Tarot is usually made up of 78 cards classified into 5 suits as follows:

  • There a 4 suits which are similar to normal playing cards but instead of hearts, clubs diamonds and spades, they are often called cups, wands, pentacles and swords. Also, the royals in these suits have an extra card, making 4 royals and 10 number cards in each of the 4 suits.
  • The fifth suit is then a Trump suit and consists of 22 picture cards. These were the cards used to store these archetypal images as desired by the population.

Tarot Cards have been used and still are used in many different ways by different people. These range from simple card playing to fortune telling, to depth-psychology analyzes.

The 22 Trump Cards

  1. The oldest Tarot Trump Cards, that still exist, date from early in the 15th Century in France and Northern Italy and have developed since then, through various styles, up until the huge growth in Tarot flavors over the last 50 years.
  2. Many of the images on the Tarot Trump Cards are archetypal and certainly originated long before the 15th Century.
  3. The Tarot Trump Cards we know today are an assemblage of these old images and put together for a purpose.
  4. It seems clear the purpose of the Tarot Trump Cards is to support a story whose vocabulary was those well-known pictures of the day. The center of this story is often called the Fool’s Journey and is woven around these 22 cards.
  5. Actually, in my view, it is not really the Fool’s Journey, but the Magician’s Journey, since the Fool never goes anywhere but is everywhere and nowhere being number zero.

To me, the Tarot Trump Cards tell the story of the path to the spiritual life that transcends religious doctrine and forms a guide to a kind of perennial philosophy which is common to many civilizations and cultures around the world. The images come from the dreams of 12th Century artists into the common psyche

Archetypal Images Before Tarot

I believe the Tarot Trump Cards were assembled using well-known images of the day to help in telling important stories. There is disagreement over what these stories were, but there is no argument over the fact that the images existed before the earliest Tarot cards we currently have.

Here are some of the most obvious examples:

The World Card

Compare The World Card with an earlier archetypal image at St. Sernin Basilica in Toulouse is a marble sculpture of Christ in Majesty is shown seated inside a mandorla and surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists.


On the central west portal of Chartres Cathedral, built in about 1150, there is an image of Christ enthroned within a mandorla. He is surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists. This certainly looks very similar to the World Card and apparently is a representation of the End of Time as described in the Book of Revelation.


Around 1200 CE this is a common theme in depicted in churches and illuminated manuscripts.

The Strength Card

There is a sculpture of maybe Samson above the door at Chartres Cathedral that looks very similar to the Strength card.


And also below is another sculpture from a cathedral (I have lost the origin but it’s in France and from around 1200 CE)


The Tower Card

On a small quatrefoil embrasure, a scene on the wall of Amiens Cathedral looks remarkably like card 16, The Tower


There are other examples but I think the above makes it clear that the Tarot Trump Cards make use of well-known images in the minds of the people of the day. And that these images originated in the imaginations of artists around 1150 CE to 1250 CE.

Again, artists commonly use dream images for their works, so it’s a small step from Tarot to dreams and back again. They were simply popular images of their day in Medieval times.


7 thoughts on “Tarot Images

  1. Pingback: Tarot Dream | dream4fun.com

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