Origin and Meanings of Playing Cards

Have you ever wondered where playing cards came from? Think one word: Tarot.

The playing cards we know today evolved from Tarot cards. The source of the Tarot is disputed, but it is known that the first decks appeared in Italy in the Middle Ages. A game called “tarochi” was played using these cards.

The Tarot cards were created by mystics and occultists who hid their teachings in the symbols in the cards. Aside from the court cards and pips (numbered cards) collectively known as the Minor Arcana, the Tarot also had twenty-two unique cards known as the Major Arcana. The Major Arcana are not present in modern playing cards.

Court Cards

In the oldest Tarot decks, there were four court cards instead of three. In modern decks we find only the king, queen and jack. In Tarot decks you may find king, queen, knight and page; king, queen, prince and princess and so on.

The court cards are thought to have a connection with the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. The name of the Hebrew God or YHVH corresponds to the court cards and elements as well.


The original Tarot had four suits just like today’s deck. They were: swords (spades), cups (hearts), wands (clubs) and discs or pentacles (diamonds).

Sword corresponds to fire and will; wands to air and intellect; cups to water and emotions; and discs to earth and material wealth and the body.


The aces are special in that they contain the essence of their suits. The pips also bore mystical significance according to their face values. These cards were also associated with astrological alignments.


The joker most likely evolved from one of the “trump cards” or Major Arcana. One of the twenty-two trump cards of the Tarot is known as the Fool. This card is numbered 0 and 22, being the first and last of the Major Arcana.

To the mystics and occultists who designed the Tarot, the joker or fool represented ordinary men who knew nothing about the Tarot mysteries.

Modern Tarot and Playing Cards

There are innumerable variations of the Tarot deck sold today. The standard version – the Rider-Waite deck – assigns the suits to the elements differently. Wands stand for fire and swords for air in the deck. Tarot cards are popularly used as a tool for divination.

Today’s playing cards have only the pips, three court cards for each suit and a joker.

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