tarots (târˈōz) [key], playing cards that are used mainly for fortunetelling, sometimes called "the book of divination of the Gypsies." It is generally believed that the cards were introduced into Western Europe by the Romani (Gypsies) in the mid-15th cent. There is much conjecture about their origin. The pack of 78 cards is divided into the minor arcana, or 56 pictorial cards that roughly resemble the modern deck of 52 cards: wands (clubs), cups (hearts), swords (spades), and pentacles (diamonds). Each of the four suits comprises 14 cards, 10 numbered from ace to 10 and 4 court cards—king, queen, knight, and page. The 22 additional pictorial cards, called the major arcana, are numbered from zero to 21. The pictures on the 78 cards are allegorical, representing forces of nature and the virtues or vices of man. Interpretations and ways of determining the meanings of the cards vary greatly.

See B. G. Walker, The Secrets of the Tarot (1984); J. Sharman-Burke, The Complete Book of Tarot (1986).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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