Herstory of Women's Tarot

The history of Tarot cards that has been pieced together in recent decades contradicts the mysterious tales of ancient Egyptians, scholarly conclaves in Fez, or Gypsies, showing instead an Italian Renaissance development out of the pack of ordinary playing cards that had been introduced to Europe several decades earlier, and a probable origin date of 1420-1440. This makes Tarot's historical origins not a surviving fragment of matriarchal wisdom, but an expression of a patriarchal age. The earliest decks are fully consistent with the themes present at the transition from the medieval to the renaissance worldview.

There is a great deal of variation among the fragments of the earliest decks that have survived. During the next century or so, the number, order and design of the trumps in the Tarot coalesced into the "Marseilles" standard. This period is not extremely well represented by surviving cards.

According to the documentary evidence, Tarot was not adopted by occultists until the 18th century, 350 years after its first appearance. Where were women at this point? In the late 18th century and early 19th century, there are many records found in the police archives of women as well as men being arrested for fortune-telling with cards. Mlle Le Normand, sibyl/pythonisse and the supposed confidante of Empress Josephine, may be the most famous fortune-teller of all time. Le Normand used a wide variety of divination tools, including different types of fortune-telling cards. Tarot cards were part of the mix, but not the sole tool.

In the wake of the vogue for divination, a Frenchman named Etteilla launched a new wave of "rectification". It was at this point that Tarot designs were modified to reflect a new Egyptian origin myth, and to be used specifically for divinatory purposes. The Etteilla deck begins the trend of Egyptianized Tarots.

The next series of revisions corresponded with the "esoteric correspondence filing cabinet" notion of Tarot. There were two dominant forms of this understanding - an early French tradition, and a later Golden Dawn tradition. The Golden Dawn tradition contributes the framework embedded in the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS), Crowley-Harris "Thoth", and Case-Burns-Parke "BOTA" decks. In all three of these decks, the designer and writer was a man, and the artist who executed the designs was a woman (Pamela Colman-Smith, Lady Frieda Harris and Jessie Burns Parke respectively).

Now we get to the 1960's and 1970's when deck creation began to explode in a multiplicity of forms. This is when the "Fool's Journey" idea began to take off, thanks to the embrace of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). Together with popular understandings of Jungian psychology, the Fool's Journey and personal analysis through Tarot eventually overshadow the "esoteric filing cabinet" concept in the quantity of books published about the Tarot. Despite its relative youth, judging from those books, the RWS comes to be seen as the "traditional" tarot, rather than the Marseilles.

Tarot as a keystone of the Women's Spirituality movement branches off in a different direction from the mainstream in the mid-1970's.

  • 1960 - Eden Gray, The Tarot Revealed - Her books were the first texts found by most people who got into tarot during the 1960's and early 1970's, and featured the RWS. She published A Complete Guide to the Tarot in 1970 and Mastering the Tarot in 1971.
  • 1965 - Helen Diner, Mothers and Amazons (Julian Press Inc.)
  • 1966 - Catherine Perry Hargrave, A History of Playing Cards
  • 1966 - Moakley, Gertrude, The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo
  • 1967 - James Mellaart, Catal Huyuk (Thames & Hudson)
  • 1968 - WITCH founded
  • 1969 - Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party - contained a timeline that traced Goddess culture from its prehistoric roots to the present [The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage. Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1979]
  • 1970 - Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (Penguin Books)
  • 1971 - Elizabeth Gould Davis, The First Sex (G.P. Putnam & Sons)
  • 1971 - Susan B Anthony coven founded
  • 1972 - Hyemeyhosts Storm, Seven Arrows (Ballantine Books)
  • 1974 - Marija Gimbutas, The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe, 7000-30000 BC, Myths, Legends, and Cult Images (Thames & Hudson)
  • 1976 - Sally Gearhart and Susan Rennie, A Feminist Tarot (Pandora's Box) - This book gave feminist interpretations of the RWS deck.
  • 1976 - Womanspirit Circle Lillith, The Matriarchal Tarot conceived. This spawned at least three sister decks - Daughters of the Moon, Book of Aradia and Shekhinah's Tarot.
  • 1976 - Merlin Stone, When God Was A Woman (Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)
  • 1976 - Anne Kent Rush, Moon, Moon (Moon Books/Random House)
  • 1977 - Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi (Penguin Books)
  • 1978 - Stuart Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume I
  • 1978 - Billie Potts, A New Woman's Tarot (Elf and Dragons Press)
  • 1978-9 - Vicki Noble and Karen Vogel, Motherpeace images created
  • 1979 - Billie Potts, River Lightwomoon, Susun Weed, and many artists, The Amazon Tarot deck published (Elf and Dragons Press)
  • 1979-1980 - Zsuzsunna Budapest. The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries, Vol. I and II. (Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1)
  • 1979 - Starhawk. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of he Great Goddess: Rituals, Innovations, Exercises, Magic (Harper & Row Publishers)
  • 1979 - Merlin Stone, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, Vol I and II (New Sybilline Press)
  • 1980 - Michael Dummett, The Game of Tarot
  • 1980 - Rachel Pollack, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Freedom: A Book of the Tarot (Aquarian Press)
  • 1980 - Sun Bear and Wabun, The Medicine Wheel: Earth Astrology (Prentice-Hall Inc.)
  • 1980? - Lynn Andrews, Medicine Woman
  • 1981 - Patricia Monaghan. The Book of Goddesses and Heroines (E.P. Dutton)
  • 1981 - Vicki Noble and Karen Vogel, The Motherpeace Round Tarot Deck (first edition self-published, now published by US Games)
  • 1981 - Gail Fairfield, Choice Centered Tarot (Ramp Creek Publishing Inc.)
  • 1982 - Susun Weed, Transparent Tarot (self-published pamphlet)
  • 1983 - Susun Weed, Goddesses of the Tarot (self-published pamphlet)
  • 1983 - Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon
  • 1983 - Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (Harper & Row Publishers)
  • 1983 - Vicki Noble, Motherpeace: A Way to the Goddess Through Myth Art and Tarot (Harper & Row Publishers)
  • 1984 - Ffiona Morgan and 14 other artists, Daughters of the Moon deck and book published (Daughters of the Moon) - Illustrating Artists: Kate Taylor, Ffiona Morgan, Lily Hill, Max Dashu, Jean Chavez, Linden Berk, Ellen Fishburn, Merridy Volz, Jean Van Slyke, Susan Stacey, Terra Candage, Jennifer Weston, Rainbow, Diane Nelson. Original creation, "A Matriarchal Tarot" by Ffiona Morgan and Shekhinah Mountainwater
  • 1984 - Billie Potts and River Lightwomoon and 20 other artists, The New Amazon Tarot deck published (Hecuba's Daughter, Inc.)
  • 1984 - Djinni Van Slyke, Book of Aradia deck published (Aradia Press) (Tarot Passages, Aisling Magazine)
  • 1984 - Shekhinah Mountainwater, Instructions for Using the Book of Aradia Tarot (Aradia Press)
  • 1984 - Ruth West, Thea's Tarot deck published (Reviewed: Mystic Eye, Tarot Passages, Tarot Passages)
  • 1984 - Mary K. Greer, Tarot For Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation
  • 1984 - Barbara G. Walker, The Secrets of the Tarot: Origins, History and Symbolism (Harper & Row Publishers)
  • 1986 - Jesse Cougar, A Poet's Tarot deck published (Tough Dove Book) (Reviewed: Wicce, Tarot Passages, C. J. Rose)
  • 1986 - Barbara Walker, Barbara Walker Tarot deck published (US Games)
  • 1986 - Robert O'Neill, Tarot Symbolism
  • 1986 - Worlds Fair in Vancouver "Spirit Lodge" sponsored by General Motors
  • 1986 - Vicki Noble and Jonathon Tenney, The Motherpeace Tarot Playbook, (Wingbow Press)
  • 1987 - Carol Bridges, The Medicine Woman Tarot deck published (Earth Nation, published in color by US Games since 1989).
  • 1987 - Carol Bridges, The Medicine Woman Inner Guidebook: A Woman's Guide to Her Unique Powers published (Earth Nation, revised 1991 US Games)
  • 1987 - Barbara Mor and Monica Sjoo, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth (Harper & Row)
  • 1990 - Stuart Kaplan, Encyclopedia of Tarot, volume III - contained biography of Pamela Colman Smith
  • 1990 - Amy Zerner and Monte Farber, The Enchanted Tarot deck and book published (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press)
  • 1991 - Andy Smith, "For All Those Who Were Indian in a Former Life", Woman of Power magazine, No. 19, Winter 1991
  • 1992 - Shining Woman Tarot deck and book published
  • 1993 - Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality
  • 1995 - Mary K. Greer, Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses
  • 1995 - Karen Vogel, Motherpeace Tarot Guidebook (US Games Systems, Inc.)
  • 1995 - Julie Cuccia-Watts, Ancestral Path Tarot deck published by (US Games Systems, Inc.)
  • 1996 - Tracey Hoover, The Ancestral Path Tarot: Paths to Wisdom Using the Ancestral Path Tarot (US Games Systems, Inc.)
  • 1997 - Melanie Gendron, Gendron Tarot deck published (US Games Systems, Inc.)
  • 1997 - Kay Steventon, Spiral Tarot deck published (US Games Systems, Inc.)
  • 1998 - Kay Steventon, Spiral Tarot: A Story of the Cycles of Life (US Games Systems, Inc.)
  • 1997 - Wheel of Change Tarot deck and book published
  • 1998 - Goddess Tarot deck published by US Games
  • 2000-2001 - The TarotL Tarot History Information Sheet, Compiled and edited by Tom Tadfor Little based on input from Mary K. Greer, Tom Tadfor Little, Nina Lee Braden, Linda Dunn, Mark Filipas, Robert V. O'Neill, Christine Payne-Towler, Robert Place, James Revak, and others.
  • 2001 - World Spirit Tarot deck published by Llewellyn
  • 2001 - Rachel Pollack, Shining Tribe Tarot deck reissued by Llewellyn (revised version of Shining Woman)
  • 2002 - Isha Lerner and Mara Friedman, The Triple Goddess Tarot deck and book published (Bear & Company/Inner Traditions)
  • 2002 - Flash Silvermoon and Barbara Vogel, The Wise Woman's Tarot deck and book published (MoonFox Productions)
  • 2003 - Oracle Tarot deck published

This is not an exhaustive list, but should still be helpful in seeing the context of trend developments.

Key: purple text: Women's Spirituality milestones
green text: Playing Card and Tarot History milestones
brown text: New Age appropriation of Native American Spirituality milestones (added to contextualize Medicine Woman)
black text: Women's Tarot milestones



See visual comparison of Woman Mother Goddess Tarots

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Decorative graphics copyright Full Moon Graphics
Text and arrangement Copyright © 2002 Joan Schraith Cole.

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