SCA Period Appropriate Tarot Decks:
A Picture is Worth 1000 Words


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Israel von Mechanem engraving late 15th century I write this page as a SCAdian with an interest in hermetic and occult sciences in period, and the historical development of Tarot iconography and iconology. This may be the only SCAdian tarot website with this orientation, though there are several (to which I have linked) that examine Tarot as a cardgame. If I have missed linking to a site of either type, please let me know.

Tarocchi, the trick-taking game, is very period. Tarot's use in poetry composition (tarocchi appropriati) is period. The evidence for fortune-telling with Tarot cards, however, is sketchy and inconclusive prior to the 18th Century. Yet other types of fortune-telling, such as geomancy and chiromancy (palm-reading), even dice and losbüchern (lot books or fortune-telling books) and divination wheels are well-documented in period. The absence of Tarot in those sources may well be meaningful... and then again it may not. Speaking of cleromancy (divination by dice), it is intriguing to note that with two cubic dice, twenty-one different numerical combinations can be obtained, assuming the dice are so similar as to be indistinguishable (the unordered set).

The tarot decks displayed below would be appropriate for use in an SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) or Renaissance Faire context. All too often Rider-Waite decks are spotted in such venues, and that deck is out of period, as it was published in 1910. Marseilles decks that are available today are generally reproductions of 17th and 18th Century decks. Since the historical record is extremely sparse on decks from the 16th Century, it is difficult to say whether Marseilles-style decks are just like period woodcut decks or different. The Marseilles lineage is only one of many patterns of early decks. At any rate, they are much better than Rider Waite and its variants in this context.

The Visconti-Sforza Pierpont Morgan and Cary-Yale Visconti are actual reproductions of 15th century Italian decks (with a few recreated missing cards)

The next decks are modern and based on period styles. If you are not one to want peri-oid items in your kit when period recreations are available, these next decks are not going to be appropriate for you. The Old English is based on a period manuscript, the Luttrell Psalter, which significantly predates the first known Tarot deck. The Medieval Scapini is a modern reinterpretation of the Visconti decks. The Nigel Jackson is an antique-feeling reinterpretion of the RWS. The Renaissance is modern but inspired by Italian Renaissance art.

The book written by Brian Williams to go with the Renaissance Tarot is recommended even if you do not acquire that deck. It gives a good overview of Tarot history and Renaissance iconography as it pertains to the Tarot. There is also a book by Robert O'Neill called Tarot Symbolism which is out of print and extremely difficult to find which covers Tarot and Renaissance iconography in greater depth than the Williams book. It is apparently being reprinted now. See more information at this review.

Finally, trump cards from three very early Marseilles-type decks (c. 1650 and 1701), and the pear wood printing blocks from a fourth (1760) are displayed.

Acquiring Period Card Decks by David Kuijt / Dafydd ap Gwystl in the SCA
On the Game of Tarot by Justin de Coeur
Game Report: Early French Tarot Redactor: Justin du Coeur
Rules to Period Games contains links to other reconstructions of Tarot
Historical Interest Tarot Decks (many more decks listed, but text only)
Andy's Playing Card Picture Gallery
Masters of Tarot Biographies
Dr. Robert V. O'Neill Tarot Library
Catharism and the Tarot
Michael's Tarot Notebook (Michael J. Hurst)
Collected Fragments of Tarot History: A Chronological Fact Sheet and Index by Michael J. Hurst
Web Resources for Tarot History
Research of Tarocchi - This site is dedicated to offer material useful for the research of Trionfi, Tarocchi or Tarot and other playing cards in 14th/15th and a little bit of 16th century. Presents a theory about a 5x14-Trionfi-deck in the early stage of development of the Tarocchi, later called the Tarot.

See also: Medieval and Renaissance Tarots (Theme page at Aeclectic.Net)

If you are interested in the occult side of Tarot, you might find the books accompanying the following modern decks to be quite interesting. Though there is insufficient evidence to state that the occult topics they present were associated with Tarot in period, the topics themselves, alchemy and numerology, are period (and much moreso than the Victorian eclecticisms that inform so much of modern occultism).
Alchemical Tarot - this beautiful deck was inspired by fifteenth century alchemical engravings. The book gives the sources of the engravings which inspired each card. Robert Place has also done Tarot of the Saints, based on Catholic Saints, which is also gorgeous... and we know that Catholicism is period!
Pythagorean Tarot - The accompanying 470 page book interprets the cards based on Pythagorean number theory, alchemical principles, and number-letter associations based on the Greek alphabet rather than the Hebrew. (paraphrased from this review). It also discusses dice divination in the classical period and how this could map to Tarot. See this site for another take on Pythagorean number theory and Tarot.

Astrology in Period:
The Planets and Their Children: A Medieval Blockbook
Robert Zoller Medieval Astrology
Medieval Astrology at Wind and Sky (contains reviews of books about Medieval Astrology)
Renaissance Astrology by Christopher Warnock, Esq.
Marsilio Ficino
William Lilly and 17th Century Astrologers

Other Hermetic Sciences:
The Alchemy Website and Virtual Library (This site is monstrously huge)
Witchcraft and the Occult, 1400-1700
Review of Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic
Henry Cornelius Agrippa, His Fourth BOOK of Occult Philosophy. Of GEOMANCY

I have more links about Tarot history prior to the Victorian occult renaissance collected at this page: Classic Tarots.

If you haven't thoroughly scoured this site, go immediately! The Hermitage: Tarot History

Click on the name of the deck to get to more information about the deck and a review

Deck Pope (Hierophant) Angel (Judgment) World Queen of Wands Five of Cups Ace of Swords Ten of Swords Nine of Coins
Period Handpainted Decks
Cary-Yale Visconti (c. 1440)
Pope is the card "Faith"

deck cover

Cary-Yale Hierophant
Cary-Yale Judgment
Cary-Yale World
Cary-Yale Queen of Batons
Cary-Yale 5 of Cups
Cary-Yale Ace of Swords
Cary-Yale 10 of Swords
Cary-Yale 9 of Coins
Pierpont-Morgan Bergamo Visconti-Sforza (c. 1450)

deck cover

Visconti-Sforza Hierophant
Visconti-Sforza Judgment
Visconti-Sforza World
Visconti-Sforza Queen of Batons
Visconti-Sforza 5 of Cups
Visconti-Sforza Ace of Swords
Visconti-Sforza 10 of Swords
Visconti-Sforza 9 of Coins
"Charles VI" (c. 1470)
Trumps reproduced and pips, court are modern in LS Estensi Tarot

deck cover

Grigonneur Pope
Grigonneur Angel
Grigonneur World
Estensi Queen of Batons
Estensi 5 of Cups
Estensi Ace of Swords
Estensi 10 of Swords
Estensi 9 of Coins
Modern Peri-oid Decks
Alchemical (modern)


Alchemical Hierophant
Alchemical Judgment
Alchemical World
Alchemical Queen of Wands
Alchemical 5 of Cups
Alchemical Ace of Swords
Alchemical 10 of Swords
Alchemical 9 of Coins
Golden Tarot (modern)

deck cover

Golden Hierophant
Golden  Judgment
Golden  World
Golden  Queen of Wands
Golden 5 of Cups
Golden Ace of Swords
Golden 10 of Swords
Golden 9 of Coins
Medieval Scapini (modern)

deck cover

Medieval Scapini Pope
Medieval Scapini Judgment
Medieval Scapini World
Medieval Scapini Queen of Batons
Medieval Scapini 5 of Cups
Medieval Scapini Ace of Swords
Medieval Scapini 10 of Swords
Medieval Scapini 9 of Coins
Nigel Jackson (modern)

cards cover

Nigel Jackson Hierophant
Nigel Jackson Judgment
Nigel Jackson World
Nigel Jackson Queen of Wands
Nigel Jackson 5 of Cups
Nigel Jackson Ace of Swords
Nigel Jackson 10 of Swords
Nigel Jackson 9 of Coins
Old English (modern)


Old English Hierophant
Old English Judgment
Old English World
Old English Queen of Batons
Old English 5 of Cups
Old English Ace of Swords
Old English 10 of Swords
Old English 9 of Coins
Renaissance (modern)

deck cover book cover

Renaissance Hierophant
Renaissance Judgment
Renaissance World
Renaissance Queen of Wands
Renaissance 5 of Cups
Renaissance Ace of Swords
Renaissance 10 of Swords
Renaissance 9 of Coins
Ship of Fools (modern)

deck cover

Ship of Fools Hierophant
Ship of Fools Judgment
Ship of Fools World
Ship of Fools Queen of Wands
Ship of Fools 5 of Cups
Ship of Fools Ace of Swords
Ship of Fools 10 of Swords
Ship of Fools 9 of Coins
Period Engraved or Woodcut Decks
Sola Busca (late 15th century)
A theme deck of the Late Republic of Rome, with unusual trumps, and the first deck with "illustrated pips". This is a repro of a 19th century copy.

deck cover

Sola Busca Catulo (Hierophant)
Sola Busca Nenbroto (Judgment)
Sola Busca Nabuchodenasor (World)
Sola Busca Queen of Batons
Sola Busca 5 of Cups
Sola Busca Ace of Swords
Sola Busca 10 of Swords
Sola Busca 9 of Coins
Paris Tarot
(Italian suited, early 17th century, may be the oldest surviving complete deck with counterparts to modern trumps currently available to us)
Paris World
Paris Royne de Baston
Paris Ace of Swords
Paris Ten of Swords
Jacques Viéville (Belgian pattern, c. 1650)
Jacques Viéville Hierophant
Jacques Viéville Judgment
Jacques Viéville World
Jean Noblet (c. 1650)
Jean Noblet Hierophant
Jean Noblet Judgment
Jean Noblet World
Jean Dodal (1701)
Jean Dodal Hierophant
Jean Dodal Judgment
Jean Dodal World
Nicolas Conver (1760)


Nicolas Conver Hierophant
Nicolas Conver Judgment
Nicolas Conver World
Nicolas Conver Queen of Wands
Nicolas Conver 5 of Cups
Nicolas Conver Ace of Swords
Nicolas Conver 10 of Swords
Nicolas Conver 9 of Coins


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Introductory text and arrangement of this page Copyright © 2001 Joan Schraith Cole.