There have been a number of different (and apparently incompatible) origins suggested for the contemporary tarot cards. The images have been discovered and claimed to have originated in the following cultural contexts.
While at first sight these “origins” are completely incompatible, there is in fact a specific time and place in which all five of the traditions overlap. The time is in the first century CE and the location is in (recently conquered) Roman Gaul.
I will explain how each of the traditions that I have mentioned came to be present in Roman Gaul of that era. The Druidic tradition needs no explanation since it was the “native tradition” of Gaul at the time. The Pythagorean and Greek Mystery traditions entered the region via the ancient Greek city that became the modern day Marseille. This city was founded in Gaul by Greek columnists in approximately 600 BCE. The Egyptian mystery tradition seems to have followed the Greek colonisation. For example the area of the modern Paris was in ancient times associated with a Temple of Isis. This Temple existed in the first century CE, and there were a number of other Egyptian temples in Gaul at that time. It should also be remembered in regard to the Hellenistic cult of Isis that our one surviving alter piece from the cult at that time these so-called “Bembine tablet” has had its imagery compared to that of the tarot by several authorities.
In regard to the integration of the Essene Greek and Egyptian traditions we should also note that the Greek translation of the Bible the Septuagint or LXX took place in Alexandria in Egypt and that some scholars have suggested that various aspects of the Egyptian and Greek mystery traditions were incorporated into some of the Septuagint translation and into the “additional books” that came to be associated with the Alexandrian Cannon. In this respect we should also note that according to Philo of Alexandria a Jewish contemporary of Jesus and Paul who wrote in Greek there was an Essene presence in ancient Egypt. Philo himself is believed by some scholars to have belonged to a “mystery tradition” that incorporated Greek Egyptian and Jewish elements and that was practised in Egypt in the first century CE. We should also remember that the Septuagint was the “Bible” of the early Christian church, and that it was used in preference to the Hebrew version.
As far as the ancient Jewish “Kabbalistic” tradition goes at the time we are considering this was represented by the Essene tradition. As a matter of historical fact we know that at least one prominent Jewish family with associations with both the Essene and early Arabian traditions had extensive landholdings in Gaul in the first century CE. This was the family of the tetrarch Herod Antipas. The same Herod as mentioned in the Gospels. When Herod was finally deposed from his position as tetrarch of Galilee he was sent into exile to his lands in Gaul. It must also be remembered that prior to his marriage to Herodias, he was married to an Arabian Princess who later left him and return to Arabia. Thus Herod’s court would also have been conversant with various aspects of the esoteric Arabian traditions since Arab priests had come in the retinue of his first wife.
As far as connection between Herodian family and the Essenes is concerned this is documented in the case of Herod the great by Josephus. There are also a number of New Testament references that indicate that this connection continued in the time of Herod Antipas. I will not deal with this matter in more detail here because it would take me too far away from the course of my discussion. If we then accept that the Essenes were connected with the Dead Sea scrolls, then we find in those documents a number of “Proto cabalistic” subjects, such as The Tree of Life and other subjects. Once again justification of this position would require a separate article and take me too far from the main thrust of this study, so I will deal with the subject in a later article.
Also in regard to the Arab tradition we must take into account the fact that at the time we are discussing the tradition would not have called itself Sufi but Hanifi. The Hanif were Arab mystics from before the time of Islam, who worshiped a single deity and traced aspects of their tradition back to Abraham. It is important to note in this respect that all the different Arab tribes at this time had Hanifi mystics among them. The importance of this fact is that recent linguistic analysis has revealed an Arabic “substrate” beneath several Celtic languages including languages from southern Gaul, thus indicating the presence of archaic Arabic traditions in this area long enough to leave a linguistic mark. But such a situation cannot have occurred at any time after the first century CE, as we know of no way that such Arabic influence could have made such a strong linguistic impact after that time, and besides which the linguistic impact is on the Gallic languages not on the subsequent languages. It is therefore reasonable to postulate the presence of Hanifi mystics in Gaul in the first century CE on several different grounds.
We must also take into account here the presence of various “Black Virgin” shrines all through the area of Gaul. Ean Begg in his book “The Cult of the Black Virgin documents around 500 of these from areas that were formerly associated with the Gaols. The importance here is the fact that the Association between the colour black and the word “wise” relies upon two Arabic puns that are not available in the Hebrew. The fact that the geographical distribution of these images covers the same area as that of the Goulash Druids suggests an early “integration” of elements from the Arabic tradition into the Druidic tradition, once again this cannot have occurred any time after the first century CE.
In regard to the Druidic tradition a few remarks are in order here. Firstly we must consider the tradition preserved by Clement of Alexandria that certain aspects of the Pythagorean tradition ultimately derive from the Gaelic Druidic tradition. This implies at the very least mutual respect and recognition between the Greek mystery traditions in Gaul and the Druids.
The second point that needs to be considered in regard to the Druidic connections of the tarot cards is that all the evidence for such a connection comes primarily from the ancient Welsh tradition. Although there is certainly a connection between the “treasures” of theTuatha De Dannan in the Irish tradition and the emblems of the minor Arkana of the tarot cards the imagery of the major Arkana is preserved in the Welsh tradition as embedded in the “Merlin Materials, of Jeffrey of Monmouth as has been demonstrated by RJ Stewart.
There was of course a well-known connection between the British Druidic tradition and that of Gaul. Julius Caesar in his book “The Gallic Wars” states that the Druidic tradition during his time was believed to have originated in Britain and that Goulash Druids were often schooled in Britain.
So in the first century CE all of the “suggested originating traditions” of the tarot cards were to be found in Gaul. However the situation is not quite that simple.
The tarot shows strong traces of the influence of all five sources of origin that I have mentioned. It is not enough merely to suggest that the close proximity of the “originating traditions” accounts for the current “tarot synthesis”. We can discern the mind of a great adept behind the fusion of the different traditions into a single whole, indeed only the presence of an adept conversant with all of the traditions that I have mentioned could possibly have created the synthesis of the tarot.
But once again a mere “acquaintance” is not enough, it would require an adept who was a high level initiate of all of the five traditions to produce the “fusion” that resulted in the modern tarot card images. There are two reasons for this conclusion. Firstly because the resultant imagery was later authorised and publicly released this implies approval and high-level cooperation between the different mystery systems involved. Secondly it is inconceivable that anyone not an initiate of all five systems would have been allowed to form such a synthesis let alone produce a synthesis acceptable to all of the systems mentioned.
If such a great adept existed in the first century of the Common Era it is extremely unlikely that such a person would leave no trace in the historical records. We do however have one obvious candidate. That candidate is of course Jesus of Nazareth. There are numerous legends backed up by considerable historical data to indicate that Jesus visited Britain during the so-called “lost years”. A recent survey of this evidence is to be found in the book “The Hidden Years of Jesus” by a modern British archaeologist Dennis Price. It must also be remembered that Jesus had access to the Egyptian, Greek, and Essene tradition from his time spent in Egypt which was prior to his visit to Britain.
However if Jesus created the designs for the tarot cards during his period amongst the British Druids, why is there no mention of this in the New Testament. This question is not of particular importance because there is very little New Testament evidence referring to the “hidden years” of Jesus. So we would not necessarily expect an “invention” that he created to be mentioned in the New Testament. Particularly because such an invention was presumably made in Britain, and thus was not germane to the “salvation drama” in Palestine.
So if Jesus designed the current tarot imagery when and where was such imagery “revealed” to the followers of the ancient wisdom. In order to answer this question we must note the interesting fact that several of Jesus intimate disciples such as Joseph of Arimathea were apparently associated with the Druidic tradition and Mary Magdalene is also traditionally associated with the area of Gaul. There is also the possibility that Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza who was a female disciple of Jesus would have been aware of Jesus connection with the Druids since Chuza as Herod’s steward undoubtedly managed the accounts and paperwork for Herod’s properties in Gaul.
After the Resurrection there was a strong Christian presence in Gaul and Britain represented by Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, and Joanna.
We also know from the writings of Julius Caesar that the ancient Druids used to hold a regular council “at the centre of Gaul” at the location that later became the site of Chartres Cathedral. This was the famous shrine of the “Black virgin” representing Sophia the female aspect of the wisdom of God in the Greek and Hebrew traditions.
So the best hypothesis for how the “invention” of the tarot imagery by Jesus became known is that it was announced at a formal session of the Druidic Council in the area that later became Chartres Cathedral some time after the Resurrection of Jesus.
It is also highly likely that Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene and Joanna were also present at this gathering.
The invention of the tarot in its modern form by Jesus of Nazareth has some important implications from an esoteric viewpoint. Firstly it legitimises the use of the tarot as a genuine method of spiritual advancement even for those in the more orthodox Christian traditions.
Secondly the major Arkana of the tarot could be used to teach literacy in both the Celtic and Hebrew traditions since one of the archaic Celtic alphabets had 22 letters some of which Robert Graves has provisionally identified with tarot imagery, as well as the Hebrew tradition which also contained 22 letters.
The tarot then gives us some idea of the “esoteric synthesis” involving five different traditions that was possible in the first century of the Common Era. It also demonstrates that there is not “one correct answer” concerning which of the five esoteric traditions mentioned above constitute the origins of the tarot. We must take into account all of the five traditions if we wish to fully understand the tarot synthesis.
The other important conclusion that we can draw from an esoteric viewpoint is the profound respect of Jesus of Nazareth for the esoteric traditions outlined above. It should of course be noted that some of these traditions were what would have been called “Pagan” from the viewpoint of some of the more narrow minded rabbis in Palestine and also from the viewpoint of contemporary fundamentalist Christianity. It is important therefore to be able to state that this attitude was not that of Jesus. One does not incorporate traditions that one regards as “evil” into an esoteric synthesis that one regards as “good”. This attitude of Jesus towards the legitimacy of Pagan and non-Jewish religious traditions and priesthoods is also documented (if we know how to read the texts correctly) in the New Testament, and this attitude was continued in the early Christian church by Paul and the Church of Antioch from which he was sent out as a missionary.
I have in this study revealed a “lost treasure” because it is not normally recognised that the tarot cards in their current form were invented by Jesus Christ. Such a realisation profoundly alters our view both of early paganism and early Christianity and their interrelationships, and shows clearly the bankruptcy of the fundamentalist Christian condemnation of the same esoteric tradition of which Jesus Christ himself was a member.