This is a French word for a type of playing cards used by fortune tellers for the act of divination. Although in some countries in southern Europe tarot cards actually form part of an ordinary pack of cards. There have been suggestions that the name came about because the cards have tarotees on the backs (plain and dotted lines that cross diagonally), and the German version of the word 'tarock-harte' means a card with a chequered back.
However, De le' Hoste Ranking dismissed these explanations for the term's origination, claiming instead that the word derives from the Hungarian gypsy word 'tar' meaning a pack of cards, and to the Hindustani 'taru'. These cards have emblematic figures on them, widely believed to represent the esoteric religion found in ancient Egypt and India.
Vaillant was the first to claim that Gypsies introduced tarot cards to Europe, as he lived alongside them for a number of years and became privy to their many traditions. Ranking also concluded that in fact, all playing cards were brought into Europe by the Gypsies. The French writer 'Papus' accepted Vaillant's theory and in 1889 he published "Le Tarot des Bohemiens: Le Plus Ancien Livre de Monde".
He described the Gypsies' card game of tarot as the Bible of Bibles. The emblematic figures found on tarot cards are the Pope, the King, the Female Pope, the Queen, Justice, the Wheel of Fortune, Osiris Triumphant, Temperance, Prudence, Marriage, Strength, the Juggler, Death, the Philosopher, the Fool, the Devil, the Lightning-Struck Tower, the Star, the Moon, the Sun, the Last Judgement and the Universe.
Even amidst tarot card readers there is huge argument about the meanings behind the symbols, and each one is examined in detail in the works of Papus. Overall, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that tarot started life in India and Egypt, however it found its way to Europe.