The Tarot is the poor cousin of the other esoteric disciplines such as alchemy, the kabbalah and astrology. In the 20th century Carl Jung elevated alchemy to respectability and Gershom Sholem did the same for the Kabbalah while in astrology figures like Liz Greene, Robert Hand and Geoffrey Cornelius have written serious, scholarly work on the topic.
But the Tarot has found no such allies or towering figures to do its bidding. Both astrology (Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos) and the Kabbalah (Zohar) have foundational texts and alchemy has revered works like the medieval Aurora Consurgens which was attributed to Thomas Aquinas. Newton was obsessed with alchemy and Kepler was known as a brilliant astrologer, but the Tarot has no such legendary figures to enhance its credibility.
The origins of the Tarot are in a Mamluk card game which arrived in Europe sometime around the early 14th century. The major arcana of the Tarot were added to the original game in Italy in the 15th century and it’s in the major arcana, the 22 trump cards, wherein lies the transcendent power of the cards. The only prominent academic to write about the tarot, the English philosopher Michael Dummet, insisted that it had no esoteric meaning and though the prominent Renaissance scholar Frances Yates, took umbrage, no one of her caliber has ever taken on the challenge to dig deeper into the meaning of the major arcana.
The main cause of this problem is the number 22. The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters and there are 22 paths connecting the Sephiroth on the Tree of Life and because of this occultists jumped on the connection and were sure that the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and the major arcana were correlated. First off, this is mere coincidence, and secondly, there are really only 21 cards in the major arcana, The Fool being a liminal figure between the Trump cards and the minor arcana. The prominent scholar of the Kabbalah, Gershom Sholem, was adamant that there was no connection between the Kabbalah and the Tarot.
One might as well try and connect the Kabbalah to Buddhism. The Kabbalah and the Tarot come from very different linguistic, cultural and religious world views. The major arcana of the Tarot are rooted in alchemy, Pythagoras, Plato, western astrology and medieval Christology. Nonetheless, the Tarot has become a place where all ideas stick and while this has creative and psychological merit, it also takes away from the true meaning of the cards.
But maybe for just this reason, the Tarot is all the rage. The Village Voice even went so far as to write, “New York is in the middle of a tarot revival” and goes on to describe how New Yorkers are in the grips of a Tarot craze and the The New York Times writes, “Tarot-deck sales in general are up 30 percent this year, after rising 30 percent in 2016 — the highest in 50 years,” and it goes on to explain how Dior is using Tarot images in it’s designs.
In spite of the lack of a great text or eminent figures to support it, the Tarot persists in convincing millions that within what appears as a mere game, there is something more - and there is. The new documentary, The 21 Faces of God attempts to tap into the deeper meaning of the cards by exploring the foundational ideas of the of Western esoteric tradition and weaving the path of the cards using film, art, music and commentaries from figures like Joseph Campbell, Terence Mckenna and Carl Jung.