glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy





social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z


The tarot is a set of 78 cards with evocative imagery that is often used in fortune-telling. Italian in origin, tarot cards possess a lineage over five hundred years old. Today, one can find many different types of tarot card decks in both metaphysical and mainstream bookstores. Due to the rich allegorical symbolism found on each card, a tarot deck is an ideal tool not only for divination, but also for self-discovery, meditation, and intuitive work.

The traditional tarot deck (which greatly influenced modern decks) was somewhat heterosexist in nature, in that the archetype of "love" was depicted in terms of a male/female pairing. At the same time, other tarot images emphasized balance and even . Indeed, it has been argued that the philosophical message underpinning tarot imagery idealizes the combination of male and female energies and principles within a single person. However, it is only in recent years that a small number of artists have developed decks that are specifically aimed at lesbian, gay, and feminist audiences.

Sponsor Message.


Tarot cards were created in Northern Italy in the early fifteenth century, approximately fifty years after the introduction of playing cards into Europe via Muslim Spain. Used for a game that is the precursor to modern-day bridge (known in Italian first as triumphi, then later as tarocchi), the tarot deck consisted of four suits made up of numbered and court cards, much like other decks of the time. What made this new deck unique was the addition of 22 cards decorated with richly symbolic imagery.

Tarot became a popular pastime, and over the centuries the use of such cards spread throughout Europe (in France it was called tarot, the name that we use today). At the same time, the images depicted on the cards underwent changes as well. In particular, the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries saw the development of the Tarot of Marseilles, which became a commonly used deck.

Tarot decks began to be used for divinatory purposes beginning in the early eighteenth century, if not before. Occultists began claiming that the tarot was actually a compilation of wisdom that was ancient Egyptian in origin. These practitioners interpreted tarot cards using an esoteric framework that included the Kabala, Hermeticism, alchemy, numerology, and astrology.

Occult ideas and practices certainly influenced Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) and Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951), who created the Waite-Smith Tarot, which first appeared in 1909. This deck is significant because its popularity ensured that it would become the standard against which future tarot decks would be measured.

Glbtq Significance

Besides being a card game and a way to foretell the future, tarot cards have more recently also been used as psychological tools for self-exploration. Contemplation of the cards' provocative images can spark intuitive insight concerning matters such as goals, problems, individual choices, and patterns of living. The pictures on cards that are chosen at random from a tarot deck serve as powerful metaphors that may offer new perspectives on a person's life.

In 1944, Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris published the Thoth Tarot, a highly influential divination system that foregrounded sexuality. Famous for its fantastic, surreal imagery, the Thoth Tarot brought sexuality of all kinds into the tarot philosophy.

A major figure in today's tarot community is Rachel Pollack, the author of a number of widely used books on tarot interpretation. A woman, Pollack is the creator of the female-centered Shining Tribe tarot deck. Pollack's writings are significant because she stresses the importance of androgyny as found in various tarot symbolism. Pollack cautions against interpreting tarot imagery strictly in terms of a , male/female perspective.

Other decks that similarly emphasize a feminist viewpoint include the Daughters of the Moon (Ffiona Morgan), the Wise Woman's Tarot (Flash Silvermoon and Barbara Vogel), and the New Amazon (Billie Potts).

Tarot decks created by gay men and informed by a sensibility include Cosmic Tribe (Stevee Postman), Light & Shadow (Michael Goepferd), Brotherhood Tarot (Patric Stillman), and Renaissance Tarot (Brian Williams). A popular deck that directly focuses on the experiences of homosexual men is the Gay Tarot by Lee Bursten and Antonella Platano. The Bapst-Hall Tarot (Don Bapst and Link Hall) also highlights gay themes.

Some tarot decks address the traditionally heterosexual bias of the Lovers card. For example, the Daughters of the Moon deck provides two versions of this card: one with a male/female couple, another picturing two women. Likewise, the inclusive Cosmic Tribe deck has three separate Lovers cards.

Andrew Matzner


Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Social Sciences
Popular Topics:


Williams, Tennessee
Williams, Tennessee

Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer

The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance

Romantic Friendship: Female
Romantic Friendship: Female

Feminist Literary Theory

American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969
American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Erotica and Pornography
Erotica and Pornography

Mishima, Yukio
Mishima, Yukio

Sadomasochistic Literature

Beat Generation
Beat Generation


   Related Entries
social sciences >> Overview:  Spirituality

Today's glbtq spirituality movements must be seen as part of a long history in which gender-special people were considered sacred to their tribe or family because of their obvious spiritual gifts.

social sciences >> Crowley, Aleister

An important figure in the European occult movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Aleister Crowley was publicly reviled in his time, but he was recently cited by the BBC as one of England's most influential citizens.

literature >> Grahn, Judy

Judy Grahn has been an effective leader the gay rights movement, and her identity as a lesbian and a feminist has infused all of her works, in both prose and poetry.

arts >> Ludlam, Charles

An innovator in the "Theater of the Ridiculous," actor and playwright Charles Ludlam drew on many elements of camp and farce, but never allowed them to obscure the seriousness of his themes.

social sciences >> Pope Joan

The story of Pope Joan, who was said to have lived in the ninth century and was thought to have been a woman who lived as a man in order to rise in the Church hierarchy to become Pope John VIII, captured the imaginations of Europeans for hundreds of years.


Greer, Mary. Tarot for Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation. Franklin Lakes, N. J.: New Page Books, 2002.

Place, Robert M. The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2005.

Pollack, Rachel. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot. Rev. ed. London: Element, 1997.


    Citation Information
    Author: Matzner, Andrew  
    Entry Title: Tarot  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated October 27, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.