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Trumps from the 1650 Jean Noblet deck, Paris
(reproduced by J-C. Flornoy)
Trumps of the Waite-Smith deck, first published by Rider circa 1909

Trumps - also called Atouts and Major Arcana

Whilst some see these three terms as interchangeable with regards to Tarot, others are of the view that the three expressions are distinct. For some, Atouts and Trumps describe only 21 of the 22 Trumps (it excludes the Fool card), whereas for others the expression Atouts and Major Arcana describes all 22 of these cards. Problems with the terms also arise as a consequence of the differences of view with regards to the use of the cards in the game of Tarot ('tarrochi' in Italian).

On Tarotpedia, we will refer to them as Trumps, the earliest name for these cards as a general group (see the Style Guide).

There are also differing views as to the number of Trumps that make up a tarot deck. The standard tarot deck has, however precisely 78 cards, composed of 22 Trumps, 16 Court cards, and 40 Pips. Discussions on individual cards, with suggested divinatory meanings, are given for each card on its respective page. For information about decks that have a different number of Trumps, court cards or suits, see Tarot Decks: Non-Standard.


Historical Considerations

Because some of the earliest decks have less than twenty-two trump cards extant, it has been suggested that decks such as the Visconti only had originally fourteen trumps, providing a fifth suit with an equal number to the other four. This is sometimes referred to as the "5x14 theory".

Others consider that those 'missing' cards are in fact simply missing, pointing out other early decks with, for example, the 'Tower' (all early cards were untitled) in the misnamed Charles VI Tarot deck.

Possible reasons for Sequence

Various suggestions have been put forward for the sequence of the Trumps as they are commonly numbered.

One of these is that the order somewhat reflects various estates as found in non-tarot early decks such as the Mantegna Tarot. Another is that what has come to be standardised into our familiar pattern reflects the Hebrew alphabet.

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