The use of tarot as an instrument for divination and predicting the future came well after the creation of the deck and the games that are played with it. Jean-Baptiste Alliette, who called himself Etteilla, using an anagram of his surname, was primarily responsible for the original development. In 1770, the Frenchman published a book explaining how to read the future using a deck of 32 cards which was popular at the time for the game of Piquet. Note that the method did not refer to the tarot, which was virtually unknown in the Paris region at the time. Antoine Court de Gébelin, a Protestant pastor of French origin, then published his work Le Monde primitif ("The Primeval World") in nine volumes between 1773 and 1782. Gébelin suggested a symbolic association between tarot figures and the mysticism of ancient Egypt, but did not refer to the use of tarot cards with divinatory purposes. His work inspired Etteilla to use this deck associated with his own method of predicting the future. Over the course of several years, his sharp commercial efforts popularized the use of tarot as a mystical instrument, making Etteilla the great fortune teller of the age.
The practice of divination with playing cards, whether using Tarot or other cards, suffered a gradual decline at the end of the nineteenth century, tending to fall into complete obscurity, or becoming just a fun parlor game, with no connection to the occult and its associations. During this period, another Frenchman, born Alphonse-Louis Constant, who called himself Éliphas Lévi, came to revive the occult from its state of decline.
Followers of Éliphas Levi, often still using Court de Gébelin as a reference, developed the theme, maintaining the myth of fortune-telling with cards to the present today.
The French esoteric ideas linked to tarot had important repercussions in England, where they were developed by important occult movements such as the Golden Dawn, which began in 1887. From there, this form of tarot moved naturally to the colonies in the United States, where various authors and designers contributed toward tarots specially designed for esoteric purposes. The fact the game of tarot did not reach England, and was consequently unknown in the United States, resulted in this fantastic card game being seen only as a tool for divination in these countries, while in many parts of Europe it is still primarily understood as a popular, traditional and intelligent card game.
A discussion on the veracity of the use of tarot in predicting the future is beyond the scope of this article. It serves merely to recall and emphasize the playful origin of this special deck.