As it is impossible to establish what exactly took place before the appearance of written accounts, to express what was then a purely oral tradition, what you read here can be seen as an option.
Whether we are dealing with History or Legend, we must go back to the most ancient times…
From Dolmen to Cathedral
In those days, man had already mastered language and fire. His intellectual sphere had expanded, but he retained a share of animal sensitivity that kept him profoundly in touch with the forces of nature. This symbiosis was destined to evolve into a sacred science before eventually being swallowed up by religion.
His knowledge of the vital forces of Mother Earth would lead him to locate certain sites rich in cosmic and telluric influences. Careless of his domestic surroundings, Man invested superhuman efforts in marking these places. This is the era of megalithic constructions, of dolmens, menhirs and stone circles. Beyond his admiration for the technical and scientific prowess they represent, modern man is still taken by a strange emotion before these monuments and the crude but powerful spirit of the sacred they exhale.
These men were the ancestors of all the builders of sacred edifices. Their mysterious knowledge was transmitted orally, updated with each generation, across the West, the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond, carried on the ebb and flow of human migrations. This sacred science filtered through civilisations, was absorbed by cults and religions, and strewed the ancient world with fabulous constructions: Crete, Egypt, Israel, and Greece etc.
Maitre Jacques’ Children
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Christianity blossomed in the West. Shrines, churches and cathedrals rose up on sites already recognized as sacred by the ancients.
The builders organised themselves into structured and powerful brotherhoods: foremen, journeyman masons, carpenters, stonecutters, and image-makers. They conveyed their spiritual message through their use of space, light and colour. Among their patrons and financial backers was the Knights Templar, a great spiritual and temporal power.
The End of the Templars
Power struggles would brutally interrupt this wave of constructive faith. In 1314, on instructions from the King of France and with the assent of the Pope, the Grand Masters of the Order of the Temple were burnt at the stake in Paris. The Order was dissolved, the Templars driven away and their riches confiscated. As a result, the cathedral builders who called themselves “Maitre Jacques’ Children” lost their financial support and scattered. They were pursued by the Inquisition, which rightly accused their radicalised Catholic dogma of heretical deviationism.
From their lands of origin: Charente, Saintonge, Poitou and Auvergne, they took refuge in the states of Northern Italy, Lombardy, Venitia, Tuscany, Piedmont and Savoy. Some emigrated still further, to Cilicia (Little Armenia), where ancestral ties bound them to other descendants of the dolmen builders.In the face of this disaster, the Masters then wondered how their sacred knowledge was to be transmitted. They chose a support that was not likely to arouse suspicion but was capable of enduring for centuries, beyond the limits of language and the written word: the 21 + 1 atouts of the Tarot. The popularity of these images ensured their diffusion and permanence without altering the deeper meaning, accessible only to initiates, with which they were charged.It would seem that Frankish image and miniature makers, based in Cilicia, created these designs. Known as “sarrasins” because they came from the East, they arrived in Italy in 1375, fleeing their country before the Turkish-Ottoman invasion and its destruction of the last Christian strongholds in the Levant.
You have just read one of the legends concerning the origin of the tarot. It is the one I prefer.
It has no historical justification; you must take it for what it is: one man’s vision.