You may be surprised to learn that Tarot originally began as a card game in Italy in the 1400s. Wealthy families would play a game similar to bridge with expensive, artist made tarot cards. The decks were called carte da trionfi or triumph cards. The early decks included the trump cards (or Major Arcana) that are unique to tarot, along with four suits of cups, swords, coins, and sticks plus the court cards. The imagery on the cards contained aspects of the world at the time, including symbols of Christian religion. By the 1500s, the cards became more available to common folk because of the invention of the printing press.
The cards were not used for divination until the 1700s. At this time, a Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Alliette published the first mystic guide to reading tarot cards, along with his own tarot deck. His deck incorporated Christian beliefs, Egyptian myths, astrology, and the four elements. He was the first to give meaning to each of the cards and his books made Tarot reading popular.
In 1909, Arthur Edward Waite hired an artist named Pamela Colman Smith to create a deck where all the cards, including the suits, included illustrations. Published by William Rider, the deck is now commonly known as the Rider-Waite tarot deck (or as I like to call it, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck). This deck created a new surge in popularity for Tarot as a divination tool. Even after over 100 years, this is still the quintessential tarot deck with illustrations and symbols that continue to hold meaning today.
Today, you can choose from hundreds of different tarot decks. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. continues to be the most popular. It is the deck I most frequently pick to do my readings. I would recommend this deck to anyone interested in learning to read tarot.