Tarot and Oracle Cards
The exact origins of the Tarot are still a subject of some controversy, but it is generally believed that they were first created in Europe in the Middle Ages. Some suggest the concept of the cards and their numbering is based on the Jewish Qabbalah; others say that it is derived from the Hermetic traditions, which include principles of alchemy and magical/mystical orders. Some aspects of Hermeticism certainly date back to ancient Egyptian times.
The first Tarot decks as we know them today were printed in Europe in the early 14th Century (Common Era). They were commonly used for card games and gambling rather than for divination. Some say the the Major Arcana cards were used as a form of ars memorativa, a Renaissance system used for initiates of occult disciplines in an era before widespread literacy.
Today, it is commonly stressed that the Tarot is to be used strictly as a form of entertainment rather than taken seriously as a "fortune-telling" system. Tarot enthusiasts generally agree that the cards are best suited as a tool for personal meditation and spiritual development. Yet there are people who have found that the cards often do provide an element of insight into the future - especially as one goes through the process of handling the cards and meditatively shuffling them. Who knows?
As people have migrated throughout the world and influenced other cultures and philosophies, there have been numerous new sources of inspiration added to the traditional Tarot designs. While most do not vary much from the 78 card standard of 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana cards, the designs can vary significantly. Tarot today can include obscure sources of wisdom, ethnic and tribal aspects, religious symbolism, schools of art and even pop culture.
When it comes to selecting a deck for yourself, whether as a serious divination tool, for personal meditation or just to appreciate the beauty that is inherent in the card designs, there is no "right" or "wrong" choice - look for what appeals to you on different levels. Some people like to have different decks to use for different personal -- or even professional -- purposes.