What came first? The Tarot or Playing Cards.
I am often asked this question and it is very difficult to answer as there really isn’t an answer, purely because, nobody actually knows unless they could travel back in time and solve this puzzle. Many, many writers and scholars of the subject believe they have the answer to which came first and can prove it but then along comes someone else who says they can disprove it and this will carry on until the end of time. That is, unless time travel is invented and I am pretty sure that nobody will travel back in time just to find out who was right and who was wrong.
Therefore I am going to give a some historic facts and theories to try to put peoples minds at rest and let them decide for themselves.
Let’s go back a few thousand years to the Egyptians, Indians and Chinese peoples of our plant. Many of the Taroists of the 19th century believed through their own research along with fellow colleagues of the time that some kind of symbolism was being used in religion, spiritualism, magic and other occult systems and it was also used for the foretelling of the future, things to come, and fortune. Now as we all know, nobody can see the actual and factual future because if they could then they would be very rich and famous, and certainly rule the human race. This is fact and undoubtedly reality. I am a realist and believe in nothing except the truth, facts, seeing, touching and communicating with reality. If I honestly believe something works to improve someones life in any way then I would use it. Back to the subject in hand. I said that I would give you some historic facts, well I could copy and paste thousands of words but I’m not, instead I will give you as many links as I know of that will explain how and where Tarot originated. These links will give you the information required to not only understand the theories these occultists believed in but also how they themselves argued amongst themselves ultimately trying to be the first one who could prove that they had found the answers to all the questions.
Links and References
The Pictoral Key to the Tarot
by A.E. Waite 
This is the essential Tarot reference by the designer of the best known Tarot deck.
The Tarot of the Bohemians
by Papus; tr. A. P Morton, 
This is a detailed study of the esoteric roots of the Tarot. I have some suspicions about the actual claims that Papus makes in this document.
by S.L. MacGregor Mathers 
This is a short essay on the Tarot, by a prominent occultist of the 19th Century. Mathers also wrote The Kabbalah Unveiled.
The Symbolism of the Tarot
by P. D. Ouspensky 
An evocative inner journey through the Major Arcana of the Tarot.
General Book of the Tarot
by A.E. Thierens 
A system of correspondences between the Tarot and Astrology.
Fortune-Telling by Cards
by P.R.S. Foli 
Several methods of telling fortunes with a standard deck of playing cards.
The Tarot.org Library
An electronic library with some of the most fundamental Authors on Tarot. Loads more links in here.