A goodly number of theorists hold that the tarot started as a deck of playing cards (I’ve got a friend in New Orleans who theorizes that the original cards and game referred to the activities of mediaeval ruling classes, gaining and maintaining power — interesting theory, eh?) that eventually gained occult significances. This art in Live Science from a year ago (better late than never, no?) makes the same claim for the ancient Egyptian game of Senet.
“A game board that dates back to before the reign of the pharaoh Hatshepsut may represent the transformation of the game senet from fun pastime to religious symbol.
“Senet is ancient, dating back some 5,000 years to Egypt’s first dynasty. The game was played on a board with 30 squares arranged in a 3-by-10 rectangle. The precise rules are lost to history, but players had to move a set of pawns across the board, with moves determined by throws of a set of two-sided sticks. The squares were blank except for squares 26 to 29, which contained the same progression of symbols: one for goodness, one for water, one for the number three and one for the number two.
“By the era of the New Kingdom of Egypt, which began in about 1550 B.C., these game boards had acquired a religious symbolism, appearing in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The game seemed to represent the soul’s journey through the afterlife. Over time, the markings on senet boards also became more elaborate.” Read the whole article: