I have seen it written among the blogs and I believe elsewhere that the Golden Dawn was first to link the tarot with spiritual pursuits. Prior to this, the tarot was used for fortune telling.
My research of late has found this to be incorrect. Papus wrote Tarot of the Bohemians (1892) in which he outlined how the major and minor arcanas both reflect the tetragrammaton. Though, he was a member of the Golden Dawn Paris temple. I find his book curious as not only does he not mention the tree of life but his system of numerations does not compare to same. Then again, I am only a third of the way through. It was fun to see the link between Papus's diagrams and Tyson's diagrams on on the interplay of forces associated with the tetragrammaton.
Alphonse Levi was the first to link the tarot to the tree of life. While his associations were somewhat altered by the Golden Dawn. Given that he died before the Golden Dawn was founded, it is safe to assume that the Golden Dawn built on his work, not the other way around. It is possible there various people knew one another. For instance, Levi died while Mathers was in his twenties.
In the 16th century Jacob Cammerlander outlined the moral and spiritual associations with each of the tarot pips. Given the Golden Dawn was founded in 1888, it is unlikely that he appropriated their concepts.
This is in no way to say that the Golden Dawn folks didn't have a huge influence on the way many of us look at tarot cards merely they were not the first to connect the tarot to a spiritual practice in print. Given the spiritual/religious connection can be traced back to the 16th century, I believe it is safe to assume many an unknown practitioner found a similar use for the cards long before the Golden Dawn was conceived.