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Rider Waite Tarot Deck

The Deck

Major Arcana: There are 22 major arcana cards in the deck which represent major stages in life's journey. If a major card turns up in your spread, whats going on is fated to happen.
Minor Arcana: There are 56 minor cards. These are the day to day influences that affect your life. Unlike the Major cards they are not fated to happen, you can still make choices to change your fate.
Tarot Suits: The Minor cards are divided into four suits, Cups, Pentacles, Wands and Swords. Each suit represents a Tarot element.
Court Cards: Each suit has a set of royal or court cards - King, Queen, Knight and Page. These either represent personaility traits or people in your life.

About The Deck

The Rider Waite tarot deck is the most popular deck of Tarot cards used in the English speaking world today (the Marseille Tarot deck is more popular in Europe) - this despite the thousands of new Tarot decks created in the last hundred years. The Rider Waite is the model on which most new Tarot decks are created and compared. The deck was envisioned by the famous occultist Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) and created under his direction by the visionary artist Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951). It was first published in 1909 by William Rider and Son of London. For most of the 20th century it has been called the Rider Waite Tarot, but Tarot historians now commonly refer to it as the Waite-Smith Tarot, to honour its designer, Colman Smith. The Rider-Waite deck is cheerful, colourful and almost simple in design. Each card is richly crowded with traditional symbols and everything from a colour of a dress to a type of flower is intended to be highly meaningful.

Arthur Waite

Arthur Waite was born in New York in 1857, but at the age of five his family moved to England. As an adult he became a translator, poet and writer on mysticism and the occult. In 1891 he joined the legendary Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical occult organisation that offered a path to personal development through the practice of psychic abilities. As each member progressed in knowledge and ability, they could pass an oral examination and rise through the ranks of the society. Here, Waite befriended the Irish poet William Butler Yeats who was senior within the organisation (Yeats wife was a medium who practiced automatic writing). Annie Horniman, founder of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin was also a member. Waite was not interested in the occult as a form of divination (fortune telling), in fact if he knew that the deck he created would primarily be used for fortune telling he would not have created it. What he saw and valued in the Tarot were the symbolic images that expressed life as a mystical life journey. He believed the Tarot was a valuable mystical text and that it had been misrepresented by occultists before him. He longed to give birth to a new Tarot that rectified its symbolism and would stand as a valued work of art as well. In 1909 Waite began looking for a gifted artist who could do justice to this project. This was to be Pamela Colman Smith.

Pamela Colman Smith

Pamela Colman Smith was born in Middlesex, England, to American parents who were followers of the mystical teachings of the Swedish philosopher and psychic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). She studied art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and as an adult, she settled in England and made her living as a set and costume designer for the theater. She was also known as a storyteller, illustrator and fine artist. In the early 1900s, she regularly showed her paintings and other work in New York at the gallery owned by the famous American photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946). She enjoyed critical acclaim, particularly for her visionary drawings of mythical and otherworldly subjects. Smith was part of the Symbolist art movement that was prevalent in Europe at that time. Symbolism was a movement in poetry and visual art that originated in France and Belgium in 1885 and quickly spread through the German-speaking countries and then the rest of Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. Symbolist artists were noted for the sensual beauty of their work and for the portrayal of subjects based on dreams, mythology and the imagination. As both an occultist and an artist Smith was at home in this style. When she was not illustrating a particular legend or story, she would allow herself to fall into a light trance while listening to classical music and draw what she saw. For example, while listening to a composition by Beethoven she painted a majestic queen in flowing robes standing on the sea carrying a small ball-like moon in her hands. Among Smith's friends were many artists and writers including Bram Stoker, Florence Farr and William Butler Yeats. It was Yeats who introduced her Waite. In her, Waite recognized that Smith had a gift as a psychic as well as an artist. Many believed that she had the ability to directly perceive the spirit world while she worked at her art.

Design Of The Deck

In 1909 Waite hired Smith to create a new artistic Tarot. As he stated, he was hoping that with Smith's talent she would make a deck that was both an appealing work of art and one that clarified the mystical story in the Tarot. She had six months to produce 80 designs in time for the printing press. There are 78 cards in the deck and no one is sure what the other two designs were but perhaps they were a title card and an advertisement card. It is probable that Waite described the design that he desired for each Major Arcana card, complete with the symbolism it should contain and the significance of each symbol. Then he would have stepped out of the picture and let Smith work her wonders. Although the original art for the deck no longer exists, we can see from the printed copies that Smith drew the designs in black ink and colored them with watercolors in her usual manner. Art produced in this manner cannot be edited. If Waite desired changes once a design was complete, Smith would have had to recreate the entire piece, and considering the short time in which the work was completed that cannot have happened often.

What It Did Differently

The deck toned down on the Christian imagery associated with older Tarot decks. The Pope card became the Hierophant and the Papess for example became the High Priestess. The Minor Arcana are all illustrated, earlier decks tended to stick to simpler designs. For example the three of pentacles in older cards was represented with a picture of three coins, the four with four coins and so on.

Universal Waite Tarot Deck

In the 1990s illustrator Mary Hanson-Roberts produced an updated version of the Rider-Waite deck. It is based on the original drawings by Colman Smith but is deeper in colour. If you are hoping to buy the original deck, check that it states 'The original Rider Waite' deck on the front of the box.

Minor Arcana

Cups

Ace of Cups
Two of Cups
Three of Cups
Four of Cups
Five of Cups
Six of Cups
Seven of Cups
Eight of Cups
Nine of Cups
Ten of Cups
Page of Cups
Knight of Cups
Queen of Cups
King of Cups

Pentacles

Ace of Pentacles
Two of Pentacles
Three of Pentacles
Four of Pentacles
Five of Pentacles
Six of Pentacles
Seven of Pentacles
Eight of Pentacles
Nine of Pentacles
Ten of Pentacles
Page of Pentacles
Knight of Pentacles
Queen of Pentacles
King of Pentacles

Swords

Ace of Swords
Two of Swords
Three of Swords
Four of Swords
Five of Swords
Six of Swords
Seven of Swords
Eight of Swords
Nine of Swords
Ten of Swords
Page of Swords
Knight of Swords
Queen of Swords
King of Swords

Wands

Ace of Wands
Two of Wands
Three of Wands
Four of Wands
Five of Wands
Six of Wands
Seven of Wands
Eight of Wands
Nine of Wands
Ten of Wands
Page of Wands
Knight of Wands
Queen of Wands
King of Wands

Major Arcana Cards

Fool
Magician
High Priestess
Empress
Emperor
Hierophant
Lovers
Chariot
Strength
Hermit
Wheel of Fortune
Justice
Hanged Man
Death
Temperance
Devil
Tower
Star
Moon
Sun
Judgement
World


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Angel Therapy
Affirmations, encounters and types of Angels.
Astrology Readings
Read about your star signs.
Reversed Tarot Meanings
Should you read the cards if they come up reversed?

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Rider Waite Tarot Deck


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