Rider Waite deck

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Considered by many to be the "definitive" Tarot deck, this is the (currently) most recognized of all decks. The images have many more details than most, but not all other decks. Before the Rider-Waite deck most (all?) tarot decks only had pictures for the Major Arcana, with the Minor Arcana just having simple designs made of the suit and number (eg. 4 coins).

The deck was first published in 1909 by William Rider And Son of London.

The deck was the product of the collaboration between the artist, Pamela Colman Smith (b. 1878 d. 1951) and Dr Arthur Edward Waite (b. 1857 d. 1942), who were both members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, a famous occult group of the 19th century.

Pamela Smiths' contribution is usually ignored, and the deck is commonly called the Rider-Waite Tarot, but is sometimes referred to as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

The deck includes symbols from the Tree of Life, for example the Ten of Pentacles has the pentacles arranged in the pattern of the tree. The High Priestess appears to have the same design on her throne, but she obscures part of it.

Waite has written a book to go with his deck, the the pictorial key to Tarot. Unfortunately, it isn't written very well and hard to understand without knowledge of Golden Dawn symbolism. In the long run the pictures of his deck and the meanings that may be deduced from them proved much more influential than his writing.

Although Waite himself says he sees no clear connection between Tarot and Kabbalah, his tarot is usually used with the Golden Dawn attributions to hebrew letters and paths of the tree of life.

Major differences to other decks

  • It was one of the first decks with scenical pictures on the pip cards.
  • Strength is 8, Justice is 11; in older decks it was the other way round, and there are contemporary decks which follow the old pattern.
  • The Fool is 0, in some older decks he was 22, or unnumbered.
  • Some Major Arcana pictures follow the marseilles style decks, others are new.


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