Rider-Waite Tarot Deck Review

Rider-Waite Tarot Deck Review

The Rider Tarot Deck
Conceived by Arthur Edward Waite
Designed by Pamela Coleman Smith

rider waite tarotIn 1909 a Tarot deck was published in London that had such an impact on modern Tarot that it continues to shape and define how we think about, and work with the cards in North America today. That deck, the Rider Tarot deck (known also as the Waite Tarot and the Rider-Waite Tarot), was the brainchild of Arthur Edward Waite; a Christian mystic and member of an occult group called the Order of the Golden Dawn. For a token sum, Waite commissioned Miss Pamela (Pixie) Coleman Smith, a young American Set Designer and Golden Dawn member, to create the deck’s artwork under his close supervision.

In many ways, the Waite-Smith deck broke new ground. Most notably, the Rider Tarot popularized scenic pip cards. Illustrated pip cards appeared in a Tarot deck as early as the 15th century, but it was with the Rider Tarot that the idea really took hold. In a marked departure from the decks commonly available at the time, all of the Rider Tarot’s cards, not simply the Major Arcana and Court cards, contained pictorial scenes.

Changing the existing standard format further, Waite transposed the order of two of the Major Arcana cards: Strength and Justice. Thus, in the Rider deck, he moved Strength (formerly number XI) to the VIII position between the Chariot and Hermit cards and repositioned Justice (formerly number VIII) to the very center of the Major Arcana, (number XI) between the Hanged Man and Death cards. Rather than placing the Fool card (formerly unnumbered) at the end of the Major Arcana as was commonplace at the time, Waite numbered the Fool “0” and placed it before the Magician card. While the correctness of these modifications still sparks lively debates amongst Tarot enthusiasts, I must confess, Waite’s modifications to the Major Arcana make a great deal of sense to me. It is the order I prefer.

Thanks to the very competent handling of the material by Coleman Smith, the Rider Tarot deck’s artwork is clean, uncluttered, and cleverly appears to be far less complex than it actually is. The deck’s images, punctuated by clear, bold colors, are a rich treasure-trove of symbolism masterfully designed to evoke emotional responses. It is a wonderfully intuitive deck to work with.

While there are countless versions of the Waite-Smith deck available on the marketplace today, The Rider Tarot, published by U.S. Games and reissued in collaboration with Miss Sybil Waite and Rider & Company in London, is the only authorized edition. The deck’s cards, printed on quality cardstock in Italy, have a high gloss finish and measure 2 3/4” X 4 3/4”. The card backs feature a blue, black and white checkered pattern that is reversible. The accompanying little white booklet, printed in English, provides a brief history of Tarot, card interpretations, the Celtic Cross Card Spread and a short section on the art of Tarot divination. Additionally, and a particularly nice touch, an extra card containing Pamela Coleman Smith’s picture and biography is included with the deck.

In all respects, this is a top-notch edition of a deservedly famous deck: one that has served as a source of inspiration for a generation of Tarot deck designers. Considered the Standard in North America, The Rider Tarot Deck deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone with even a passing interest in Tarot.
Ryder waite tarot
Secondary Review:

There is much debate over the true effect that this particular deck had on the Tarot world.  The purists would state that it was based upon old decks such as the Marseilles and there for has no real purpose on its own.   But, neither the Marseilles nor any other deck made before was made in the same fashion as the Ryder Waite Smith deck.  This deck was painted by Pamela Cole Smith.  She like Lady Harris died in abject poverty. But, unlike Lady Harris she did not maintain copy write of her work and was just denied more than a meager wage for her work.   This was one of the great travesties of the Tarot.

It is not the men whose names grace the boxes and books belonging to the Thoth deck or the Ryder Waite deck that truly brought symbolism and theory into a visionary system that opened the eyes of so many.  But, the vision and talent of the creative women they found to paint the decks.  We know very little of Pamela Cole Smith and her struggle through the development of this deck.  But, I would be more than willing to say it had to be just as profound as the effect the creation of the Thoth deck had on Lady Harris.

But, what is important is the effect that it now has on the reader.   This deck is the most popular on the market for a reason.  It is the deck most often cloned and is the deck that will help lead us into another century of divination.   Why?  Because this deck gives us something no other deck ever did before.  A Minor Arcana that actually speaks to you.  No hidden meanings covered up by looking similar to a poker deck. No instead there are vibrant images of actual situations that leave no doubt in the readers mind of what the cards are trying to say.  I would highly recommend this deck to anyone who would want to buy it.  It is and always will remain one of my favorites.

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  • Christina Angelos says:

    The original Rider-Waite tarot deck was published in 1909 by William Rider And Son of London and was the product of the collaboration between the artist, Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951) and Dr Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1842) – both members of the Order Of The Golden Dawn. The deck was unique at the time in that the Minor Arcana cards depicted fully illustrated scenes which allowed for easy interpretation – the ‘pip’ cards of tarot decks prior to this merely contained symmetrical designs in a similar manner to playing cards. Colman Smith (a graduate of the Pratt Institute Of Brooklyn) had designed the deck under the guidance of Waite, who went on to describe the deck as a ‘rectified tarot pack’. Waite explored the symbolism contained within the deck in his famous book ‘The Pictorial Guide To The Tarot’ and it can be said that he transformed the use and study of tarot.

    There are numerous versions of the deck available today (these include the Universal Waite deck and the Golden-Rider) but the Rider-Waite still retains its popularity. Many people dislike the deck’s use of colour and it is not known whether Colman Smith added colour to her black and white line drawings or whether the deck’s colours were added later by the publisher. Personally, I’m rather fond of the colouring contained within the deck – although, I’m equally as fond of the re-colouring undertaken by Mary Hanson-Roberts in the Universal Waite deck. The Rider-Waite deck is still my deck of choice even after having used it for five years and with good reason. I find it readable, easy to use, invaluable for symbolic interpretation and enjoyable just to flick through occasionally. It is almost incomparable to other tarot decks (of which there are hundreds) – Rider-Waite ‘clones’ included.

    Today the deck is published by US Games Systems, Inc. and still manages to sell like the proverbial hotcakes. I frequently recommend it to beginners (even if they’re not that keen on the artwork initially) as it forms an excellent basis for tarot study. I like to think of it as a tarot ‘textbook’ and am of the opinion that it is an endless source of information, inspiration and interpretation. I believe that the artwork is very easy to ‘connect’ with and Stuart Kaplan states that it exemplifies “the mysticism, ritual, imagination, fantasy and deep emotions of the artist” (The Encyclopaedia Of Tarot Volume 3).

    The history of the deck is tinged by a little sadness. It remains one of the few remaining pieces of Colman Smith’s work (she died penniless and obscure in 1951) and I find the fact that it has become the ‘standard’ deck in the tarot world deeply ironic, given that Colman Smith had little success in her lifetime and that she was only ever paid a nominal fee for completing the artwork in the first instance. I join Stuart Kaplan in lamenting the fact that Colman Smith never lived to enjoy the fruits of her success.

  • Pamela says:

    This is the classical deck that most people think of when they think of Tarot. It is the most commonly available deck, being found in most bookstores even if they have no books about the Tarot! The RWS deck also comes in more sizes than any other deck; from huge 5″ x 7″ to the typical oversized Tarot deck to standard playing card size all the way down to a tiny deck that is about 3/4″ x 1″. This deck is the art work of Pamela Coleman-Smith working “under the direction” of Arthur Waite. Both Coleman-Smith and Waite were members of several esoteric Ceremonial Magick orders and that shows in the Qabalistic symbolism in a number of the cards. The art work has frequently been criticized as “cartoonish” with flat, lifeless color. To some extent these criticisms are true, but the purpose of the designs is not to be fine art, but rather representations of the ideas of the Tarot. The greatest tribute to this deck is the fact that it has stood the test of time and that it has received the greatest of all complements: imitation. This is the most imitated and copied deck. Literally dozens of other deck are either direct copies, indirect clones or stepchildren of the RWS deck. Every student of the Tarot should have at least one RWS deck, probably more. Beginners should start with either this deck.

  • Laura Ty says:

    The best known tarot deck of all times was a co-production of occultist Arthur Edgar Waite (who delivered the ideas) and artist Pamela Colman-Smith (who made ofcourse the famous drawings).
    In the book “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot” Waite gave his point of view on the tarot, the meanings of the cards and instruction on how to use them for divination. Their tarot was first published in 1910 by Rider & Co., which explains the name Rider-Waite Tarot.
    A.E. Waite was a philosopher, magician and Freemason. He wrote a lot about tarot, freemasonry, alchemy, the holy grail, the rosy cross and he made poems. He and P. Colman-Smith were both members of the hermetic order of The Golden Dawn.
    Waite was very interested in symbolism which he considered important and powerful; it was his wish to transmit esoteric truths by means of the symbolic images on the tarot cards. At the same time Waite was highly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church; you will also find these elements back in the cards, for instance of the cards The Devil (the real evil Christian devil) and Judgement (with the angel resurrecting the dead on judgement day).
    Waite changed the cards 8 and 11 (Justice and Strength) and Pamela invented pictorial images for the minor arcana cards. Before only the Major Arcana had full pictorial scenes on the cards.

    Pamela’s drawings are simple, strong and easy accessible, which – together with the symbolism on the cards – explains the popularity of this deck. Interesting information on the symbolism of this deck can be found all over. Many artists after Pamela Colman have been inspired in the making of their own tarot by the drawings of this woman. And still artists derive inspiration from this classic tarot deck. It has lead to a whole ‘family’ of Waite-decks

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