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Tarot Brief History A.E. Waite, Pamela Colman Smith

Welcome back to Tarot Notess at Symbolic Living.

This week we’re going to switch gears a bit and give a brief introduction, talking a little about Arthur Edward Waite (A.E. Waite) and Pamela Colman Smith. They are responsible for the most widely used tarot deck today, the Rider-Waite tarot deck. Many feel it should be more accurately called the Waite-Smith deck, or a variation of their names thereof, but the publisher, Rider, was given rights to attach the Rider name to the deck.

What was special about the Rider-Waite deck is that it incorporates imagery that is related to our everyday existence and depicts symbols we can recognize in our own lives. Many previous decks did a fine job of illustrating the Major Arcana, however, the Minor Arcana pips were often depicted with more elusive images, and were more difficult to decipher a core meaning.

10 of Coins. Marseilles
10 Pentacles. Rider-Waite

For example, take a look at the 10 of coins (pentacles, disks).

Here we see on the left the Tarot de Marseilles which is beautifully illustrated and highly popular deck in the latin world, but doesn’t immediately lend itself to a meaningful depiction we can relate to our way of life. On the right, we are shown a much more rich symbolism of the Rider-Waite deck and we see a plethora of imagery, life, action, movement, experience providing many more clues to understand it’s rich meaning.

A.E. Waite was born in the United States, living from (October 2, 1857 – May 19, 1942). He was an academic and a mystic who studied western occultism (occult means hidden; unknown to the general public, and is often applied to subjects such as astrology, magic and related area’s). Waite was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an order that explored and taught Western Mystery Traditions of spirituality, mysticism and magic. He wrote many academic papers as well as books on esoteric subjects from Alchemy, Kabbalah to Magic.

Pamela Colman Smith, nicknamed Pixie, was born in London, England living from (February 16, 1878—September 18, 1951). She moved to Jamaica during her childhood years, then to Brooklyn, New York. As a teenager, Pamela studied art in school. In a few years she became an illustrator and worked as a theater designer, including costume and stage design. She illustrated a number of books for writers including William Butler Yeats and Bram Stoker.

A.E. Waite
Pamela Colman Smith

Smith met Waite when she joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1901. In 1909, Waite worked with Pamela’s artistic abilities to create the Waite-Smith Deck. Although Waite directed the creation of the cards through description and writings, Smith’s artistic abilities brought the cards to life. Many believe Smith is likely responsible for going beyond the descriptions of Waite adding her own wisdom in developing the final result, especially to the minor arcana pip cards. (The Pip’s are the numbered cards in the minor arcana).

A.E. Waite also wrote a book called the Pictorial Key to the Tarot to accompany the deck with meanings and descriptions. Each deck comes with a small booklet the size of the cards with Waite’s meanings and keyword associations.

Here is a video we found of Pamela Colman Smith’s artwork, outside the tarot deck.

We hope you enjoy learning about Tarot at Symbolic Living with an easy to understand approach for beginners.

Some weeks we may talk about the cards, history and more. As we go along things will change and develop, we’ll keep it interesting for you.

You are also welcome to join the Symbolic Living Forum for further discussion in the Tarot section where each card can be discussed with members.

Tarot Notes is written by Symbolic Living. © 2011. All rights reserved.

Stay tuned for our regular installments of Tarot Notes at Symbolic Living.

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