The Rider Waite Tarot Cards

The Rider Waite tarot cards deck, sets in motion the modern history of tarot.





The Golden Dawn Group

At the end of the XIX century there was a renewed interest for magic, occultism and esoteric mysticism.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or the Golden Dawn was one of the most influential groups of this movement in Great Britain at the end of the 19th and during early 20th century.

It was founded in 1888 by William Wynn Westcott, doctor and freemason, William Robert Woodman and Samuel Mathers, an eccentric character of the victorian society.

Mathers linked Egyptian magic with medieval magic texts, oriental traditional magic and Kabbalah to crate the curriculum and the rituals of the order.

The Golden Dawn system was based on initiation and hierarchy like Masonic Lodges but it was stressed that women were allowed to participate in the Order on equal basis with men, in contrast to the Masonry.

Many celebrities belonged to the Golden Dawn such as Irish writer William Butler Yeats and English writer Aleister Crowley.

At the end of 1899, some of the adepts were unhappy with Mathers' leadership and concerned for his growing friendship with Crowley.

Following more disputes among the members, in 1903 Arthur Waite took control of the order and changed its name in Sacred Order of the Golden Dawn to stress the order's christian roots.



The Rider Waite Tarot Cards Design


Waite developed with young artist Pamela Coleman Smith a set of tarot cards, known as the Rider Waite tarot cards deck.

This tarot deck enjoyed universal acclaim since it was first published by Rider in 1909 and gave a new turn to the history of tarot cards.

It is still today one of the most popular because it represents the Minor Arcana not as simple playing cards but with rich symbolic images, a marvelous guide to the unique language of tarot.

The images of the Rider Waite tarot cards look almost naïve, representing the tarot interpretation in a pre-Raphaelite style but the details and backgrounds show a many-layered tarot symbolism.

In 1910 a small guide by Waite, The Pictorial Key to The Tarot, was added to the cards to describe the history of tarot cards and their traditional meaning.

The Rider Waite tarot cards deck has vastly influenced the design and terminology used in later divinatory tarot decks and has left a mark in the modern history of tarot cards.

This tarot deck is commonly referred to as the Rider-Waite tarot although it should be rather be called Waite-Smith tarot to honor  the artist who created it.


Who Was Pamela Coleman Smith?



Pamela Coleman Smith was born in England from American parents and spent her early years in London, New York and Kingston - Jamaica.

She studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn then moved to England where she became a known artist, earning her living as illustrator and as theatrical designer.

At the beginning of the 1900 she showed her works in New York at the gallery owned by the photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

Pamela Coleman Smith adhered to the Symbolist movement and  became an acclaimed artist for her visionary drawings so close to the stye of the period.

The Symbolism was an artistic movement that encouraged working with imagination, dreamlike visions and mythology with a strong interest in spirituality.



Pamela felt particularly at ease with this style also for her interest in occultism and for the dreamlike quality of her artwork.

In her circle of friends were also Bram Stoker and William Butler Yeats who introduced her to the order of the Golden Dawn were she met Arthur Waite.

She was known and appreciated by her friends for her spontaneity and innocence that Waite initially erroneously interpreted as a lack of depth.

In 1909, when Waite decided to create a deck of tarot, hired Pamela Coleman for her talent as visionary artist.



Waite was hoping to be able to direct easily Smith's artistic talent but to manage the artist's prolific creativity, turned out to be more difficult than he expected.

She created the deck in about six months and it seems improbable that Waite was able to strictly survey the design of all the cards.

Probably Arthur Waite had more saying in the creation of the Major Arcana that he considered more important as they are charged with the deep significance of a mystical quest.

Waite left the artist express her intuition and visionary talent in the creation of the Minor Arcana more associated with divination.

In the Waite-Smith tarot deck the pip cards (or Minor Arcana) are illustrated with allegorical scenes that represent the fortune telling meaning of each card.

Clearly many of the illustrations of the Minor Arcana recall the Sola Busca tarot of the fifteenth century, the only deck of the period to have fully illustrated pip cards.

Photographs of this deck were available at the time at the British Museum and surely Pamela was able to see them.

A clear example of this correspondence is in the Three of Swords that appears in both decks as a heart pierced by three swords.

The images of the Waite Smith deck had a powerful effect on all later tarot designs and the modern history of tarot cards.

Almost all subsequent tarot decks with scenes on every card rely heavily on the images of this influential tarot deck.


Find your Rider Waite Tarot Cards Deck

There are many versions of the Rider Waite tarot deck. Make sure you find the perfect one to suit your needs and taste.


The Original Rider Waite Tarot Cards

This edition strives to be as close as possible to the original one. The deck comes with a tiny explanatory booklet (do not expect to learn how to read cards from it) and a handy Celtic Cross spread sheet chart.

These cards are in favor with those who like subtle coloring and muted tones.

I find that the soft colors give this deck a pleasantly antique look.


Miniature Rider Waite Tarot Cards

Small is beautiful. You never know when a tarot reading may come useful.

This is a great deck to keep in your purse at any time. The smaller size allows to use this deck also on a small café table if you need it when you are out with friends.


Giant Rider-Waite

Jumbo size tarot deck for greater impact.

This is the perfect tarot deck if you like to read cards for others and you want the cards to make a bold statement.

It can be also a great buy if you have large hands and you don't like to shuffle small cards or if you like to contemplate the cards for meditation.


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