Steeped in profound symbolism and illustrated with narrative-rich imagery, the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, also known as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, stands as a monumental figure in the landscape of tarot. A visionary blend of esoteric knowledge and artistic prowess, this deck forever changed the course of tarot’s evolution when it emerged in the early 20th century.
Each card in the Rider-Waite deck tells a story, imbued with a rich tapestry of symbolism drawn from a diverse array of spiritual and mystical traditions. The deck thus serves as a profound tool for introspection, allowing for a multilayered exploration of life’s complexities, from material concerns to spiritual quests.
What is the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck?
The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, commonly known as the Rider-Waite-Smith, Rider Tarot, or simply the Waite-Smith deck, represents an essential benchmark in the history of Tarot cards. Its influential status within the realm of tarot, divination, and esoteric studies cannot be understated.
The genesis of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck can be traced back to the early 20th century, more specifically to the year 1909. It was at this juncture that the deck was published by the Rider Company in London. The driving force behind this innovative deck was Arthur Edward Waite, an eminent scholar of occultism and a prominent member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – a secret society dedicated to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, and paranormal activities.
Yet, the conception and creation of the deck were not solitary endeavors. The artistic execution of Waite’s vision was entrusted to Pamela Colman Smith, a fellow member of the Golden Dawn. Smith’s illustrations, inspired by Waite’s guidance, brought a new depth of symbolic and narrative representation to the tarot, differentiating the Rider-Waite deck from its predecessors and contemporaries.
The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck diverges from traditional tarot decks in several key aspects. While traditional decks such as the Tarot de Marseille possesses esoteric symbolism primarily in the Major Arcana (the 22 cards, including The Fool, The Magician, and The Empress, among others), the Rider-Waite deck extends intricate symbolism to all 78 cards, including the Minor Arcana (the 56 cards comprising four suits: wands, cups, swords, and pentacles).
The innovative depiction of the Minor Arcana presents each card as a unique scene, furnished with characters, actions, and diverse elements loaded with intricate symbolism. This pictorial representation renders the deck more accessible, enhancing its intuitive readability, particularly for novices. This development significantly contributed to the Rider-Waite deck’s widespread acceptance and established it as a de facto standard for many modern tarot decks.
The deck also presents a unique blend of influences drawn from a variety of esoteric and spiritual traditions, reflecting Waite’s vast scholarly knowledge. Christian mysticism, astrology, Kabbalah, and alchemy all find representation within the rich tapestry of the Rider-Waite symbolism. However, it’s crucial to note that Waite intentionally imbued some cards with misleading symbols to maintain certain Golden Dawn secrets, adding an extra layer of complexity to the deck.
In the ensuing decades since its initial publication, the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck has become a ubiquitous presence in the field of tarot. Countless modern decks have adopted its narrative style and symbolic richness, establishing it as a fundamental touchstone within tarot’s cultural and historical landscape. Therefore, an understanding of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck is instrumental not only in grasping the history of tarot but also in appreciating its contemporary practices and ongoing evolution.
Meanings of the Rider-Waite Tarot cards
Interpreting the Rider-Waite Tarot cards requires an understanding of the rich symbolism they incorporate. The deck comprises 78 cards, divided into the Major Arcana (22 cards) and Minor Arcana (56 cards). Each card carries distinct imagery and symbolism that can be interpreted in multiple ways, depending on context and the reader’s intuition.
LotusBuddhas cannot explain the meaning of the 78 cards in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck for you to understand in one article. Therefore, we will briefly explain each of the 22 Major Arcana cards, which are generally considered to represent important life events, or stages in spiritual and spiritual development of a person.
- The Fool: Symbolizes new beginnings, spontaneity, and stepping into the unknown. It encourages a leap of faith and the embracing of change.
- The Magician: Represents manifestation, resourcefulness, and power. It suggests the potential to turn ideas into reality.
- The High Priestess: Symbolizes intuition, higher powers, and the subconscious mind. It calls for trust in one’s inner voice.
- The Empress: Represents fertility, nature, and abundance. It suggests a nurturing spirit and the creation of life.
- The Emperor: Symbolizes authority, structure, and stability. It represents leadership and the power of rational thought.
- The Hierophant: Represents tradition, conformity, and morality. It suggests adherence to established social structures and belief systems.
- The Lovers: Symbolizes love, harmony, and relationships. It can represent a choice to be made in a relationship or the need for balance and communication.
- The Chariot: Represents willpower, determination, and strength. It suggests triumph over adversity through discipline and control.
- Strength: Symbolizes courage, patience, and control. It represents inner strength and the power of the human spirit.
- The Hermit: Represents introspection, solitude, and contemplation. It suggests a time for inward focus and reflection.
- Wheel of Fortune: Symbolizes luck, karma, and destiny. It represents the cycles of life and fate’s unpredictable nature.
- Justice: Represents fairness, truth, and law. It suggests the need for reasoned balance, honesty, and fairness in dealings.
- The Hanged Man: Symbolizes sacrifice, release, and martyrdom. It suggests a need to let go and surrender to experience, often marking a turning point.
- Death: Represents endings, change, and transformation. It does not typically denote physical death but rather an end to a situation or phase.
- Temperance: Symbolizes balance, moderation, and patience. It suggests the need for harmony and balance in one’s life.
- The Devil: Represents bondage, addiction, and materialism. It signifies an unhealthy relationship with the material world or self-imposed limitations.
- The Tower: Symbolizes sudden upheaval, chaos, and revelation. It represents a transformative crisis, a “breaking down” to make way for the new.
- The Star: Represents hope, faith, and inspiration. It symbolizes a period of healing and renewal.
- The Moon: Symbolizes illusion, fear, and anxiety. It suggests a period of confusion or deception, urging the need to trust one’s instincts.
- The Sun: Represents success, radiance, and abundance. It signifies happiness, joy, and fulfillment.
- Judgment: Symbolizes judgment, rebirth, and inner calling. It represents a time of reckoning, self-evaluation, and potential for a fresh start.
- The World: Represents completion, accomplishment, and travel. It signifies the end of a cycle or journey, heralding the beginning of a new one.
We also remind you that, these interpretations offer a starting point and are not exhaustive. The tarot is a deeply personal and intuitive tool, and meanings can shift based on the context of a reading, including the position of the card (upright or reversed), the reader’s intuition, and the specific question or situation at hand.
Unique features or details in the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck
There are several unique features and details in the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, also known as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, that distinguish it from other tarot decks and contribute to its enduring popularity and influence.
Detailed illustrations in Minor Arcana: Prior to the creation of the Rider-Waite deck, many tarot decks, including the influential Tarot de Marseille, depicted the Minor Arcana as simple arrangements of suit symbols. However, in the Rider-Waite deck, every card in the Minor Arcana is fully illustrated with detailed scenes, much like the Major Arcana. This innovation made the cards more accessible and intuitive to interpret, particularly for beginners.
Narrative style: The Rider-Waite deck uses a narrative style for its illustrations, each card telling a story laden with symbolic meaning. This narrative approach was groundbreaking at the time of the deck’s creation and has since become a standard feature in many modern tarot decks.
Inclusion of esoteric symbolism: Arthur Edward Waite, one of the creators of the deck, was a scholar of occultism and a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. His knowledge is reflected in the complex, multi-layered symbolism of the cards. The deck incorporates elements from various esoteric systems, including Kabbalah, astrology, Christian mysticism, and alchemy, offering a rich depth of meaning for those familiar with these traditions.
Artistic style: Pamela Colman Smith, who illustrated the deck under Waite’s guidance, used a flat, two-dimensional art style with bold outlines and vibrant colors. This distinctive style has become synonymous with the Rider-Waite deck and is often emulated by modern tarot decks.
Iconic images: Many of the images in the Rider-Waite deck have become iconic in the field of tarot. For instance, the image of The Fool stepping off a cliff, The High Priestess seated between black and white pillars, or The Death card riding a white horse, have become archetypal tarot images, frequently referenced and reproduced. The Death card does not signify physical death but rather transformation, change, and rebirth, symbolized by the rising sun in the background and the bishop expressing acceptance of the inevitable. The High Priestess, another Major Arcana card, sits between two pillars, one black (representing the pillar of severity) and one white (representing the pillar of mercy) in Kabbalistic traditions, symbolizing the need for balance between dualities.
Intentionally misleading symbols: It’s worth noting that Waite included intentionally misleading symbols in some of the cards to preserve certain secrets of the Golden Dawn. This adds an additional layer of complexity to the deck and offers a point of interest for tarot enthusiasts and scholars.
These unique features and details of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck make it not only a useful tool for divination, introspection, and personal growth but also a piece of cultural and artistic history. The deck represents a pivotal point in the evolution of tarot and has influenced countless tarot decks created in its wake.
Where to buy a Rider-Waite Tarot Deck?
Purchasing a Rider-Waite Tarot Deck is typically an easy process due to its enduring popularity and widespread availability. However, you have to ensure that you’re buying a genuine version from a reputable source, as there are many variations and imitations on the market. We will suggest you several avenues through which you can obtain an authentic Rider-Waite Tarot Deck:
- Online marketplaces: Websites such as Amazon, eBay, and Etsy offer a wide range of tarot decks, including the Rider-Waite deck. While these sites provide a convenient and often affordable option, buyers should be wary of counterfeit versions. Always check the seller’s reviews and the product description to ensure authenticity.
- Specialist online retailers: There are numerous online retailers specializing in tarot cards and related esoteric products. Websites like The Tarot Garden, Llewellyn Worldwide, and Book Depository are renowned for their extensive collections and offer a reliable source for genuine decks.
- Physical bookstores: Many brick-and-mortar bookstores, particularly those with a sizable selection of esoteric or New Age titles, usually stock the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. Stores like Barnes & Noble in the U.S. often carry it.
- New Age or Occult Shops: Specialist New Age or occult shops are another excellent place to find the Rider-Waite deck. These stores often provide a range of tarot decks and offer expert advice on choosing a deck that suits your needs.
- Direct from the publisher: The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck is currently published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. You can order directly from their official website to ensure you’re getting an authentic deck.
Before making a purchase, consider researching the different versions of the Rider-Waite Deck available, as there are various editions, such as the Original Rider Waite Tarot Pack and the Universal Waite Tarot Deck. Each edition may have slight variations in coloring and cardstock quality. It’s advisable to read reviews and, if possible, see the cards in person to determine which version resonates with you.
Where are the original Rider-Waite Tarot Deck?
Determining the precise location of the original Rider-Waite tarot deck is not straightforward. There is no single “original” deck kept in a public institution such as a museum. However, examples of the earliest printings of the deck are housed in various collections around the world, both private and public.
One relevant location is The British Museum in London, which maintains a comprehensive collection of historical playing cards, including tarot decks. The museum’s collection features several versions of the Rider-Waite tarot, and while it may not house the exact first printing, it does contain early editions of the deck.
Additionally, the original drawings made by Pamela Colman Smith, from which the cards were printed, are primarily held by the private collector and tarot scholar, Stuart R. Kaplan. He acquired these original drawings in 1971 and has since then included them in his extensive collection of tarot cards and related items.
- The different types of Tarot decks: https://lotusbuddhas.com/the-different-types-of-tarot-decks.html
- How to choose the right Tarot deck: https://lotusbuddhas.com/how-to-choose-the-right-tarot-deck.html
- How to read Tarot cards: https://lotusbuddhas.com/how-to-read-tarot-cards-for-beginner.html
- The meaning of reversed Tarot cards: https://lotusbuddhas.com/the-meaning-of-reversed-tarot-cards.html