The Riderwaite Deck

In 1910 Arthur Edward Waite and the artist Pamela Colman Smith produced what has become the most popular Tarot deck in history, generally called the Rider Deck after his publisher, William Rider & Son. The production of this deck is discussed by Waite in his autobiography, Shadows of Life and Thought:

The Secret Tradition in Goetia was my first considerable work bearing the Rider imprint, but it was preceded in 1910 by a delightful experiment with the so-called Tarot Divinatory Cards, otherwise denominated the Book of Thoth in the high fantasia of my old friend Eliphas L6vi. Now, in those days there was a most imaginative and abnormally psychic artist, named Pamela Colman Smith, who had drifted into the Golden Dawn and loved its Ceremonies-as transformed by myself-without pretending or indeed attempting to understand their sub-surface consequence. It seemed to some of us in the circle that there was a draughtsman among us who, under proper guidance, could produce a Tarot with an appeal in the world of art and a suggestion of significance beyond the Symbols which would put on them another construction than had ever been dreamed by those who, through many generations, had produced and used them for mere divinatory purposes. My province was to see that the designs—especially those of the important Trumps Major—kept that in the hiddenness which belonged to certain Greater Mysteries, in the Paths of which I was travelling. I am not of course intimating that the Golden Dawn had at that time any deep understanding by inheritance of Tarot cards; but, if I may so say, it was getting to know under my auspices that their Symbols—or some at least among them—were gates which opened on realms of vision beyond occult dreams. I saw to it therefore that Pamela Colman Smith should not be picking up casually any floating images from my own or another mind. She had to be spoon-fed carefully over the Priestess Card, over that which is called the Fool and over the Hanged Man. ... If anyone feels drawn in these days to the serious consideration of Tarot Symbolism they will do well to select the codex of coloured cards produced under my supervision by Miss Pamela Colman Smith.15

Imbedded here are two ideas which may help to explain Waite's early estrangement from the Order of the Golden Dawn. He suggests that he not only "transformed" the Golden Dawn ceremonies, but that it was he who introduced the members to the real meaning of Tarot.

Such pronouncements made him few friends, and stimulated Aleister Crowley to publish some very vitriolic comments. One article in The Equinox was a tongue-in-cheek obituary of the still very much alive Waite, complete with heavy black borders on every page. The title of the article was "Dead Weight." It began: "It is with the deepest feeling that we record the passing over of.. .the aged saint known on earth as Arthur Edward Waite." The article continues with a mock life story. "The career of Arthur Edward Waite was largely determined by his father's fine perception. 'Ned, my lad,' said he when the future saint was barely six years of age, 'brains are not your long suit, I can see. But it doesn't matter. If you can't be wise, look wise!' "16

Crowley was a bitter adversary, a thorn in Waite's side for decades. But Waite may actually have had the last laugh, for in his lengthy autobiography, he has not mentioned the name of Crowley even once.

Continue reading here: Aleister Crowleys Thoth Tarot

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