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Rider-Waite tarot deck: Wikis


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The Rider-Waite tarot deck is the most popular Tarot deck in use today in the English-speaking world[1] (The Tarot de Marseille being the most popular deck in Latin countries). Other suggested names for this include the Rider-Waite-Smith, Waite-Smith, Waite-Colman Smith or simply the Rider deck. The cards were drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of academic and mystic A. E. Waite, and published by the Rider Company.



While the images are deceptively simple, almost child-like, the details and backgrounds hold a wealth of symbolism. The subjects remain close to the earliest decks, but usually have added details. Significantly, Waite had the Christian imagery of older tarot decks' cards toned down—the "Pope" card became the "Hierophant", the "Papess" became the "High Priestess". The Minor Arcana are also, as inthe earlier Sola Busca Tarot, fully illustrated with designs created by Smith. The chief aesthetic objection to this deck is the crude printing of colours in the original: several decks, such as the Universal Waite deck, simply copy the Smith line drawings, but with more sophisticated coloring.

The cards were originally published in December 1909. The symbols used were influenced by the 19th century magician and occultist Eliphas Levi. In 1910, The Key to the Tarot by A.E. Waite was published, providing an overview of the traditions and history behind the cards, criticism of various interpretations, and extensive descriptions of their symbols. In 1911, a revised version, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot was published featuring 78 black and white plates of each card in the deck.

U.S. Games currently claims copyright on the cards, although the actual copyright may only be valid on certain colorized versions of the card. While others argue that it is in the public domain in the US because they were created prior to 1923, the US Games claim may be valid because the derivative versions of the cards was not in the public domain when US Games created their copyright. [1]

The Rider-Waite tarot deck has been vastly influential in the development of later divinatory tarot decks to the extent that many are called "Rider-Waite clones" to indicate that they are easily read by those familiar with Rider-Waite. Examples of Rider-Waite "clones" (some arguably so) include the Universal Waite tarot deck, Golden Tarot, Aquarian tarot deck, Nigel Jackson Tarot, Gilded Tarot, Golden Rider, and many more. This deck has also influenced the terminology used by English-speaking tarot users such that English translations of traditional French or Italian decks often use the nomenclature of the Rider Waite deck even when traditional decks often pre-date the Rider Waite by great number of years.

The Rider-Waite deck has been used in many television programs and motion pictures, notably in the James Bond motion picture Live and Let Die. (The deck was used along with a different deck created by artist Fergus Hall specifically for the film.)

Major Arcana

Minor Arcana







  1. ^ Visions and Prophecies. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1988.


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