The Rider Waite Tarot

By D. J. McAdam

The Rider-Waite tarot deck is the most popular and most commonly-used of all tarot decks.  Most people who are learning the tarot choose to begin with the Rider-Waite tarot deck, and most "old hands" usually have one in their collection of decks.  Books that offer instruction on tarot generally follow the symbolism portrayed in the Rider-Waite deck.  How did this particular deck become so ubiquitous, and where did it come from?  Read on . . .

Arthur Edward Waite

The "Waite" in the Rider-Waite Tarot refers to Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1941).  Waite was born in America, raised in England, and was deeply interested in all matters of an occult nature.  He was a member (later Grand Master) of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of whose founders was Samuel McGregor Mathers and whose members included the famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats and the infamous magician Aleister Crowley.  

Pamela Colman Smith

Pamela Colman Smith was also a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and she is the artist who actually designed (under Waite's guidance) the tarot deck known today as the Rider-Waite tarot.  

The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck

Numerous tarot decks were in existence prior to the introduction of the Rider-Waite tarot and some, such as the Visconti Sforza tarocchi deck of the 15th century and the Tarot of Marseilles, remain in print today.  What made the Rider-Waite tarot deck such an improvement over these previous decks was that all 78 cards were illustrated, not just the 22 major arcana cards and (in some cases) the four aces.  This was an enormous help to students trying to memorize the meaning of each card, as now each card contained a visual clue.  

Here's what's available now (or, in some cases, was recently available):

Rider-Waite Tarot

The world's most popular tarot deck.  Known also as the Rider Tarot and the Waite Tarot.  Designed by Pamela Colman Smith under the guidance of Arthur Edward Waite.  Reissued in collaboration with Miss Sybil Waite and Rider & Co., London.

A complete 78-card deck in full color, including the 22 Major Arcana and the 56 Lesser Arcana.  Printed in Switzerland.  Comes complete with instruction booklet.

Original Rider Waite Tarot Pack

Facsimile edition of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck originally printed from plates that were destroyed during the bombing of London in WWII.   THE ORIGINAL RIDER WAITE TAROT enables contemporary readers to share his remarkable knowledge. The rich, figurative designs that are the hallmark of this set will help everyone to understand and enjoy the unique language of tarot. Pack includes: deck of 78 full-color cards; The Key to the Tarot, fully revised and updated with an introduction by Liz Greene; divinatory chart.

Rider Tarot Deck Deluxe

A deluxe edition of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, with full gilt edges and packaged in special sleeve box. Not currently available, so we're assuming it's been discontinued.

Tarot Total

Rider-Waite Tarot deck packaged with an instructional book on the tarot by the famous esoteric scientist Günter Hager, in a plastic slipcase.  


Braille Rider Waite Tarot

There was a Braille Rider Waite Tarot deck available; the standard deck, with the addition of braille in the corners, manufactured by US Games. This has become something of a collector's item.


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