Rider-Waite tarot deck

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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).[citation needed] Other suggested names for this deck 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. Some imagery remains close to that found in earlier decks, but overall the Waite-Smith card designs represent a substantial departure from their predecessors. Among other changes, Waite had the Christian imagery of most older tarot decks' cards toned down—the 'Pope' card became the 'Hierophant', the 'Papess' became the 'High Priestess'. The Minor Arcana are illustrated with detailed scenes and images by Smith, again a departure from many earlier decks with much simpler designs for the Minor Arcana (but aligning this deck with, for example, the Sola Busca Tarot). The symbols used were influenced by the 19th century magician and occultist Eliphas Levi.


The cards were originally published in December 1909 by the publisher William Rider & Son of London. The following year, a small guide by A.E. Waite entitled The Key to the Tarot was bundled with the cards, providing an overview of the traditions and history behind the cards, criticism of various interpretations, and extensive descriptions of their symbols. The year after that, a revised version, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, was issued that featured black-and-white plates of all 78 of Smith's cards.

Although the cards' crisp drawings are widely admired, the crude printing of colours in the original edition detracts from their effect. Several later versions of this deck, such as the Universal Waite deck, copy the Smith line drawings with minor changes and add more sophisticated coloring.

Licence status

U.S. Games has the copyright on the original cards in both the U.S. and European Union. They also have a separate copyright claim on an updated version of the deck published in 1971. This copyright, however, only covers new material added to the preexisting work (for example, designs on the card backs and the box). According UK law, the country of original publication of the cards, the deck will be public domain only after 2022, corresponding to the death of Smith plus 70 years)[2].


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' because they closely follow the symbolism and imagery of the Rider-Waite deck.[citation needed] 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 those decks substantially predate the Rider-Waite.

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.)

The Rider-Waite deck has been used as an animated video backdrop in Madonna's Re-Invention World Tour 2004 for the song "Hollywood".

Major Arcana

Minor Arcana






External links