Rider–Waite Tarot

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The Rider–Waite Tarot is a widely popular deck for tarot card reading,[1][2] first published by the Rider Company in 1909, based on the instructions of academic and mystic A. E. Waite and illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith, both members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Also known as the Waite–Smith,[3] Rider–Waite–Smith,[4][5] or Rider Tarot,[4] the deck has been published in numerous editions and inspired a wide array of variants and imitations.[6][7] Estimates suggest over 100 million copies of the deck circulate across 20 countries.[8]

A.E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith



While the images are simple, the details and backgrounds feature abundant symbolism. Some imagery remains similar to that found in earlier decks, but overall the Waite–Smith card designs are substantially different from their predecessors. Christian imagery was removed from some cards, and added to others. For example, the "Papess" became the "High Priestess" and no longer features a Papal tiara, while the "Lovers" card, previously depicting a medieval scene of a clothed man and woman receiving a blessing from a noble or cleric was changed to a depiction of the naked Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the ace of cups featuring a dove carrying Sacramental bread. The Minor Arcana are illustrated with allegorical scenes by Smith, where earlier decks (with a few rare exceptions) had simple designs for the Minor Arcana.[9]

The symbols and imagery used in the deck were influenced by the 19th-century magician and occultist Eliphas Levi,[10][11] as well as by the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.[12] In order to accommodate the astrological correspondences taught by the Golden Dawn, Waite introduced several innovations to the deck. He switched the order of the Strength and Justice cards so that Strength corresponded with Leo and Justice corresponded with Libra.[13][14] He also based the Lovers card on Italian tarot decks, which have two persons and an angel, to reinforce its correspondence with Gemini.[13]

Major Arcana


The Major Arcana of the Rider–Waite tarot are illustrated below.

Minor Arcana


The Minor Arcana of the Rider–Waite tarot are illustrated below.



The suit of wands (corresponding to the clubs of modern playing cards):



The suit of goblets, chalices, or cups (corresponding to the hearts of modern playing cards):



The suit of swords (corresponding to the spades of modern playing cards):



The suit of coins or pentacles (corresponding to the diamonds of modern playing cards):


The original roses and lilies card back design from 1909

The cards were first published during December 1909, by the publisher William Rider & Son of London.[9][13] The first printing was extremely limited and featured card backs with a roses and lilies pattern. A much larger printing was done during March 1910, featuring better quality card stock and a "cracked mud" card back design. This edition, often referred to as the "A" deck, was published from 1910 to 1920. Rider continued publishing the deck in various editions until 1939, then again from 1971 to 1977.

All of the Rider editions up to 1939 were available with a small guide written by A. E. Waite providing an overview of the traditions and history of the cards, texts about interpretations, and extensive descriptions of their symbols. The first version of this guide was published during 1909 and was titled The Key to the Tarot. A year later, a revised version, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, was issued, featuring black-and-white plates of all seventy-eight of Smith's illustrations.

In 2009, U.S. Games Systems published a commemorative deck titled "The Smith-Waite Centennial Deck" as part of The Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Set celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the 1909 deck.[15] This deck notably places Smith's name first and omits the publisher's name (Rider). In this vein, some contemporary tarot readers call the original deck and its various iterations the "Smith-Waite deck" in order to give proper credit to Smith's contribution to the deck.[16]


The original version of the Rider–Waite Tarot is in the public domain in all countries that have a copyright term of 70 years or fewer after the death of the last co-author. This includes the United Kingdom, where the deck was originally published.[17]

In the United States, the deck became part of the public domain in 1966 (publication + 28 years + renewed 28 years), and thus has been available for use by American artists for numerous different media projects. U.S. Games Systems has a copyright claim on their updated version of the deck published in 1971, but this only applies to new material added to the pre-existing work (e.g. designs on the card backs and the box).


  1. ^ Giles, Cynthia (1994). The Tarot: History, Mystery, and Lore. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 46. ISBN 0-671-89101-4.
  2. ^ Visions and Prophecies. Alexandria, Virginia: Time–Life Books. 1988. p. 142.
  3. ^ Katz, Marcus; Goodwin, Tali (2015). Secrets of the Waite–Smith Tarot. Llewellyn Publications. ISBN 978-0-7387-4119-2.
  4. ^ a b Michelsen, Teresa (2005). The Complete Tarot Reader: Everything You Need to Know from Start to Finish. Llewellyn Publications. p. 105. ISBN 0-7387-0434-2.
  5. ^ Graham, Sasha (2018). Llewellyn's Complete Book of the Rider–Waite–Smith Tarot. Llewellyn Publications. ISBN 978-0-7387-5319-5.
  6. ^ Kaplan, Stuart R. (2018). Pamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story. Stamford, Connecticut: U.S. Game Systems. p. 371. ISBN 978-1-57281-912-2.
  7. ^ Dean, Liz (2015). The Ultimate Guide to Tarot: A Beginner's Guide to the Cards, Spreads, and Revealing the Mystery of the Tarot. Beverly, Massachusetts: Fair Winds Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-59233-657-9.
  8. ^ Ray, Sharmistha (23 March 2019). "Reviving a Forgotten Artist of the Occult". Hyperallergic. Archived from the original on 23 March 2019. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  9. ^ a b Kaplan, Stuart R. (2018). Pamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story. Stamford, Connecticut: U.S. Game Systems. pp. 74–76. ISBN 978-1-57281-912-2.
  10. ^ Place, Robert M. (14 May 2015). "Levi's Chariot and Smith's Chariot Versus Waite's Chariot". Tarot & Divination Decks. Archived from the original on 12 August 2020. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  11. ^ Place, Robert M. (7 August 2015). "Smith, Waite, Levi, and the Devil". Tarot & Divination Decks. Archived from the original on 30 September 2020. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  12. ^ Decker, Ronald; Dummett, Michael (2019). A History of the Occult Tarot. London: Duckworth. pp. 139–141. ISBN 978-0-7156-4572-7.
  13. ^ a b c Jensen, K. Frank (2005). "The Early Waite–Smith Tarot Editions". The Playing-Card. 34 (1). International Playing Card Society: 26–50.
  14. ^ Decker, Ronald; Dummett, Michael (2019). A History of the Occult Tarot. London: Duckworth. pp. 82–84. ISBN 978-0-7156-4572-7.
  15. ^ "The Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Set". Archived from the original on 19 February 2023. Retrieved 19 February 2023.
  16. ^ "Pamela Colman Smith Was the Artist and Occultist Who Designed the Iconic Tarot Deck. Why Has No One Ever Heard Her Name?". 26 August 2022. Archived from the original on 17 February 2023. Retrieved 19 February 2023.
  17. ^ "Ownership of copyright works – Detailed guidance". Gov.uk. 19 August 2014. Archived from the original on 31 December 2016. Retrieved 28 September 2016.