The Rider Waite Tarot Card Deck is the tarot deck most commonly used by the English Speaking world. It is characterised by childlike but highly-detailed images and a distinct departure from traditional tarot decks both in terms of symbolism and interpretation.
A. E Waite, the creator of the deck, deliberately toned down the Christian symbolism, in an attempt to make it appeal to a wider audience of primarily non-Christian mystics and diviners.
The Rider Waite Tarot Card Deck was originally published in December 1909 by William Rider & Son of London – hence the name Rider-Waite. The illustrations were drawn by a woman by the name of Pamela Colman Smith, on the instructions of mystic A.E Waite. Because of the limits of printing technology at the time the colours on the deck appear somewhat flat and lifeless, but the drawings are exceedingly detailed and rich in symbolism.
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The cards have undergone a number of revisions since their original publication, most notably to improve the appearance of the colours used. This is because there have been advances in technology, as we have seen in all aspects of life from the internet with websites like http://www.onlinepoker.com/ to major innovations in transportation and science. The designs have been altered in one way, however aside from this there have been no major changes to the composition or design of the cards in over a century.
Use in Gaming and Divination
While Tarot originated as a game played in medieval France and Italy, the Rider Waite deck is now most commonly used for psychic tarot reader card readings. The rules of divination by Tarot are simple, but being able to extract consistent, properly interpreted readings can take many years to master.
The deck, like most Tarot decks, consists of 21 ‘trump’ cards, called the Major Arcana, and a further 56 suited cards, called the Minor Arcana. There is one further trump card, The Fool, which has its own significance, particularly in the Rider Waite deck.
According to the companion book to the Rider Waite deck – The Key to the Tarot – the trump cards function as a series of life events, lessons or concepts through which The Fool travels as protagonist in a story. These cards must be read in relation to their position to The Fool if he appears, with the suited cards providing additional information.
When used for divination purposes the person who has requested the reading (the querant) will usually shuffle the deck. The diviner will then select a certain number of cards, and lay them out in a ‘spread’. The position of the cards in the spread is as important as the fact that they turned up at all.
For example, if The Empress (usually associated with secrets) comes up next to The Tower (which represents ruin), this could signify that the querant’s undoing might result from the keeping of a shameful secret – be it their own or another person’s.
The Minor Arcana cards come in suits (Staves, Cups, Coins/Pentacles and Swords), which each have their own connotations as a group. They also typically have two possible meanings, depending on whether the card is drawn facing right way up or upside down.
Most of these cards have positive meanings, but when drawn upside down they can function as a warning to the querant.