Waite's Second Tarot

Waite's Second Tarot

When most people in America think of tarot, the first images that pop into mind are often the Waite-Smith deck (Rider-Waite/Rider-Waite-Smith/RWS). The deck was commissioned by scholar Arthur Edward (A.E.) Waite to theater artist Pamela “Pixie” Colman Smith in 1909, and first published by the William Rider and Son Company in 1910. The structure of the tarot was filtered through Waite's exposure to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, his leanings toward Christian mysticism (especially as represented in the Arthurian/Grail quest), as well as his research into precedent tarot decks. The tone and structure of the Waite-Smith images became the basis for a vast number (likely a majority) of the tarot decks that have been created and produced since the 1970's.

What few outside of the world of historical tarot realize, however, is that A.E. Waite commissioned another set of images about a decade later, after his separation from the Golden Dawn. More in line with his preference for Christian mysticism and adapted Kabbala, these images were full-size paintings which some researchers believe were intended to be hung in a small personal lodge for contemplation and not for the creation of a deck of cards. Decker and Dummett first published copies of the images in their 2002 A History of the Occult Tarot with the designation “Private Collection”. Following this, tarot researchers Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin discovered a lead on the originals and presented their journey in a self-published book in 2011 Abiding in the Sanctuary. The images are now available for the public to view online through the British Museum. For those interested in tarot but have not encountered these images before, these paintings are a delight. Given that the Christian myths have been and continue to be so strong in the Western psyche, they are worth contemplation by any that work with the Western mysteries.

Waite's Second Tarot images via the British Museum

Further Reading:

Decker, Ronald and Michael Dummett. A History of the Occult Tarot (1870-1970). Overlook Duckworth, 2002.

Goodwin, Tali and Marcus Katz. Abiding in the Sanctuary: The Waite-Trinick Tarot, A Christian Mystical Tarot (1917-1923). 2011.

Katz, Marcus and Tali Goodwin. Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot. Llewellyn, 2015.

Image credit: British Museum, from the collection "Album of the Great Symbols of the Paths; illustrations to the Ritual of the most Holy Order of the Rosy and Golden Cross. 1917-21" #37. From A.E. Waite's second tarot created in collaboration with artists John B. Trinick and Wilfrid Pippet. This tarot was never published as a deck.