An Interview & A Little Bit Of History
Today is my first day of officially working through Holistic Tarot, along with the bonus group study book, Tarot Talismans. These two books couldn’t be more different, as one works with the Rider-Waite Smith deck, while the other works with the Golden Dawn System of tarot symbolism. Personally, I love what I’ve already learned of the Golden Dawn System, but I’m primarily going to focus on Holistic Tarot for now. But, to serve as a warning, I may eventually discuss both. Hey, it’s how I am… I work best under pressure. Besides, I hope to eventually discuss all three systems of tarot symbolism.
But for now, I’m going back to the beginning. And, in the case of Holistic Tarot, that means conducting a deck interview. One of the things I love about Benebell Wen’s book is that it connects tarot readers to their deck in their specific way. Now, that’s not to say tarot decks have their own personalities or human-like behaviors. No, I don’t really buy into that idea. What I do believe though is similar to what Benebell Wen talks about in her Learn Tarot With Holistic Tarot video series on Youtube. Decks might embody aspects of their creator, or even the time period in which they were made. If it’s true about the Inklings, it can be true about specific tarot decks.
I’ve used quite a few deck interview spreads that circulate online. Some of them are quite good and worth keeping. However, I have no problem in saying Benebell Wen’s Template Form for Logging a New Tarot Deck is the best I’ve seen. She considers factors I hadn’t really paid much attention to in the past. So, I highly recommend downloading a copy for yourself, from here. Along with that, I’m going to share my own Smith-Waite Tarot Deck interview. While individual experiences might be different even with the same deck, it’s worth noting some of the background information nonetheless. Hopefully a little history won’t make this too dry for you.
Biographical Notes On Deck Creators
The Rider-Waite Smith deck was designed by Arthur Edward Waite, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith, and published by the Rider Company. Considering this deck was first published in 1909, it’s amazing we’re currently using it today. Fun aside, you can view original versions of the Rider-Waite Smith at this website. While many people may know the Rider-Waite Smith deck today, it’s interesting to know the deck wasn’t always called this. Pamela Colman Smith’s name wasn’t added to the original deck, and in fact, she was only “added” to the name recently. Perhaps that is why I am so fond of the Smith-Waite it’s specifically designed praise the contributions of the original artist.
But, the Rider-Waite Smith deck wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Arthur Edward Waite (A.E. Waite). As far as people go, A.E. Waite is one of the more interesting in tarot history. He joined numerous secret societies, including the Golden Dawn, Freemasonry, and the Rosicrucian Society of England. Eventually, he would go on to create his own society known as the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. Clearly, this is someone who understood the concept of secret, or intuitive, knowledge. Some of that mentality carried forward in his book, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, which is to be expected. Much of how I view A.E. Waite’s contribution to the Rider-Waite Smith tarot deck is in its appeal to intuitive readers today. Some knowledge is meant to be seen in the art of the cards. And that, well that takes a good artist.
Pamela Colman Smith is personally intriguing to me, and quite honestly, I wish I knew more about her. What I do know about her makes me see an artistic version of a similar soul to my own. Smith spent quite a bit of time in the company of writers, William Butler Yeats perhaps being one of the closest. She also loved folktales, specifically Jamaican folktales. Besides illustrating, Smith did some paintings utilizing gouache, which I’m interested in trying my own hand at. Sadly, she died penniless and her artwork was auctioned to pay off her debts. In some ways, her legacy has only increased in our own tarot revival, one I think she’d be proud of. The burst of artwork and independent support for artists today is an interesting legacy of the Rider-Waite Smith tarot.
Together, I think the mixture of A.E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith is an insightful and intriguing one. When I pick up my own Smith-Waite deck, there is a certain nostalgia for the past. The artwork is easy to understand, and yet, offers something deeper with a little study. To me, this is the combined energy of the illustrator and designer at work. For a deck to survive this long, go through so many versions and changes, and still to be relevant in its original form… is incredible to me. This is largely due to a stickler of a designer, leaving behind clues of the esoteric sort, and a playful illustrator telling stories with every stroke of her pen. Combined, I think this creates a deck with a little something to offer for everyone. And that, that to me is what makes the Rider-Waite Smith tarot last.
Notes On Card Back Design
The back design for the Smith-Waite Centennial Deck In A Tin is a blue backed card with a white border. The corners feature Pamela Colman Smith’s signature, and in the middle is a recognizable five-petal rose. To many, this might not seem like a big deal, but to me, I couldn’t be more thrilled. While it may not seem connected to tarot, I love history. And, when I see a five-petaled rose, I think of the Tudor Rose. While I could go on and on about Tudor History, I’ll keep it short. To me, the Tudor Rose will always symbolize peace, unity, and a little bit of divine presence. What’s interesting is that the history many recognize to create such symbolism is in fact a lie. So much for that, but it doesn’t hurt given other interpretations of the five-petaled rose.
For those interested, both Pamela Colman Smith and A.E. Waite were members of the Golden Dawn. This society in particular utilized the symbolism of the Rosy Cross. In the Golden Dawn’s case, the symbolism is immense. In this one symbol alone is a representation of the seven planets, twenty-two Hebrew letters, four elements, and much more. To keep it brief, the five-petaled rose is symbolic, to some, of the spirit united with the divine soul. So in some ways, there is the spiritual theme of unity again, though this time with divine purpose or will. That’s a complicated breakdown, and I didn’t even get into the five wounds of Christ, but I fear digressing too much if I did.
To some people, the back of tarot cards is unimportant. I understand this. However, you do stare at the card backs quite a bit. I actually really enjoy the complex symbolism in such a minimal design. In many ways, I think that captures the true intention of the designers. But, not all Rider-Waite Smith decks have the same card backing I do. If your deck is different, just know that the five-petaled rose is featured on Key 13, Death. The rose is there on the black flag. It’s an interesting concept, but I don’t want to get into that now either. We’ll touch on it when I study Death later on… hopefully on Day 14. But, we’ll see what comes up between now and then. For now, lets get back to the deck interview.
The Smith-Waite Deck Interview
To start this deck interview off, I drew the 6 of Swords, one of my most blah cards. Not only that, but it was in the, “What is your point of view?” spot. While I didn’t like starting off with this card, it was an interesting choice. The card to me often symbolizes moving forward in a difficult time. So, in a way, this deck was telling me that it likes to work in this time frame. According to Holistic Tarot the 6 of Swords can sometimes represent a calmer sea ahead in which to travel on. In many ways this helped me see the point of view of this deck. The main point of view is helping me to move forward in a tough time, especially in a way that navigates toward that brighter future.
Things brightened up when I drew the 2 of Cups for the, “What is your persona?” spot. The card is overwhelmingly positive, and I instantly recognized its connection to the first card. This deck’s persona is one that harmonizes two very opposing ideas or circumstances. In many ways, this is how the deck will help create the solutions for its moving forward frame work. Unfortunately, in my case, the 2 of Cups is never about love, but rather, reconciling two very different paths into one. Luckily, this is also what is probably meant by drawing this card for this particular spot in the deck interview. The harmony created by both cards is also a good indicator as well.
And then, then things got a little strange. I drew the Wheel of Fortune in the, “Harmonized together, tarot reader to tarot deck, what are our combined strengths?” spot. At first, this was a bit confusing to me. Fate doesn’t seem like a strength, and the Wheel of Fortune is all about Fate to me. So what did it mean then? Well, this is where the layout really paid off for me. This card is all about being able to roll with it. The Wheel of Fortune card indicated being able to handle tough challenges or major successes. Using this deck in those moments can help me to better navigate a tough decision for the road ahead.
I’m going to skip the, “What do I need to know about you?” and the, “Please tell me what you think of me so far.” spots, because they seem like more personalized answers purely to fit my personality. While some of you might get value at it, I fear it might also be misleading to others. That’s not something I want to do. So, instead, I’m going to move right to the heart and soul of this deck interview. This is also my favorite part of the tarot deck interview, because it truly lets the deck shine. The study guide offers a one card draw option or a three card option. I personally went with the three card option, because I find three card readings help me personally form context and meaning I wouldn’t otherwise see with one card.
For the, “Through which window may I best connect to your heart and soul?” spot, I divided the three cards into Heart, Soul, Both, with the both card in the middle of the spread. I ended up drawing the 4 of Pentacles (Heart), 9 of Pentacles (Both), and the 10 of Pentacles (Soul). All cards were Pentacles, which stood out to me immediately. To me, this says that this deck is purely able to be connected to on a materialistic level. This deck is to be utilized for goals, business decisions, and very materialistic projects. Not only that, but I’m a Taurus, and Pentacles represent Earth, which Taurus is a sign of in terms of elemental energies. But, outside of that, this three card spread says a lot more.
The 4 of Pentacles is somewhat representative of being too guarded. There is a strong foundation there, but it creates a trap of ones own design. Emotionally, this creates somewhat of a capsule about to burst open. That’s where the 10 of Pentacles is a good compliment. The soul of the deck strives toward generosity and success. Emotions are not pent-up, and the walls of protection fall. There’s no need for them. Together, this creates a balance between the two represented here by the 9 of Pentacles. The 9 of Pentacles is more one-on-one than the 10 of Pentacles, but is also more freeing than the 4 of Pentacles. This means that, though there might be some painful memories, there is also freedom and confidence. Not bad for a tarot deck!
So, with the deck interview out of the way, I’m now free to start/continue working on my 78 Card Intensive Study. This is extremely tedious, but I’m excited to talk about it! Outside of that, I want to do a bit of commentary on what my Tarot Journal looks like for this project (and previous workbooks I’ve done). And after all that, I’m hoping to some blog posts on my occult reading list as it compliments tarot quite a bit. If you stick with me that long, well, there’s no telling what I’ll share next. There are a few exercises in the Holistic Tarot Study Guide that I’ve done that are worth sharing too. But, mainly, I need to work through every Intensive Study Exercise this month.