rw deck vs others


is the rw deck superior to others in any way
why is it the most popular


is the rw deck superior to others in any way
why is it the most popular

Good question! I don't know the answer, but I am waiting to hear. :grin:

I also wonder why it has become the most popular. I learnt to read though on a deck was was a Thoth based deck, not a RW based one. It was the only deck I had or used for the first 8 months as a reader or so. And it never hurt my learning process any. Except that all the books I read to learn on were RW based (except of course the ones that came with my deck, which was the Haindl Tarot).

Looking forward to finding out the answer. I don't really see that the RW is any better for reading that the Thoth. And I know some people will only read with the Marseilles decks.



is the rw deck superior to others in any way
why is it the most popular

There are some pretty awful decks out there - the RW *has* to be superior to some of them.

But it is the most popular simply because US GAMES did a huge publicity-number on it over the decades.

I have clients who pick it out of the decks I have on display simply because they think it is "original". So I mention it was produced in 1909, and *that* one <pointing> was produced in about 1780, and *that* one <pointing> was produced in about 1425. <grin> People who choose it for authenticity soon abandon it for older decks. When they know. Which they don't until you tell them. The RW has been well-publicised.

And it's not a bad idea to have a recognisable standard in your collection. They're great to teach with - you can keep all your students on the same page, whilst encouraging them to develop their own relationships with it. And once you can read well with it, you can adapt to different decks, again making it good to learn on. It's very far from a favourite of mine, but I teach using it exclusively and am very happy to read with it if clients genuinely like it. :)


I believe one of the main reasons for its popularity is the artwork and the symbolism. It's sufficiently mysterious without being overwhelming and this pulls in a lot of people. But it also has an incredible depth that isn't readily apparent—this gives it staying power. I don't think I'd go so far as to say that makes it "superior," it just means a lot of people like it.

US Games got lucky is all I can say. The deck sells itself. :)


It's the most popular in the USA. In different areas of Europe, other decks were very popular and probably most popular, but in the last years, the high quality books and RWS-inspired decks has pushed the RWS to the fore everywhere.

I remember that 20, 30 years ago, in Germany THE deck was the Thoth. But I have only anecdotal evidence and can't really prove it.

The RWS is a good deck but IMO the Thoth is at least as interesting and more challenging. With the Thoth, you have to get along without the "narrative crutches" and deal with complex esoteric associations. If you dig deeper into the RWS, you will find also there a very complex system but the entrance is easier because you have the scenes and stories to hold on to.

While it is possible to read the Thoth just by looking at the images - the art is strong enough to help you along - you need to learn about astrology, alchemy and kabbalah to get the most of it. That's enticing to some readers, intimidating to others. The RWS is more reassuring to a beginner.

It's like the difference between figurative and abstract art. Everybody can "judge" a figurative painting. People look at it and say, "okay, it's supposed to be horse, so how successful does it convey a horse?" With abstract art, you really have to go beyond that, and that's why many people belittle it and say, "oh well, anyone can make some colourful blotches, but does he know how to paint a horse?"

I personally think it's a pity that the RWS has taken over the popular imagination as "real" tarot and that people are disturbed if a new deck doesn't fit into their RWS-based notion on how the card has to look. It's one of my pet peeves when people call RWS images "tradtional". They're actually not that traditional; they do signify the beginning of the RWS tradition, one among many.


I just recently started an in-depth study of this deck, and now I guess I can fully understand and even revel in its appeal.

It's popular because it's widely available and not expensive, and its art is beautifully executed and very expressive and evocative. It is also currently King of the Hill with so many new decks patterned after its system and so many books, articles, videos etc. teaching all the aspects of its cards. It has all the advantages of the incumbent. Since its minors are illustrated, they are easier to learn than if they were merely repeating pips, no matter how distinctly or brightly colored. Its images have seeped into pop culture and can be found in album covers, shirts, video games, horror movies, etc. It has slipped into our collective psyche. Its images have a rich and interesting lore behind them, and it's a great joy to study them and know them. Personally too, since I'm Catholic, I am just floored by all the Judaeo-Christian images, both manifest and concealed, that abound in the cards.


I also learned on the Thoth deck and still prefer its "glorified pip" cards to the RWS scenes. There is enough in them with the images, the colors and the titles to fuel my imagination without needing a built-in narrative. But I read publicly with the RWS and RWS clones because my clients relate well to the images and I can build off them easily from a story-telling perspective. My favorite comparative examples are the Seven and Eight of Cups: in the Thoth they both look poisonous, with rather dire interpretations to match; in the RWS they mainly look doubtful and discouraging, something a sitter is more likely to encounter on a daily basis.


I appreciate the fact that A. E. Waite was a Tarot scholar and a student of the Western Esoteric Tradition, which influenced the design of the deck. The same is true of A. Crowley and the Thoth deck.

Many (most?) modern decks are designed by artists who are not particularly interested in the deeper symbolism of the images and their interrelationships. They tend to concentrate on the individual Tarot cards mainly as subjects for artistic expression. This apparently is acceptable to most Tarot users.

I prefer there to be something deeper about a Tarot deck than merely a collection of 78 picture cards, not that I don't appreciate the art.


I don't think that the RWS is superior to other decks. I think it appeals to people because it is so accessible. There must be more tarot books dedicated to the RWS than any other deck. Even people who don't read tarot will recognise some of the images of the RWS even if they won't know its name.

Also so many clones have their roots in RWS symbolism. The one drawback I think is that if you learn on a Rider Waite then it gets harder to move onto decks that don't follow the symbolism. I got in a rut where all I was buying were RWS clone decks and I found it hard to move on, I struggled with the Liber T at first, Thoth still baffles me and TdM's are only now opening up to me, I struggle with anything that isn't RWS inspired. I wish that I had learnt on a TdM deck first.