RWS as stage settings...


Mary Greer gave a talk at Panthea (Pantheon) conference in San Jose in Feb 2002 on Waite's writings and work with the groups of Yeats, Francis Farr, Ellen Terry and Pamela Colman Smith (alias Pixie Smith)...she read excerpts and did say Waite's writing was very very dry and repetitious. He was someone who believed himself as a Christian mystic.

I'm hoping that I'm repeating the gist of this correctly, but it was fascinating to hear her read quotes from Waite on grail mythology that he summarized and then pop up a picture such as the Ace or Knight of Cups in the Giant Rider Waite...I told Mary Greer it was wonderful how her talk brought full circle to me connections in Rider Waite Smith designs to tales told by early Italian tarocchi poets such as Maria Matteo Boiardo.

Since then I've been busy looking at recolored Rider-Waite-Smith scans and thinking of Pamela Colman Smith as a set designer...for 78 scenes of human archetypes.

By the way, it was said although Pamela Colman Smith as an artist didn't always seem to participate in the rituals for the Golden Dawn group, she was very well known for being able to sketch and paint on paper what other people were thinking of exactly...and that her ability to paint to or be inspired by music was extrodinary.

If I find more about her posted as an artist, I'll try to post to this thread...


Interesting report. Thanks Mari. It is nice to know that there is such stuff going on in the Bay Area, should I ever choose to come home.

What made you start thinking about set design?

The thought has never occured to me, but now that you mention it, each card is very like a staged scene.

Actually, of the theater theory -- semiotics of theater -- that was shoved down my unwilling throat in grad school, I remember reading (author??? title? forgive my sieve-like brain) only that on the stage, (just as in these cards) everything signifies. (sounds like it was something on symbolist theater)

Every choice, down to the most miniscule carries the full burden of evoking a microcosm, because chosen by a set designer/ dramaturge/metter-en-scène whatever. So that is a very interesting angle you've chosen to explore for the RWS cards, and should prove very fruitful! Hope you share more!

Edited to say: Mari, after a bit of surfing, I have a feeling the text in question was Antonin Artaud: le théâtre et son double.


Some Pamela Colman Smith threads...

One of the most public recorded instances of Ellen Terry, Francis Farr, Yeats, Waite and others (I think Maud Gonne) working together was the play called Countess Kathleen in 1899---I'm going to look this up this reference again to ensure that I have the name of the play right. Yeat's father wrote to Yeats that he was pleased to be meeting Pamela Colman Smith and see her lovely illustrations---this was supposed to be the set designs for this play. The play was supposed to be in favor of Irish Home Rule, something very very felt about among the Yeats circles of influence. I'll post the link, it will lead you to a pdf file essay and the citations to the Yeat's father letter. Pamela Colman Smith is only mentioned in those two sentences above.
I only hope the background gives an interesting tidbit on how early the people might have known about one another--that would be 1899, ten years prior to the publication of the 1909 Rider & Sons Rider-Waite Smith.
If the information is correct, the Rider Pack might be after Pamela Colman Smith tried to publish her magazines (Broad Sheet and Green Sheaf) and after her contact with Alfred Stiglitz and the Gallery 291 sold about 30 of her you can see, I'm still delightly reseaching Ms. Smith.
There's a scholar by the last name of Parsons who will also be publishing a book on Pamela Colman Smith that I would love to see before the 100th anniversary of the Rider Pack...
If anyone gets the links down before I do, please post to this thread...Thanks. Mari H.


I believe I recall that in the Encyclopedia of Tarot, Stuart Kaplan writes that many of the R-W-S cards look like stage settings, and that if you look at the cards (particularly the Minors), it really does look like a set, with the people on a stage and the background being a "flat," i.e. a painted backdrop.

-- Lee


This is interesting, because I never thought of the Waite-Smith cards as being stage setting, but the Golden Dawn Tarot always struck me as being very "theatrical," especially since most of the figures are just standing in front of curtains and such. I don't doubt that the GDers probably did "act out" various cards in order to get in touch with the qualities associated with that card...their wardrobe room must have been fun to look at...


I would love to know more about Pamela Coleman Smith.

Isabel Kliegman in her book, Tarot and the Tree of Life, points out that in certain Rider-Waite-Smith cards, the figures are not part of the landscape but rather seem to be standing on a stage in front of a painted backdrop. She calls these "Separation" Cards: 2, 4, 6, 8 of Pentacles; 2, 10, page of Cups; 2, 5, 7 of Swords; and the 9, 10 of Wands.

She factors in this observation in her interpretation of these cards.
For example in the 10 of Cups she states that the card can be interpreted as wishful thinking. The people could be projecting their own idealized version of life on the backdrop or the backdrop could be just a stage illusion. The meaning of the 4 of Pentacles is reinforced nicely as a "separation card" because the man pictured on the stage clutching his Pentacles has closed himself off from the rest of the world. The couple in the 2 of Cups are perhaps so infatuated with each other that they are in their own little world. I guess it's just another possible aspect of Pamela Coleman's drawings.



...that's a great observation, Rose and others, about the staging and theatre aspects. The Theatre of the Tarot with actors enacting their scenes has been a fun little idea to entertain...I'm just not certain what to do with such ideas yet.
Although, each suit would be a great play within themselves, someone writing a scene that begins or ends with the set design of one card to the next. Screen shot one: A raised sword; Screen shot two: two clashing swords...dialogue and music provided: your imagination, perhaps tah-dah-dah from Beethoven's 5th...


A very light connection...

Kathleen Raine's 1972 book (revised 1976--I have the original 1972 version) on Yeats, Tarot and the Golden Dawn (slightly expensive from a used bookstore found through shows Yeats tarot, among others. Maud Gonne and the wife of Yeats use Marseilles decks.

Yeats used the 1865 Eduardo Dotti deck. In some weblinks or suggested histories, Yeats might have some subtle design influence with Waite. I don't know if a comparison of the Giant Dotti and the Giant Rider Waite would yield any real similarities.

But I'm curious enough to give it a go...




Trivia note

In Mary Greer's Women of the Golden Dawn, the tarot pack described by Annie Horniman actually seems to match the Tarocco Italiano or Dotti Tarot (see historical thread on Di Gumppenberg and variations--the Dotti Tarot has separate notes and website samples). Horniman was a former member of the Golden Dawn and volunteer secretary to Yeats, helping him gain sponsorship for his writing dramatic theatre. She did four tarot readings and Mary Greer analyzed both the readings and cards described--previous to the theatre productions being on stage.

Mary Greer notes that Annie Horniman followed Mather's directions for laying the cards and reading them and it also provides a sample for Golden Dawn Tarot divination. It seems to be in 1903

I don't know if these eventually influenced stage designs that Pamela Colman Smith did for Yeats or the eventual paintings she did for Waite in Rider Waite Smith, but it might have touched upon PCS' pictures in her mind's eye.

Best wishes,

Mari Hoshizaki