Traditional Tarot - Rider Waite


I've never picked up a Rider Waite deck in my life and to be honest I probably won't ever buy it. I just don't feel connected to it.

However, I'd like to know every one else's opinion on the deck and how it reads for you. I know every deck is different but how would you describe the personality of the RW in general?


I'm just getting into after a bit of time spent with the TdM. I like the art, I like the richness of symbolism in many of the cards. I don't like the imbalance of that richness, where it seems to me that some cards are pregnant with meaning and others are somewhat plain and straightforward.

I also find it a bit generic. This is probably due to its vast popularity, rather than any shortcoming of the deck itself. I'm sure if this was 1915 it would blow me away. This of course is just me. I'm the type of person to value obscurity for obscurity's sake, so the plain fact of R-W-S being the top dog is a strike against it in my mind, despite popularity and quality being completely uncorrelated in either direction.

As far as reading with it, though, I find it very easy to connect the card with the meanings. TdM is garbage for divination when compared with the lovingly rendered minors of R-W-S.

I suspect that in the future I will have two main decks, a TdM and a R-W-S derivative of some sort that I connect with a little more. At that point, I wouldn't be surprised if the R-W-S derivative was used 80% of the time.


I don't like the art very well and can't tell you how many decks I tried before breaking down and getting the Universal Waite because I liked the recoloring Mary Hanson Roberts did. Take my advice and don't sell the deck short. It's an awesome deck just full of symbolism that isn't apparent at first. There's nothing like it for reading with once you learn it. The longer I read Tarot, the more my respect for it grows.


I'd love to know whether in non-Anglo Saxon countries, the RWS is the top dog, too. Maybe now it is, after the Internet gave non-Anglo Saxons the opportunity to participate in boards like this one and participate in an international dialogue. But I remember from the pre-Internet times that the most easily available deck was the Thoth. Well, anecdotal evidence... but I'd love to hear what other non-Anglo Saxons have to say...

Traditional tarot is NOT synonymous with Rider Waite. RWS is one tradition among many. It has become wildly popular for a number of reasons, one of them probably its seemingly easy accessibility. From what I know today (not much), this is deceptive, and behind the images and the narratives, there is adherence to an esoteric system just like in the more abstract and "difficult" Thoth.

Not to mention the TdM tradition which is still much loved and is being re-discovered also by people who came to tarot through the RWS.

My first reading was with a Thoth deck, my own first deck was Thoth, and it's still my main reading deck. I bought the commemorative RWS only after I had some so-called clones already - the one I liked most was Morgan Greer. But my point of reference will always be Thoth, and the RWS images look like an "easy" deck. This is also the reason, I guess, why it's being touted as beginner's deck although I don't think that's generally applicable. It's better to choose what you are drawn to, not what everybody else knows as "the" tarot.

For a long time, I really didn't like Smith's artistic style. It seemed bland, a bit clumsy and illustrative at best, not innovative and challenging like many other tarots. Only after I read Kaplan's book about Smith, I could appreciate her style - seeing it in the context of her time, other examples of her work and her personality, it became clear that she was talented and skilled, much more so than her cards led me to assume. They are not her best work IMO. I really like her theatrical designs.

My own hypothesis is that she felt a bit "hedged in" by Waite's instructions. Her work flows better when she really knows the narrative, when she is fully aware of what she is illustrating. The vagueness that I feel in her cards may reflect that she was not completely initiated into the esoteric system the cards rest upon.

But since I'm far from knowledgeable, my hypothesis has little value. (I do know quite a bit about art, though, and I can see that Smith's pen stroke is much more self confident and free in other examples of her work, and her use of color bolder, and her faces more expressive.)

So for many years, I was not attracted to the RWS at all and couldn't understand why everybody (at least in the world of the Internet) seemed to see it as the ultimate deck. For me, the ultimate tradition would be the TdM and Thoth and others before RWS. I couldn't see at all what the buzz was all about. I saw clumsy line drawings in artificial poses.

But thanks to the great commemorative set, I have learnt to appreciate the RWS both for Smith's artistic merit and for Waite's more veiled approach to the complexities behind the scenes. I see it indeed today more as a stage where scenes are enacted - and if you could pull them up, you would see what the artist herself maybe did not fully know.

This makes the deck more interesting to me than it was before. I still don't get why it's so much more influential than other older decks like the Sola Busca or Minchiate or Oswald Wirth. But it has inspired very good books (like Pollack's) and many interesting new decks. I recognize its place in the tarot pantheon although I would have arranged this pantheon differently. But who wouldn't?


I know every deck is different but how would you describe the personality of the RW in general?
To paraphrase Little Richard, "I am the innovator! I am the originator! I am the emancipator! I am the architect! I am tarot! Now I am not saying that to be vain or conceited. But, when I came, I never heard of no Marseilles. All I heard was Golden Dawn."

I agree with Grizabella. While I find the yellow box Rider Waite to be fugly on a good day, in my 23 year tarot journey, I've come to respect the deck. I often find myself using an older printing mini RWS deck for doing readings for friends. There are levels of detail buried in the deck that could take one a tarot lifetime to decipher and fully absorb. Very few modern decks can say that now, in 10 years from now or in 100 years from now.



i'd say it's a user-friendly deck that really wants to help the reader (and the sitter) understand what it's saying.

I love that the cards were done by an illustrator, as you can look at each picture and see the story, the meaning, the emotions of the people involved so clearly. it's like the illustrations accompanying a children's story, the pictures are so descriptive in themselves that you almost don't need words.

the RWS really speaks and I don't know if i'll ever find another deck that reads as clearly as this one.

(my preference is for yellow box, I am so used it now.)


I'm with jillkite on this. I have plenty of beautiful decks, that I use on a regular basis, but somehow when I have a very important reading to do I reach for the original RWS...

And I actually didn't start with that one, my first deck was the Goddess Tarot like 11 years ago. I think I got the RWS after maybe a year of reading with the Goddess, or more even... But it instantly felt right and that's probably why it's the deck I reach for very often. It's like the images seem to be able to speak to SO many people... Either because it's something with the images themselves, or maybe ´cause we've seem them on TV, in magazines, etc... Who knows? :)


Over 30 (!) years ago the Rider Waite was the only deck I'd ever seen and thus it was the deck I bought.

I had nothing to compare it to, initially...then I saw images of the Aquarian deck and bought that and the Thoth ....the beginning of a modest collection.

I continue to love my RWS. I think I once compared it to a relationship; I've had an enduring and positive relationship with this deck, above all others. I always return to it.

I have spent many intense years with the Thoth, an entirely different animal, but never really abandoned the RWS.

I appreciate Pamela Colman Smith's drawings; I don't find them ugly or amateurish; I find them representative of a particular time (& that carries an element of authenticity itself) and lend themselves to numerous subjective interpretations.

If I am reading for someone & it is to be more of a shared experience, rather than the querant sitting passively, I'll invariably use a RWS. I've found that anyone can interpret the cards this way.

They continue to surprise me too; odd details I'd not noticed or reading other peoples' interpretations.

I love my deck! I always have some version of it to hand; we're inseperable ;)


When I started in tarot, this was the only deck available (as far as I know, I didn't do an extensive search and didn't know about esoteric bookstores, heck I was 21 and out in the world for the first time from a very sheltered life). At the same time I bought the Pictorial Key to the Tarot and worked intensively with both. I suspect for those two reasons (no other deck to compare and having spent a long time with the PKT) that I like and admire the deck so much.

Her illustrative style doesn't bother me, in fact I like it and as with other posters above, actually prefer the yellow box version, probably because I am so familiar with it.

To me it is a lyrical, story-telling deck, rich in possibilities. Every image is metaphor and because I have used it so much its 'vocabulary' has grown in my mind like layers of nacre.

I love the Thoth and have spent some time studying it and have come to appreciate the TdM. And through this forum have come to realize their respective places in the tarot lineage. But still, first loves and all that.


I've never picked up a Rider Waite deck in my life and to be honest I probably won't ever buy it. I just don't feel connected to it.
Neither do I, but I use it if clients prefer, and it works well.

However, I'd like to know every one else's opinion on the deck and how it reads for you. I know every deck is different but how would you describe the personality of the RW in general?
Well, for a start I don't see it as all that traditional. My grandfather was well and truly alive when it was first designed. There are decks that have been around 200, 300, even over 500 years. Now, THEY are traditional! It's just the one that canny marketers and spin-doctors publicised. I see it as a pushy youngster <grin>.

All decks work, and work well. Even decks I've actively disliked can throw good readings. And there is no doubt that you will lose a small percentage of clients if they perceive that the decks you're working with are "not proper Tarot", whatever that means.