Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot – A Book Review:
When I heard that Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin were putting together a book which revealed the inspiration behind the images of the Rider-Waite-Smith cards, I was so excited! I’ve done a fair bit of research about the history and evolution of the cards, but as Pamela Colman Smith had not written any books on her experiences while drawing the cards, I’d come to a dead-end regarding her mindset at the time of developing this deck’s imagery.
I’m thrilled with the outcome of their research. The authors had access to Waite’s unpublished writings, Pamela’s letters, her drawings, and photographs of Pamela with her friends that clearly reveal the characters who inspired her Tarot designs. They even visited some of the places she lived, and from this they discovered landscapes that mirrored the images on the cards.
It’s mind-boggling to think that Pamela created all 78 cards in this deck in just over 5 months. Perhaps because of the constraints of this time-frame, in her designs she incorporated people and scenery she knew well.
In this book we learn that Pamela was involved in acting and theatre design at the time of her association with Waite. In her creation of figures for the Minor Arcana, she used images of various stage characters and was inspired by dialogue from famous plays. Katz and Goodwin discovered lots of text from plays of this era that relate directly to her cards.
For example, one of the unusual aspects of the 7 of Wands is the mismatched shoes on the character defending his position at the top of the hill. This relates to the character Petruchio, from ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. In this play by Shakespeare, Petruchio arrives badly dressed for his wedding, and his boots are described as, ‘one buckled, another laced.’ As Katz and Goodwin explain, ‘All the complex ideas, scenarios, and character interactions of a full play by Shakespeare are carried by this one image.’
This is an exciting book that clears up so many of the mysteries of the Waite-Smith deck. In it you’ll discover the name of the cat at the foot of the Queen of Wands, the meaning of the snail in the 9 of Wands, and the name of the dog in the card called The Fool. But these are just ‘fun facts’ that make the book enjoyable to read…the real value of the book is that the authors have provided clarification of the intended meanings of the original Rider-Waite-Smith deck. This is a brilliant book that is going to keep me entertained for a long time!
To see more of Pamela Colman Smith’s artwork, have a look at the video created by Kim Arnold: Click here.