Rider-Waite tarot deck

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The Rider-Waite tarot deck (originally published 1910) is one of the most popular tarot decks in use today in the English-speaking world.[1] Other suggested names for this deck include the Rider-Waite-Smith, Waite-Smith, Waite-Colman Smith or simply the Rider deck. The cards were drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of academic and mystic A. E. Waite, and published by the Rider Company.


While the images are simple, the details and backgrounds hold a wealth of symbolism. Some imagery remains close to that found in earlier decks, but overall the Waite-Smith card designs represent a substantial departure from their predecessors. Among other changes, Waite had the Christian imagery of most older tarot decks' cards toned down—the "Pope" card became the "Hierophant", the "Papess" became the "High Priestess". The Minor Arcana are illustrated with detailed scenes and images by Smith, again a departure from many earlier decks with much simpler designs for the Minor Arcana but aligning this deck with, for example, the Sola Busca Tarot. The symbols used were influenced by the 19th century magician and occultist Eliphas Levi.


The cards were originally published in 1910 by the publisher William Rider & Son of London. The following year, a small guide by A.E. Waite entitled The Key to the Tarot was bundled with the cards, providing an overview of the traditions and history behind the cards, criticism of various interpretations, and extensive descriptions of their symbols. The year after that, a revised version, Pictorial Key to the Tarot, was issued that featured black-and-white plates of all seventy-eight of Smith's cards. Several later versions of the deck, such as the Universal Waite deck, copy the Smith line drawings with minor changes and add more sophisticated coloring.

Copyright status[edit]

The original Rider-Waite deck was a United Kingdom work. UK copyright in the original artwork for the deck has been in the public domain since 2012, 70 years after the 1942 death of the author and commissioner of the artwork AW Waite (the illustrator was commissioned by Waite, hence the copyright was his). Ironically the doubt is whether there ever was any copyright in the first place. This is because it is unclear if AW Waite complied with UK law on copyright protection at the time the deck was first published, in December 1909, which required registration with Stationers Hall. In any event the whole of the deck is now out of copyright and free to be used. “Rider Waite Tarot” is said to be a registered trade mark of a UK publisher.

In the United States, the original deck fell into the public domain decades ago and has consequently been freely used by American artists in numerous different media projects.


The Rider-Waite deck has been used in many television programs and motion pictures, notably in the James Bond motion picture Live and Let Die. (The deck was used along with a different deck created by artist Fergus Hall specifically for the film.)

The Rider-Waite deck has been used as an animated video backdrop in Madonna's Re-Invention World Tour 2004 for the song "Hollywood".

The Hermit card in the Rider-Waite deck has been frequently used by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, most popularly in The Song Remains The Same[disambiguation needed] and the inner sleeve of Led Zeppelin IV.

The Lovers card in the Rider-Waite deck was used in a theater poster for the musical Hair.

Major Arcana[edit]

Minor Arcana[edit]






  1. ^ Visions and Prophecies. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1988.

External links[edit]