Monday, April 29, 2013

A Little Tarot Deck History

Arthur Edward Waite
October 2, 1857  -- May 19 , 1942

Pamela Coleman Smith
I've been participating in Aine O'Brien's, Black Crow Tarot Course, over at her blog, the deepest well ,and  I am really enjoying the experience.
I came to the course after the start date, which has been a good thing for me. 
I can study at my own rate and take the time I need to really address the exercises that Aine has at the end of each card's tutorial.
I was ready to do Lesson Nine when I hit a small stumbling block. The Strength card was being presented as number 8 of the Major Arcana.   Aine did inform us that she would be using the Rider-Waite Deck.    
Being very new to Tarot study I had purchased a Liz Dean deck. I consulted with Aine and it was decided there shouldn't be a problem  with using my deck. 
 In Lesson Nine , Aine gives instruction and interpretations for the Strength card  which is numbered as the 8th card.   In my deck the Justice card is number 8 and it made me wonder why.  
It was time for me to do a little research. I have always wanted to know the" why" of things. Doing research is like unraveling a mystery for me, I savory the adventure.
In my book The Secrets of the Tarot, Origins, History, and Symbolism by Barbara G. Walker ,she discusses the possibility that due to the fact that similar symbols show up on the Strength and the Justice cards maybe the  reason  the Golden Dawn Society transposed them.
Okay, what is the Golden dawn Society? I wondered.  It  was a magical order active in Great Britain during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It's system was based on hierarchy and initiation like the Masonic Lodges with the exception that women were allowed and had equal footing with the men. One of it's members was Arthur E. Waite, 

Arthur E. Waite was a member of the Golden Dawn Society who co-created the Rider-Waite tarot deck and composed its companion volume, the Key To The Tarot published by the Rider company in 1911. Mr. Waite was a scholarly British mystic and a prolific author. Mr. Waite's name is known because he was the first to attempt a systematic study of the history of western occultism,viewed as a spiritual tradition.
A.E. Waite hired, Pamela Coleman Smith, an artist and member of the Golden Dawn to fully illustrate all of the 78 cards.
In numbering the deck, Strength is traditionally the 11th card and Justice the 8th, but in making the deck, Waite switched their positions  so that they would better fit the astrological  correspondences.
The eight card  is associated with Leo and the 11th with Libra.
I've written the information I've found concerning the Rider-Waite Deck into my notebook and I will print out the photos and add them as well.

Because my deck has the Justice card as the eighth, I will study it next. I'm grateful that Ms. O'Brien has already lectured on this card. I can jump ahead and then return to the original Lesson plans.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yes, the positions of Strength and Justice are often switched between various decks. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck and its clones have them one way and Aleister Crowley's Thoth deck and its clones have them the opposite way. I'm not sure why although I read once it had something to do with astrology.

Aine O'Brien said...

Yes, the difference in the order of Justice and Strength is seen in other decks as well. And the trouble is, that it is hard to know which decks use which order until after you have purchased them. Once upon a time, this wouldn't be the only thing you didn't know, as decks were sealed. Luckily now we can see examples of the cards in a deck online so there are fewer surprises. But the order of Justice and Strength is still often unknown, unless you are lucky enough to know someone with the deck or see a review of the deck.

The order doesn't matter very much to me, but I know it does for some.