The Rider-Waite Tarot
The Rider-Waite Tarot is the most popular deck in use today. The deck was designed by Arthur Edward Waite, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (who had a fierce rivalry with Thoth deck designer Aleister Crowley), and consists of the Order’s imagery, drawn mainly from Renaissance European symbols, though the structure of the deck itself is Kabbalistic in origin. The symbolism present in the deck is a watered-down version of that used by the Order itself, in order to not give away its secrets. Pamela Coleman Smith, another member of the Golden Dawn, illustrated the deck.
The Minor Arcana
The Rider-Waite Tarot has the four suits standard to Tarot decks: Wands representing Fire, will, and drive, Cups representing Water, emotion, and intuition, Swords representing Air, reason, and justice, and Pentacles representing Earth, practicality, and the material. Each numbered card represents a different aspect of the energy of the suit. Unlike many other previous decks, the Rider-Waite’s Minor Arcana are fully illustrated, with almost the same attention to detail given to them as to the Major Arcana. The cards depict human figures, as well as a number of the suit’s item equal to the card’s number, in such a way that the card’s meaning is clearly shown in the scene.
The Court Cards
The Rider-Waite deck uses the traditional Court Card setup: a King, Queen, Knight, and Page are the four cards. These four cards in each suit represent different personalities influenced by that suit’s energies: the King’s represent the wise, ruling figure in control of his suit’s energy, and acts as a sort of father-figure. He is also bold, and represents the Suit’s qualities outwardly. The Queen represents a mother-figure, also having mastered the Suit’s energies, but in a different way; her Suit-like qualities are displayed inwardly, through passive qualities. The Knights are courageous and active, not yet in control of their Suited impulses, and represent unbalanced applications of the Suit’s energy. The Pages represent personalities who have the desire to go out and do things in the way of their Suit, but are not yet ready, and so serve to urge the reader on to become more like the appropriate Suit.
The Major Arcana
The Rider-Waite deck, being the quintessential deck, has the standard Major Arcana set-up; twenty-two cards that focus around the theme of the Fool’s Journey, telling the story of life as an adventure, from the journey’s beginning as a young, naive child to becoming one with the world, and everything else in between. Each card represents one stage on this journey, and represent the experiences one goes through during their life.