Rider Waite Tarot Deck Explained
November 18, 2016 4:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for either a book, or online resource that will let me learn about the Rider-Waite tarot deck. This is strictly an academic interest, and I'm more interested in the meanings behind the cards, and the way they can be interpreted together, than I am in trying to divine my future. Do any mefites with occult interest have suggestions?
posted by dortmunder to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
This website give a pretty good explanation of individual meanings. I would search around on occult forums for info on relationships between the cards. I should point out that there are people who do tarot without an interest in 'divination' as such. They use it as a way of accessing a part of themselves that they feel they cannot access otherwise - in the same way that looking at a piece of art draws out a certain part of you.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 4:32 AM on November 18, 2016

Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom has a nearly exhaustive look into each card, especially the Major Arcana.
posted by jet_pack_in_a_can at 4:59 AM on November 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

LearnTarot is a useful resource with information about each individual card and relationships between them.
posted by ourobouros at 5:24 AM on November 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Here's a good resource on storytelling with the Tarot, with exercises and links to further information. "The purpose of the tutorial is to demonstrate that a Tarot reading is a kind of collaborative storytelling in which two individuals help one another build a narrative from set of symbols and tropes, randomly drawn from the Tarot deck. In this way, a Tarot reading is very similar to the other subjective and collaborative storytelling games we’ve discussed..."
posted by ourobouros at 5:27 AM on November 18, 2016

Ok, before getting to my recommendations I'm going to provide some disclaimers, because your specific reference to the Rider-Waite deck complicates things a bit, in that the term can mean one of two slightly different things.

First off, all or nearly all tarot decks share the same structure as the Rider-Waite, i.e. there will be 4 suits of fourteen cards each, and a set of 22 Major Arcana that aren't a part of any suit (e.g. the Fool, the Wheel of Fortune, etc.). There are other divinatory card sets that don't follow this scheme, but they generally won't be labelled as a Tarot deck.

"Rider-Waite" can refer, on the one hand, to the specific deck designed by A. E. Waite (based on his studies with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) and illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith. On the other hand, it can also refer to a large family of decks that base their symbolic content on the same scheme as the Rider-Waite to one degree or another. In broad strokes, this means that they've adopted the Golden Dawn convention of correlating the structure of the deck to Kaballah in several non-obvious ways

Some of the decks that you'll find in your local magic shop are based specific departures from that symbolic schema, e.g. Aleister Crowley's "Thoth" deck. Others are very different in design or art style, but are still based on the same symbol system as the Rider-Waite.

In general, then, any book on Tarot should be a good guide to the symbolism of Rider-Waite, even if the book in question uses illustrations from a different deck altogether, unless the book is ABOUT some specific other deck specifically. All that in mind, I'd recommend two books.

Anthony Louis' "Tarot Plain and Simple" is a really good basic text with card meanings that represent, as much as anything can, the consensus of a population of weirdos.

"Jung and the Tarot" is good if you'd like to see the cards evaluated according to a different symbolic paradigm altogether.
posted by Ipsifendus at 5:37 AM on November 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

Why not start with The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, which was written by Waite and originally published with the deck? I have a simple Dover edition. Seems to be online here too.
posted by beyond_pink at 5:38 AM on November 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Pamela Coleman Smith was on the blue not long ago.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:23 AM on November 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like biddytarot.com and tarotteachings.com.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:23 AM on November 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Book of Thoth by the controversial occultist Aleister Crowley is an insightful view of tarot symbolism. (I'm not a fan of his other works, but this one was interesting. The Crowley/Harris tarot deck is also worth a look.)
posted by ovvl at 6:23 PM on November 18, 2016

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