Creative Review: The Original & Radiant Rider Waite

Pam, Arthur & Me

ep_es_051Unlike many people, the Rider Waite was not my first tarot. The first deck I chose was The Rohrig. The friend-of-a-friend who introduced me to the tarot in the 90s [and who’s name I don’t even remember now], took me to a strangely beautiful shop in London’s Covent Garden and told me to pick the one I was most drawn to. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the Devil in Carl Rohrig’s set, so even though it was one of the more expensive decks in the shop, I went with that in the end.  I don’t remember seeing The Rider Waite then, even though I am sure it was there; it wasn’t for a good few years that I even found out what it was. I didn’t have an internet connection and owned just one book by Jonathan Dee, so I simply muddled through with The Rohrig by looking at the pictures. There was something very magical about that time.

When I left London, I returned to my parent’s home to study art. It was during that year that I bought my first Waite deck. It was the Original Rider Waite with the blue and white Tudor Rose backs and it is still my favourite version today. I remember unwrapping the deck as I sat cross-legged on my bed. There was something other-worldly about the pictures; they were warming, like the illustrations of an antique children’s book. I felt as though I was stepping back in time or walking into a parallel universe. These characters had been waiting for me since before I was born and I was meeting them then for the first time.

I have a few different versions of the Waite deck, but this is the only one that takes me to another place. When I look at the 5 of Swords, I hear the waves crashing on the beach and the seagulls cackling overhead. I hear the trudging of the guys on the sand as they walk away defeated. I see the same image in the recoloured versions, but without the audio. Out of all the fancy decks I own, this one still never fails to hit the spot.


Bagging a Copy of the Radiant Rider Waite

I looked at the possibility of buying the Radiant Rider Waite Tarot at the time it came out in 2003. At that point, it seemed daring and bold and fresh, but with so many other deck opportunities about at the time, I quickly passed it aside. I had read that the people in it  looked unhappy and disconnected, so not having it wasn’t too much of a problem for me then.

513z1hy5vhl-_aa300_When my boyfriend asked me what I would like for last year’s birthday, my interest in the Radiant resurfaced again. I always find myself going back to one of the Rider variants and thought this one had a bit more life than the others (the white backgrounds in many of the Universal Waite cards always bugged me, due to feeling quite cold). I also liked that the suit names are printed onto each card at the bottom, for quick reference in readings.Though based heavily on the well-known images of Pamela Colman Smith, the Radiant is ‘recoloured’ by Virginijus Poshkus. Poshkus appears to be an illustrator in his own right, having illustrated the Natural World Playing Cards, also published by U.S. Games.

Yes, it is true that many of these clones lose details from the original (I am thinking of the Hebew letters on Temperance’s dress as just one example), but some do bring something else to the party; notably here, it is the palette. Aside from being richer than others we might be used to, there is the addition of some beautiful purples, which I cannot remember seeing in any of the other Waite colourations (aside from in clone decks like the Hoi Polloi and the Adam Fronteras pack).


So for this part of my creative review, it was colour that guided me in creating a bag for the deck. Rather than concentrating on the purples, which occupy about only four of the cards in the pack, I went in search of fabrics which felt in line with it’s main colouring. I found plain and patterned blues, a rich yellow for lining, and a printed swatch with teapots on. My friend reminded me of the burnt yellows in the cards, so I went to a second shop to find an appropriate cord, some ribbon, and a button.


The bag I have made  is slimmer than many you might find in the shops, but the deck fits inside snugly. To be honest, I hate bags that are too big, because there is always a chance that the cards might become bent if they are able to move about inside too freely.



The Theatre of Pamela Colman Smith

I have strong memories of a puppet theatre from my childhood. It wasn’t anything particularly elaborate. It was something my mother made for me out of a large cardboard sheet. She had cut a hole in it’s centre and had made curtains for the window. With the sides folded, it stood tall in our lounge and housed performances by both Sooty and a cheap plastic clown puppet I received within  an Easter egg. I can remember my grandmother sitting there watching, while the kids next door and I put on shows. There was something exciting about pulling and drawing the curtains and making stories with the characters. It’s funny how you never really remember it as just a tarted-up cardboard box. The magic was in the performances, rather than the way it looked. With i-pods and handheld games, I challenge any child to not enjoy the magic of a house made out of clothes horses and their parent’s clean sheets. It’s all in the imagination and creativity.

It is common knowledge that Pamela Colman Smith worked as a stage designer. Over the years, I have often read of people likening some details of the Rider Waite Tarot to the components of a stage. I agree that in cards such as the 10 of Cups, it does look as if the family stand in front of a piece of flat scenery. Before she died, my friend Annie and I painted some scenery for a school production. At the time, it reminded me of the Waite tarot, as I drew up the side of a big castle at the back, with the clouds and blue sky behind it.

While thinking about how to respond to both the Original Rider Waite and the Radiant Rider Waite, it was Pamela and her life that I wanted to follow. I have read that she was connected to the theatre in many ways; as well as being part of an acting group herself,  her mother was a parlour actress and she was related to the actor, William Gillette. It got me thinking about how I might make a theatre, since I had a small scale model of one in my twenties, made out of card. After much moving here and there, I don’t have it anymore, so started to look online for some kind of kit. I didn’t have much luck, but did find a template for one on the BBC website. I downloaded it and took a look. At that point, something was born in this review.

The PDF I downloaded was a bit hazy, so I took from it what I needed. In this case, it was only the shape of the front of the theatre. Rather than the reds, blues, and artwork within it, I changed it for something quite different. I began to colour it in the gorgeous sage greens of the Original Rider Waite, adding pictures from the cards into its details. For the top, I added some of the background from the Ace of Pentacles, and after wiping out the young man, I used just the landscape behind the Page of Pentacles for another panel. In the original there were people in the balconies. I replaced them with characters from Pamela’s drawings, including the Knight of Cups. After explaining what I was doing to my friend, she shared a scan of a theatre made by Pamela. I was amazed by the coincidence, since I was never aware she had made such a thing.




I pretty much disregarded the remainder of the PDF and let natural creation take hold. I found a box which I modified to house the theatre in, covering it in black card. I made my own boards for the actors and actresses to tread and made my own scenery from the Ace of Pentacles and The Moon, combining the two together in Photoshop. Then I made the little people by adjusting them all to the same size, printing them, and then laminating them. With little tabs, they can all stand independently. I have The High Priestess, the couple from the 2 of Cups, and The Hermit, all waiting in the wings, ready to perform.


Just Play

playIn just about every book I have read on tarot, I have been advised to simply play with the cards. People often enjoy decks like The Morgan Greer because without the borders, the images bleed into one another more easily. But what could make things easier than gently helping the performers out of the cards to roam free on this stage which is the landscape of The Rider Waite?

You wouldn’t believe just how interesting this can be. Can you imagine that girl from the 2 of Cups ditching her beau and seeking a little advice from The Hermit? (who knew that she wasn’t content with her partner!). Elsewhere, it might seem that those ladies in the 3 of Cups don’t let strangers in to their circle very easily; just line up The Queen of Swords with them and you’ll see that they hardly acknowledge her. Hmmm, that makes me look at the card a little differently. And when The High Priestess is approached by others from the tarot deck, she appears stranger and even more uncommunicative than we might first have thought. These guys certainly appear different when left to their own devices.

One of the things I tried was to use the characters from my readings on the stage to see how they interacted with one another. When the two from the 2 of Cups are split, I found it interesting to see how they reacted with the Page of Cups from the same readingHe has always been my favourite card in this deck. He was the one I looked to when I first bought it twelve years ago; you might call him my tour guide to the Rider Waite or the guy who introduces the acts at the theatre. When he steps into the well recognised relationship of the 2 of Cups, so many scenarios pop up. Is it the boy or girl he chooses to run off with? In this scene, the boy from the card rests a hand on the page’s arm, much to the alarm of the woman who has just walked in on them. Could this young guy, with love on his mind, come between the couple in a two card spread?



Old Friends and New Friends

I have one mate who I have known for about 36 years. When I eventually moved away from her and London at the age of 17, I was devestated and would call her as often as I could. I never thought I would make another friend as good again. Of course, she is still one of the closest people to me in my circle of friends, but in the last twenty-odd years, I have other very close friends in my life. The Original Rider Waite is still one of my all time favourites. I guess that like my friend, I just know it that bit more than any other; however, I smirked at the Radiant the other day when it literally surprised me by its accuracy. In the same way that I thought I’d not make a friend as close as Jane, the Radiant is just as good as it’s ‘old man’. The decks simply shine at different times. When I wake up and the sun is streaming through the window, encouraging me to get up, get showered, and get reading, then The Radiant is perfect. It’s good for a Summer afternoon out at the beach or with an icecream in a seaside cafe (the lamination makes it good for wiping clean). But if your’re feeling under the weather or fancy the whisper of quite reflection, the Original Rider Waite soothes in it’s soft greens and warming yellows. That’s one to take into the garden in August for a heart to heart or a late-night questions and answer session. It’s just fantastic in candle light.

Speaking of friends, I would like to finish this review with a thank you to one of mine. If it wasn’t for the wonderfully inspiring reviews of Judith Johnston, there would never have been a Radiant bag, Theatre of Pamela Colman Smith or this review. Art is a wonderful thing to share. It’s what makes tarot so special. I would just like to thank Judith for sharing with and inspiring me. In some way, I hope that this creative view has inspired you too.

Illustration from E. A. Waite’s Original Rider Waite Tarot by Pamela Coleman Smith. Published by U. S. Games.
Illustration from The Radiant Rider Waite, based on the drawings of Pamela Colman Smith and redrawn by Virginijus Poshkus. Published by U. S. Games

Radiant bag and The Theatre of Pamela Colman Smith model by Steven Bright

Review first published 1 March 2012

31 thoughts on “Creative Review: The Original & Radiant Rider Waite

  1. I’ve never liked the Rider-Smith-Waite (did you know that that was the original name, including Smith’s name?), but the Radiant is the closest I’ve come to liking it. I don’t own it, but the colors are gorgeous. 🙂

    And the bag…beautiful! You are so creative!!!


    • Thanks Pip!

      A lot of people do not like the original but I really enjoy the thick black lines and flat images. I didn’t know that about the name! Thanks for the info.

      I was happy with the bag too. It really fits with the deck.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I own the large Illuminated Tarot by Carol Herzer;
    she even added a bit of glitter and made in blues and purples…it is simply the most dreamy version. I remember seeing on a forum a post by Carol begging people NOT to trim it lol because in her version the borders are not the same size for each card so a borderectomy would spell disaster. But I went ahead and did it anyway-there was a trimming craze going on at the time! I took into consideration her warning and took great card to make every card the same size. The results aren’t perfect but the effect is stunning. The magical atmosphere just pops out of the cards and indeed this deck is truly amazing. I have her medium sized version as well as the portable mini one too. Each version she has created is so special.
    The Radiant one is so clear to work with as are all versions of the RWS decks, I think. It’s the quintessential deck, the one to go to when you need a break from all the marvelous variations out there, it’s the clean sparkly ginger-ale without the added flavours which in a way detract from the original intention, no matter how lovely or fun they may be.
    That bag is beautiful. It’s great to have a bag for a favourite deck that really represents the feel and theme. I have a lovely silk Lady and the Unicorn one which is a fragment of that famous tapestry in the Cloisters for my Golden Tarot by Kat Black and it’s a real joy to have them paired up.
    That is indeed one of the great pleasures of tarot, 78 little works of art to immerse one’s self, and combined with the mystical significance of tarot it’s just remarkable.
    When one considers the magnitude of creating 78 cards for a deck, it’s something to admire and treasure when you find a deck that speaks to the spirit and the heart.


    • Thanks for sharing. I remember being enticed by the Illuminated but at the time, I think it might have been out of my price-range. I can understand why you’d find Carol’s decks so special, all being different.

      I always come back to the RWS. It’s a base, I guess, where I feel comfortable – like your own bed 🙂


  3. …also what’s so vital about the RWS deck to consider and value is the esoteric symbolism inserted in so many little ways in the cards. They point to much knowledge and lore which has been completely lost in the decks that have followed, no matter how interesting and beautiful they might be. Pamelas cards are a true grimoire or fountain of knowledge to those who are willing to learn…


    • Absolutely. Which is something I pointed out on my course to the students. Even if you don’t use a RWS deck, if you are using a clone, it is good to know where it came from and what was there in the start. Many modern decks are Chinese Whispers of those original symbols, put under a magnifying glass.


  4. So glad to see this back. Such a lovely overview and I had forgotten how good that bag looked. I was gutted to hear the little theatre got wrecked, but it was a fabulous idea.


    • Thanks so much! It’s not easy picking a first deck. But it is extremely exciting! The Radiant is a lovely deck. If you are torn between any or want any advice, I would be more than happy to help if I can. It’s always good to go into this kind of thing with your eyes wide open and with a little understanding. There are so many decks out there now. If your first is too difficult to get a handle on, then you could lose interest easily. However, you want something visually attractive so that learning is fun. Is it just the Radiant you have been looking at?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow that’s amazing and so lovely of you – thank you 🙂
        Your point about some decks being difficult is the reason why I’m thinking of the Rider Waite decks actually. The original is a classic, but it’s not so pretty to look at so I when I was doing research online I thought the Universal or the Radiant decks might be the best place to start. I think the back of the Radiant deck is very pretty too.
        It’s a bit difficult to decide online, but I’d like to have an idea of what I want before I go in there – Pisces here, haha.
        I know the Morgan Greer deck is popular too, and it’s very pretty (I love the backs as well), but I thought one of the Rider Waite decks might be best as I thought they might be easier to learn and interpret.
        Then again I’m a total newbie and I have no idea what I should get 🙂
        Any help or advice is most welcome and I would be so grateful for any you can give.


        • I’m another Picean 🙂

          There will be many people who say ‘buy what you are drawn to’. I did that and it was a magical experience. However, it was a confusing time too because I didn’t really know what I was doing back then. I think I’d have learned quicker if I’d just got a standard set and stuck with it for a few years to begin with. It’s so tempting to buy many sets, believing that each new one will be better than the last. I believe that comparisons can be rewarding further down the line but I learned best with consistency and familiarity.

          I agree that the traditional patterns of the RWS is a good place to start. I very much like the Radiant and Universal. Both have their own strengths. It is whatever suits your tastes really. After some time, you can then look into decks which follow a little less closely because their subtleties will make more sense. I like the Morgan Greer, Hanson Roberts. Also, the Llewellyn Classic Tarot is a great set to begin with (with simple to understand book) – there is a review of it here in my blog. I highly recommend that deck to anyone starting. Also, the Sharman Casseli.

          Feel free to write if you come up against any problems! It’s exciting to help people find their first deck but you want to make sure they find the right one for them.


        • I adore the Shadowscapes. If you love that deck, then I think it would make a good a compliment to the Rider Waite if you’re beginning but could be a little slippery as a first deck. The simplicity of the Rider Waite will help you to understand the characteristics and meanings of each card. The Shadowscapes is lovely but the cards can look very alike.

          I have the Steampunk but it is not one I read with. Some of the symbolism is very subtle and I am not keen on the court cards.

          As for those I do think a beginner could use – definitely, Llewellyns Classic Tarot. Also, Sharman Casseli (plus it’s really good two manuals), Hanson Roberts. Not always the most exciting decks to start out with but they give the grounding needed. There is plenty of time later on to seek out great sets like the Druidcraft, Dreaming Way.

          I don’t know if you saw them, but in my article section here, I added my tips for beginners in two posts. Hopefully, they might help as well! Any questions, just ask 🙂


                • I was there not so long ago. I spoke to a really nice young woman about Kabbalah and the Mythic Tarot. It’s nice to see a place like that still in existence, since so many new age shops have closed or pulled in stock which doesn’t fit to try to cover their costs. These kind of shops are becoming a thing of the past. Unfortunately, a lot of those which are still open have put their prices up so highly that they alienate the customer (I saw Doreen Virtue’s Guardian Angel Tarot for £25 and Llewellyn’s Witches Tarot for £39 in one a week ago). People will seek deals online (even though both of mentioned decks are a fraction of those prices in regular stores like Waterstones or WHSmiths – about £13.99 and £25 respectively), so they’ll probably go the same way and end up closing. Such a shame.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • I did go into that store a couple of times – it’s nice 🙂
                    That is a shame about the prices – I’m currently in Japan so it’s hard to gauge prices (and find a magic shop?), but I have to admit I’m looking on Amazon due to the circumstances.
                    I feel like I’m harassing you now, but what do you think of the Tarot of the Magical Forest as a first deck – the one with all the cute little animals? It’s so cute it makes my head want to explode (could be a potential problem actually when doing readings 😉 )
                    If you think it’s a bad idea I will stick to trying the Radiant Rider Waite as my first deck.
                    I saw the original deck today for ¥3,000 plus tax but that was the only version they had except for angel oracle ones.
                    I will definitely let you know which one I end up getting – but I will take ages I’m sure! So indecisive – one of my worst characteristics!
                    Thank you again for your help, really 😀


                    • You’re not harassing me at all … 😀

                      From what I have seen of it, the Magical Forest is a lovely deck. I have considered it a few times myself and may invest in it some day. There is a lot of emotion in those characters. If you are drawn to it, then I’d say it is a worthy one. Besides, you can compare it to the RWS through books or online images. To my memory, it follows the system pretty closely.

                      Many people have a personal deck and a more general one for reading for others. When you are starting, it’s good to stick to a system but you’ve got to love the images too if you don’t want learning to become a chore. Part of reading is personal and intuitive so you need images which tap into that aspect of you.


                    • I think either will be good to start out with, but yes, I think that a RWS of some description is good. Not only can you see where the MF designs come from (I might order that myself at some point) but when reading for others, images like that can sometime feel a bit too lighthearted if dealing with a serious reading subject.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I just wanted to update you and say I bought the original Rider Tarot Deck in the end :p
                      I thought it was best for learning and I found the expressions on the people’s faces to be much nicer than the Radiant and Universal decks. I’ve started studying a bit but it’s tough and will take some dedication! Wish me luck!!
                      Thank you for all your help! 🙂


                    • Thanks for letting me know! I love the original. It’s the deck I use for 99% of my professional readings. Keep in touch and let me know how you get on! Feel free to drop in and chat about cards on the blog 🙂


                    • I have the Joie de Vivre and it is lovely. Though I’d recommend it a bit further down the road, since it takes tradition and twists it its own way – although not essential, it helps if you understand the traditional symbolism beforehand.

                      I think it’s great to research beforehand but I believe that a standard set of some kind (like the Magical Forest) will serve you well as a beginner. Haveyou seen the sites which carry full decks for view -


  5. Can’t believe I missed this the first two times around! And glad you posted about it again. What a fabulous idea, actually creating a theatre for Pixie’s characters 🙂 I love the insights that playing with them in that way gave you! Not enough to attempt it for myself, though – what a lot of work 😮


    • Thanks Chloe. It was a satisfying project and was so interesting to pull the characters from their cards and see how they interact. I realised recently that I have some of the files on another stick so you never know, I may well give it another go one day. Maybe make it a bit more sturdy next time!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s