The Pamela Colman Smith / Rider-Waite tarot deck is one of the most popular decks ever. An astounding number of artists draw from the images of this one deck to create infinite variations of their own. In many ways it has become the de facto standard to which many other decks are compared. But it is NOT the first deck ever drawn. It is an interpretation of tarot, born out of the mind of Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith. Their ideas evolved from the influence of the occult, and the occult societies of their time. The occultists came up with many inventive ideas to breathe life into the images of tarot, always, it would seem, with the idea that tarot was more than just a game.
As a game, older decks appeared to use a design that included a more logical structure than what is seen in later decks like Rider/Waite/Smith. It is the belief of this study of tarot that the influence of occult societies - devoted as they are to the study and perpetuation of mysteries - has pulled the underlying structure of tarot away from its logical game-like roots. With this in mind, The Numerical Tarot, puts itself out there as an alternative that does what it can to step away from the occult world of mysticism, and approach the symbolism of tarot in a whole new way. By abandoning the mystical rhetoric of occult societies, the Numerical Tarot attempts to recreate a more logical, common sense, game-like structure to the underlying design of the deck (see A Few Minor Changes elsewhere on this site). Then... by superimposing this logical structure over the Rider/Waite/Smith deck, the Numerical Tarot attempts to show how a logically deduced system of common sense patterns - that does not center around occult mysticism, or any other cultural bias - can also bring improved clarity to the symbolism of traditional tarot. But...
PLEASE NOTE: It is NOT the goal of The Numerical Tarot to duplicate the form of the Rider/Waite/Smith deck, or any other deck. This comparison analysis is only done to show the amazing similarities that can be seen between two decks of dissimilar origin, purpose and design. This is not to be considered a historical proof of anything, or even a speculation that the underlying structure found within The Numerical Tarot was in mind during the creation of the Rider/Waite/Smith deck, or any other deck from tarot's past. This comparison is only being offered to help traditional minded tarot people adjust to the ideas put forth elsewhere on this site, and help them find a reason to study the Numerical Tarot further.
Most people assume that Mr. Waite and Ms. Smith were probably influenced heavily by the ideas of The Hermitic Order of The Golden Dawn, being that they were both members. From this speculation we can guess that at least some of the illustrations of the Minor Arcana were meant to illustrate those Golden Dawn attributes and their descriptive titles. But others have also speculated that Mr. Waite had in his possession another "secret document" whose identity was never revealed. This, then, might explain why the Rider/Waite/Smith deck does not conform exactly to the specifications of a true Golden Dawn design. In addition, we can also speculate about other blended influences that might have influenced Mr. Waite's instructions, or Ms. Smith's artistic license. Again... it is NOT the goal of this study to convince anyone that a structure like the one used in The Numerical Tarot was in mind when creating the Ride/Waite/Smith deck. But it is interesting to take note of how many places a card from the Rider/Waite/Smith deck correlates well with the intended meaning of the same card in The Numerical Tarot deck. For those who might find The Numerical Tarot interesting, but are reluctant to completely abandon everything ever learned about the Rider/Waite/Smith deck, these amazing similarities might help in transitioning to this new way of looking at tarot, by showing how little there is that needs to be abandoned.
If Mr. Waite and Ms. Smith did use the ideas of The Hermitic Order of The Golden Dawn as a major influence - with deviations for the sake of rectification... then it is obvious that the interpretations that follow have no bearing whatsoever on what was intended by those authors. Which is why this is not intended to be a proof of anything. It is just an interesting look at how easily the structure of The Numerical Tarot could be illustrated by the imagery of a completely unrelated deck. What, if anything, does that ultimately mean? Does it mean that Mr. Waite, Ms. Smith, The Golden Dawn, and I were all tapping into the same archetypal blueprint when composing our imagery? Maybe. What is that blueprint? Is it Qabalah based? Is it Astrology based? Is it Alchemy based? Is it the theoretical model of existence being put forth everywhere on this site? Who knows. It may never be known. But I would encourage devotees of the Rider/Waite/Smith deck to explore this alternative view before deciding what is really what.
Before you read any of this though, you really should take the Nickel Tour and familiarize yourself with the drawings of my deck and the way I lay out my deck. Examine the chart below as well. It will explain some of the changes to look for when comparing the Rider/Waite/Smith deck to The Numerical Tarot deck. You may also want to examine the section of this site devoted to determining Names and Titles for a deck based on the All Things Are Numbers approach. There is also an essay in the BOOK section of this site called The Spine of Tarot, that explains how this deck attempts to improve upon the design of tarot with the use of fundamental, primordial symmetry, contrast and consistency. You might also want to check out an essay entitled A Few Minor Changes to see how the All Things Are Numbers approach changes the Minors to be more consistently light and dark. In addition you might want to examine a series of charts that display the layout of this deck with key words that have been sorted into Adjectives, Nouns and Verbs. Take a look and see if you can see any similarities there, between The Numerical Tarot and a traditional deck like the RWS.
And here is that analysis...