1st Ten Major Arcana Wrapup

We pause for a summary overview of the first group of ten major arcana. My “read” of Waite’s reinterpretation of the symbols of tarot skews heavily towards “Christian” concepts. I think the High Priestess and the Lovers are the best examples of his divergent use of symbols. Waite also puts additional meanings in previously used symbols. He takes the very basic archetypes of the rennaissance cards, the kings, queens, marriage, pope, abbess, etc., and adds new symbolic meanings. In doing so, he shows his genius, as well as the genius of the Golden Dawn which overloaded those earlier cards with meanings drawn from, not from Christianity, but from the Qabal and numerology, which is where Waite differed from them.

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The Empress: Waite’s Symbols

Waite and Colman Smith are emphasizing the physical side of womanliness, particularly that of bearing children and of sexuality. In this, it appears he is portraying her as an opposite of the High Priestess. This is not the focus of his contemporaries and predecessors. In particular, I point out Mathers, who states the Empress is the “symbol of action,” and the Emperor is the “realization.” Where Mathers gives us complementary pairs, Empress and Emperor, High Priestess and Hierophant, Waite and Colman Smith presents us with opposite pairs, High Priestess and Empress, Hierophant and Emperor. I believe it is Waite’s focus on Christian symbolism and a Christian interpretation of the Tarot that motivates this change in focus.

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The Emperor: Waite’s Symbols

The Waite Colman Smith deck appears to convey in the Empreror a much more masculine message than its antecedents. The Book T personifies him as “War, conquest, victory, strife, ambition,” and Mathers as “realization,” (which could be said to be a form of virility). In fact, focusing especially upon the ankh on the Emperor’s staff, it seems to me that Colman Smith illustrated the emperor with a bit more virility than Waite may have been able to face up to. In any case, I feel that Waite took a strategic move with the High Priestess/Hierophant pair and the Emperor/Empress pair to stress each of the “couples'” complementary natures.

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