The Chariot: Waite’s Symbols

We return to our series of posts regarding the symbols in the Waite Colman Smith tarot deck with the Chariot. Waite seems to be spending quite a bit of energy on distinguishing the Chariot from the High Priestess. The theme of Waite’s Chariot is mastery over this world, and most decidedly not mastery of the spriritual world. Why has he spent so much energy on this argument? My theory is that it’s a further step away from the kabbalah-leaning early interpretations of the Golden Dawn to the his Christian/Celtic re-interpretations. Exhibits “A” and “B” are the Urim and Thummim on the pauldrons (shoulder armor).

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The Lovers: Waite’s Symbols

Waite goes to great lengths to separate this card from what he described older illustrations conveyed, namely, marriage, conjugal faith, honor and love. His interpretation appears to be much more physical, though he appears attempt to minimize his fixation on sexuality by blathering about “the great mystery of womanhood.” Once past Waite’s fixation, it appears that his intent for this card was similar to the Book T’s notes on this, namely to focus on divine inspiration as the source for the love between a married couple. To put it another way, I think that that is the ultimate message of the card: divine inspiration as the source for romantic and physical love.

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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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The Hierophant: Waite’s Symbols

We can note that Waite assigns a much more powerful and active role to the Hierophant than the Book T, which states “He is the reflective or mystical aspect of the masculine. He is the thinker as the Emperor is the doer,” and Mathers who says “He is the symbol of Mercy and Beneficence.” As such, the keys at the bottom of the illustration provide the key to Waite’s instructions for the illustration: (The keys are) “a particular application of the more general office that he symbolizes. He is the ruling power of external religion, as the High Priestess is the prevailing genius of the esoteric, withdrawn power.”

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The High Priestess: Waite’s Symbolism

We compare the symbols in Colman Smith’s High Priestess illustration to Waite’s instructions documented in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1910). We compare these descriptions to MacGregor Mathers (The Tarot, 1888),and the Book T of the Golden Dawn society. In this case we note Waite most definitely states that she represents the Roman church, specifically “the Secret Church, the House which is of God and man.” Whereas Mathers and Book T lean far more in the direction of assigning science and wisdom to her. There are additional items to note regarding the moon and femininity, but they are minor compared to this.

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The Magician: Waite’s Symbolism

We list the symbols in Colman Smith’s Magician illustration which Waite dictated in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1910). We compare his descriptions to MacGregor Mathers (The Tarot, 1888),and the Book T of the Golden Dawn society. In this case we note Waite makes a point of explaining the Magician’s gesture, which it appears is a refinement of Mathers notes regarding the Hebrew character aleph; Waite also appears to specify the lemniscate above the magician’s head as a means of emphasizing previous writings which referred to a hat like an aureole. Where Waite appears to distinguish himself from his contemporaries is his ascribing the symbols of the four suits on the table as being “the elements of natural life.”

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