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Tarot Card Artist Pamela Coleman-Smith

Tarot Card Artist - Pamela Coleman SmithPamela Colman Smith was the illustrator of one of the first commercial and possibly most successful tarot decks, the Rider Waite deck. She received neither the recognition she hoped for nor the monetary rewards she deserved. However, her paintings have influenced the design of most modern decks.

Early Years

Corinne Pamela Colman Smith was born in Pimlico, Middlesex, England on 16 February, 1878. Her parents were Charles Edward Smith and Corinne (née Colman) Smith. Her father was from Brooklyn, New York and her mother was Jamaican. Pamela was blessed with exotic looks from her mixed ethnicity. Her childhood was spent travelling since her father was an auditor for the West India Company; she spent her time in Brooklyn, London and Kingston.

Her mother died when she was ten, and because she was often separated from her father by his work she joined the Lyceum theatre group for company. Much of her later art work was influenced by her early teen years which she spent touring the country in this theatrical community.

She returned to be with her father in New York when she was 15 and attended the newly opened Pratt Institute, studying art with Arthur Wesley Dow and graduating four years later. Pamela returned to London in June 1899 with an ambition to succeed as an artist and author. She wrote Annancy Stories, a set of Jamaican tales about an African folk figure, Anansi the Spider, among other books on folk tales.

The Golden Dawn and The Tarot

Pamela was now a published writer, an achievement that opened many doors in turn-of-the-century London. She illustrated books for the poet William Butler Yeats, who introduced her to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The Order of the Golden Dawn was founded by Dr William Woodman, Dr William Wynn Westcott and SL MacGregor Mathers on 1 March, 1888. It was an occult order based on esoteric Christianity. By the time Pamela Colman Smith was inducted into the order it was splitting itself apart at the seams. Many of its members were rebelling against Mathers, who among other things, was involved in an alleged magical war with Aleister Crowley2.

The Order broke up into a number of factions; many of the members, including Pamela, formed The Order of the Independent and Rectified Rite, headed up by Arthur Edward Waite.

Waite was working on a new tarot deck and, aware of Pamela’s artistic abilities, asked her to illustrate them.

The Rider-Waite Tarot

The deck that Smith and Waite came up with was published by the Rider and Sons Company in 1909. It has become the biggest selling tarot deck of all time. When people see tarot cards in the media, the cards that are most often seen are the Rider Waite deck. The 78 pictures that Pamela Smith painted are those that most people associate with the tarot. However, aside from a pittance in payment, she received nothing for doing the cards. Her name isn’t even on the deck.

The Rider-Waite is a ground-breaking deck in that it opened the tarot up to many people. In a major departure, the minor cards featured paintings depicting the meaning of each card, rather than the playing-card style that was previously used. Many believe that it was the changes that Colman Smith made to these minor cards that made the deck more accessible. The changes allowed readings to be made by readers who didn’t have to remember the complex occult numerology, which led to the deck’s success. Nevertheless, Colman Smith received no royalty on the sales. Arthur Waite was much more interested in getting the 22 major cards correct and left Colman Smith to work on the minor cards mainly by herself.

Many subsequent decks have used Colman Smith’s designs as a basis for their own, sometimes just thematically and at other times almost totally copying her pictures.

And Was Her Future Golden?

Colman Smith received an inheritance after World War I and rented a house called ‘The Lizard’ in Cornwall. She lived with her friend Mrs Nora Lake before they both moved to a house in Bude in 1939. Colman Smith had not sought fame or notoriety. She just hoped to be recognized for her work. When she died on 18 September, 1951, all her possessions were sold off to pay for her debts, leaving Mrs Lake with nothing to remember her by — not even a gravestone.


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Posted on Tue 29th Jun 2010 20:27:00

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Tarot card meanings: Meanings of colours in tarot cards

the foolTarot cards are such a mystery. There is so much intricate detail in each tarot card in the Rider Waite pack, that it would take many years of study to even scratch the surface of what the gifted psychic/artist Pamela Coleman Smith, tired to convey when she designed the evocative images.

In this article we will be looking at what the background colours of the tarot cards could mean. Whilst these suggestions may be helpful, naturally each tarot reading will have it’s own special meaning particular to the circumstances of the person seeking the reading.


White: the starting point (like a blank sheet of paper) or completion and healing. Emptiness. Purity.

Grey: Unconscious state (in a psychological sense the ‘shadow’) or conscious indifference, i.e. equivalence or lack of prejudice.

Black: The unknown, mental or emotional darkness, death Black implies self-control and discipline, independence and a strong will, and giving an impression of authority and power.

Red: heart, love, passion, anger, and blood

Yellow: Consciousness, joie-de-vivre (enjoyment of life)

Gold: Sun, conscious, eternity, greed. Abundance, prosperity.

Orange: Vitality, warmth, enthusiasm

Blue: Indifference, coolness, longing, the blues, sentimentality. Loyalty.

Light blue: air (open) sky/heavens, water, spirituality

Green: Freshness, youth, inexperience, immaturity

Brown: Down-to-earth, grounded, of creation

Violet: Borderline experience, imagination, spirituality.


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Tarot card meanings: Five of Wands

The Rider Waite tarot pack by artist Pamela Coleman Smith is rich in symbolism. Coleman Smith was psychic besides being an artist and filled the cards with many ideas by using symbols, and colours.

five of wandsMy focus today is, the meaning of the  five of wands, and what the various symbols incorporated in the image may mean.

The image shows us five young men engaged in a fight with sticks (wands) Whilst a fight is taking place, the feelings of the card is ‘competitive’ rather than ‘anger’

This tarot card most basic meaning is: ‘ something of a struggle in matters of negotiation, however despite the aggravation there should be a good outcome in the end. Courage and endurance may be needed if you want to arrive where you want to be”

However, we can also pick up other clues to interpretation by looking more closely at the image.

‘The clash of the sticks’ ‘friction, heat’ differing ideas’

The age of the figures. They are youths, indicating fresh ideas and the willingness to take part in adventures.

One figure only is wearing a hat, a red one. Red symbolises energy and passion. The hat meaning -perhaps the old saying of ‘keep it under your hat’ ‘the need for secrecy on a certain matter.’

The ground on which they fight is ‘yellow-green’ No desert is visible here as in many of the other cards. This represents fertility, a place where things can grow, here is nature and vitality.

All the figures are dressed in different coloured clothing, representing the different aspects of their will. Their determination, the continual process of comparing and testing each other.

The blue sky background of this tarot card – the heavens, the divine relam and the realm of the will. Clear thinking.


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Choosing a tarot deck

Choosing a tarot deck

by Linda Preston

I’m often asked by beginning tarot readers who  find themselves overwhelmed by the hundreds of tarot decks for sale these days for advice on which tarot deck to buy .  Many professionals myself included recommend that beginners should start with the most widely used tarot decks, which are generally thought of as the Rider- Waite Smith group of decks (named after the publisher, the author and the artist, respectively of a widely popular deck first printed in 1909)

You could choose the Rider-Waite, Universal Waite, Hanson-Roberts, Robin Wood, or any number of similar decks in this family. However, some people find that these decks don’t really work for them, and there are many other good choices. Whatever traditional decks you may have for historical or study purposes, it’s important to have at least one whose imagery stirs up strong responses in you so that it will help stimulate your unconscious mind during the reading process.

There are older decks, such as the fifteenth-century Visconti-Sforza and the eighteenth-century Tarot de Marseille, which have an entirely different feel  to them (but normally have minor cards that have only suit symbols – rather like a deck of pChoosing a tarot decklaying cards) The Thoth deck was developed by the notorious  early 20th century magician Aleister Crowley (once dubbed the most evil man in Britain by the press) and artist Frieda Harris, and has become one of the standards among tarot decks, although it’s not one of the easier ones to learn because of its strong esoteric and magical content. Finally, there is a huge range of modern decks, developed with every possible interest n mind, such as herbs, shamanism, Wicca, feminism, animals, faeries, gemstones, Arthurian legends, various cultures of the world and Greek mythology, just to name a very few.

I would suggest getting one of the traditional decks, for study if nothing else, and another deck that appeals strongly to your visual/artistic sense and personal interests. The comparison between them will be interesting, and you may learn a lot from both the differences and similarities between them.

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Posted on Wed 29th Jun 2011 22:25:09

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