The Rider-Waite tarot deck is the most popular tarot deck in the English-speaking world and one of the most popular in the world, with Tarot of Marseilles. The cards were drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of the English occultist A. E. Waite, and published (in 1910) by the Rider Company (therefore it is named „Rider-Waite“ tarot deck).
The Rider-Waite tarot was one of the first decks illustrating all 78 cards, not only the 22 major arcana cards. But the Major Arcana have an inner symbolism and, when describing and analysing them, Waite talks about „the Doctrine behind the Veil“. In opposition with these Major Arcana, „there is no especial idea connected on the surface with the ordinary court cards; they are a bridge of conventions, which form a transition to the simple pretexts of the counters and denaries of the numbers following“. So, we offer you, in one single place, a phrase for each Major Arcana, containing Waite’s essential interpretation.
I. The Magician
„This card signifies the divine motive in man, reflecting God, the will in the liberation of its union with that which is above. It is also the unity of individual being on all planes, and in a very high sense it is thought, in the fixation thereof“.
II. The High Priestess
„She has been called occult Science on the threshold of the Sanctuary of Isis, but she is really the Secret Church, the House which is of God and man. She represents also the Second Marriage of the Prince who is no longer of this world; she is the spiritual Bride and Mother, the daughter of the stars and the Higher Garden of Eden. She is, in fine, the Queen of the borrowed light, but this is the light of all. She is the Moon nourished by the milk of the Supernal Mother“.
III. The Empress
„She is the inferior Garden of Eden, the Earthly Paradise, all that is symbolized by the visible house of man. She is not Regina coeli, but she is still refugium peccatorum, the fruitful mother of thousands“.
IV. The Emperor
„He is executive and realization, the power of this world, here clothed with the highest of its natural attributes“.
V. The Hierophant
„[…] he symbolizes also all things that are righteous and sacred on the manifest side. As such, he is the channel of grace belonging to the world of institution as distinct from that of Nature, and he is the leader of salvation for the human race at large. “
VI. The Lovers
„This is in all simplicity the card of human love, here exhibited as part of the way, the truth and the life“.
VII. The Chariot
„He is conquest on all planes–in the mind, in science, in progress, in certain trials of initiation“.
VII. Strength, or Fortitude
„it concerns the confidence of those whose strength is God, who have found their refuge in Him. There is one aspect in which the lion signifies the passions, and she who is called Strength is the higher nature in its liberation. It has walked upon the asp and the basilisk and has trodden down the lion and the dragon“.
IX. The Hermit
„the truth that the Divine Mysteries secure their own protection from those who are unprepared“.
X. Wheel of Fortune
„the essential idea of stability amidst movement“.
„[…] it seems desirable to indicate that the moral principle which deals unto every man according to his works–while, of course, it is in strict analogy with higher things;–differs in its essence from the spiritual justice which is involved in the idea of election. […] the pillars of Justice open into one world and the pillars of the High Priestess into another“.
XII. The Hanged Man
„I will say very simply on my own part that it expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the Universe. He who can understand that the story of his higher nature is imbedded in this symbolism will receive intimations concerning a great awakening that is possible, and will know that after the sacred Mystery of Death there is a glorious Mystery of Resurrection. “
„The existing occult explanations of the 13th card are, on the whole, better than usual, rebirth, creation, destination, renewal“.
„Hereof is some part of the Secret of Eternal Life, as it is possible to man in his incarnation“.
XV. The Devil
„The chain and fatality of the material life“.
XVI. The Tower
XVII. The Star
„It has been said truly that the mottoes of this card are «Waters of Life freely» and «Gifts of the Spirit». “
XVIII. The Moon
„The card represents life of the imagination apart from life of the spirit“.
XIX. The Sun
„The card signifies, therefore, the transit from the manifest light of this world, represented by the glorious sun of earth, to the light of the world to come, which goes before aspiration and is typified by the heart of a child“.
XX. The Last Judgement
„It is the card which registers the accomplishment of the great work of transformation in answer to the summons of the Supernal–which summons is heard and answered from within“.
XXI. The Fool
„He is the spirit in search of experience“.
XXII. The World
„It represents also the perfection and end of the Cosmos, the secret which is within it, the rapture of the universe when it understands itself in God. It is further the state of the soul in the consciousness of Divine Vision, reflected from the self-knowing spirit“.