I am always researching, studying and perfecting my craft. Whether that’s yoga, religion, chakras, meditation or personal growth, to name a few, I am always reading about some topic that has a hold on me at that particular moment. I have been reading this book by Marcus Katz and Tali Goodman titled “Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot: The True Story of the World’s Most Popular Tarot” and am completely hooked. It’s given me a thirst to learn more about Pamela Colman-Smith, the illustrator of the deck, and Arthur Edward Waite, co-creator of the deck.
Before we go on, I know there is a lot of discussion around even using the Rider-Waite deck because Pamela did a huge bulk of the creating and made pennies for it (no royalties – this is by far the most famous tarot deck ever!) While Arthur Edward Smith lived lavishly off of the proceeds. She was absolutely taken advantage of and should have been given her due. But when I think about it, she has this larger than life space in the heart of any lover of tarot (myself included), I know so many tarot enthusiasts who feel the same way and we are all so grateful for her work. To learn more about the Queen of Tarot, head here, here, and here. There are more resources within these links to keep you in the rabbit hole for a minute! You’re welcome!
Back to the book, within the first few pages, I about lost my lunch when I read this:
What has struck me the most is that a century of speculation has overlaid Pamela’s life and images. The conspiracy theories of hidden Masonic stories and other esoterica have long obscured a simple secret: Pamela was a child of the theatre, a storyteller, and a Catholic convert. Waite was also Catholic—albeit of a peculiar kind— as his second tarot images make clear.
This is the true secret of the Waite-Smith Tarot — it was a rectification of the power of symbolism to provide universal access to a hidden sanctuary of mystical experience created by a bohemian Catholic artist and a Catholic mystic, presented through the theatrical tradition.
I am (was) a Catholic convert. I am a child of the theatre (I played Maria in West Side Story along with a few other roles and spent a lot of my high school years waiting in the TKS line for “two-fers” on Broadway (two for the price of one tickets!), I’m all about that bohemian lifestyle. I feel like Pamela is more than the illustrator here, we share some of the same life experiences separated by over a century!
Side note, I have yet to tackle the coming from Catholicism as a convert, and now, reading tarot, becoming a yoga teacher, and keeping crystals in my bra. I don’t know that I will, or ever will need to. Every time I try to write about it, I get sidetracked by how it may be perceived by others. Still working on that.
There’s also this from Faerie Magazine:
By 1911, Colman Smith had converted to Catholicism, taking on the middle name Mary. Though this seems like a sad turn for a spiritually adventurous artist, she urged friends to join in her converting, as the Catholic Church was “such fun!” Perhaps she could feel the pagan undertones in so much of the Roman Catholic Church’s pomp and circumstance. In any case, Catholics were an oppressed minority in the U.K., and while Colman Smith’s conversion might seem like a move toward conservatism today, at the time it likely only enhanced her eccentricity.
In the first chapter, Katz and Goodman share a spread called Waite’s Rose Cross Spread. As I was reading the book, I thought I would do the spread for myself.
While the entire reading was truly relevant, affirming and eye-opening. It was the second position of the cards that really stood out for me for a couple of reasons. The first, is it’s the Tower; one of the scarier cards in the deck. Two; because the position of the card relates to “what protects [me] and also hinders [me] – it is a challenge card to [my] spiritual progress at this moment.
What is the Tower at its most basic? Change. Tearing down of the old to make way for the new. A shattering and cracking of your very foundation so it all comes tumbling down around you. The lightning shown on the card comes from somewhere else. Where? And who is sending it? Does it even matter? For me, I look at the lightening as something that is going to fire me up in a way that I have no choice but to change. And that is so true in my personal life.
As I look back, there has always been some external force, or catalyst for me to change everything and start anew. Responses from others as I change range from shock, acceptance, indifference and everything in between. It’s made it so the only constant in my life is change. I always thought that to be a positive attribute. If it’s not working I tear it all down and start again. But, according to this spread, it can also be my “thorn” i.e. what protects me and what hurts me.
Change hurts me in that it can alienate people, circumstances and communities from my life who don’t share the new views that I do. Change is difficult for people to process and while I am certainly sensitive to the ruffles I may cause with my “course correction” because that’s what I feel it is for me, I have to do what I feel in my heart to be true. I get one chance and one body, mind, and soul to to this life with. I can’t live it for anyone else but me. But I’m still working on this, remember?
– Walt Whitman
Maybe now I understand why I never shied away from the Tower card. It always excites me. ‘Big changes coming? Can’t wait! Bring it on!’ But in all seriousness, this is why I have always loved Tarot–each card shows you shades of yourself that you can’t see unless you are pointed toward it. The Tarot nudges you to look at who you are consciously, and subconsciously so you can course correct after having thoroughly meditated on every aspect of the situation.
There are more take-aways from this reading that I would love to share with you over the course of the coming weeks. This spread is done with just the Major Arcana, the 22 cards that focus on larger overarching themes and life lessons, so there is a lot we can chew on. Next week, we will go backward and look at the first position of this reading, The High Priestess.