The Rider-Waite Smith: Tarot + Lenormand
When I set out to buy my first tarot deck, I was sure that I wasn't going with the Rider Waite Smith. I didn't actually know what the RWS was, but I was sure that I didn't want the deck with the "scary" images I kept seeing everywhere. I ended up with the Thoth tarot (which makes for another long story), I gave up on studying the tarot, and it took over 10 years for me to finally jump in again after connecting so easily with The Wild Unknown.
Once I'd figured out that there was a system to the 78 cards, and after I'd done the rote thing and memorized the meanings until I was comfortable enough to go just by images and instant recall, I knew I wanted to take my studies further. Still resisting the Rider Waite Smith, I bought the Zombie Tarot. Lucky for me, the Zombie Tarot's guidebook is succinct yet comprehensive—it allowed me to bridge the gap between an RWS-based deck and something a little broader like The Wild Unknown.
But then, despite my refusal to succumb to the iconic imagery, all (and I mean ALL) the resources online pointed me back to the RWS as an important building block for learning the tarot. It only took three tarot decks (the Jane Austen, TWU and the Zombie tarot) for me to finally admit that it would probably be useful for me to learn the basics of all this stuff. And so, while waiting around for a yoga class, I decided to visit the bookstore on the ground floor and purchase The Original RWS.
The RWS is important because it was the first deck to put a scene to every card. Rather than just a drawing of 5 cups for the 5 of cups, or 7 coins for the 7 of pentacles, it paints a picture that allows you to connect the newbie more easily to his or her intuition. The deck tells a story through pictures that you can use to tell your own story.
When I took a basic tarot class with my teacher Rob Rubin at Mysterium, we studied the RWS even more closely and that's when I really felt its value. For two months, I worked exclusively with the RWS until I knew it like the back of my hand (not to say there isn't still a crapload more to learn from it now) and found myself appreciating its imagery. All the more, when I did more research and learned about the different versions of the deck and found my way to the Smith-Waite Centennial edition, whose colors are more subdued and sepia-toned, whose card stock deserves an A+, and whose backings are just lovely.
Right about the time I knew I wanted to get a copy of the Waite-Smith, I had found out that US Games was publishing Pixie's Astounding Lenormand—a deck that combined different elements from Pamela Colman Smith's artwork to create the 36 cards of the Lenormand. (Never heard of Lenormand? Click to read my experience of this divination system). It was a perfect match for my preferred RWS deck with its matching blue backing, plus the deck comes in a little tin that just makes my inner Virgo heart sing with joy (no need to worry about wrecking the box or the cards).
When I don't have a lot of time to mess around with the why's and how's of life, I pull a simple Lenormand reading with my Pixie deck. In just one minute, I get a straightforward picture of what's on my mind, my past and possible next step. When I have a little more time to sit and ponder, I like pulling "explanatory" tarot cards to pair this Lenormand reading with. Because tarot dives a little deeper into the psyche, my Smith-Waite gives me a little more insight on why, for example, The Coffin has come up in the past or why The Child is coming up in the future.
It's a whole lot of fun, if you like messing around with different systems and seeing how well they work. Plus, and I will tell everyone who asks me about learning to read cards this, there really is no substitute for a good RWS background when studying the tarot.