BY KAILEY TEDESCO
While new age and occult practices can often be liberating, validating, and empowering for women, that does not necessarily mean they didn’t initially maintain sexist agendas. For example, I recently learned from the podcast You Must Remember This, that the concept of "magick" coined by Aleister Crowley, was initially created as a means of pick-up artistry—the added "k" being Crowley’s interpretation of the Greek symbol for "vagina."
I’m honestly not sure if we’re at a place now where this word has evolved into something powerful, or if it should be banned from our lexicons, but after a recent visit to Salem, MA, I can safely say I will be confidently banning a certain deck of tarot cards from my new age practices FOREVER.
And that deck is the most popular and classical deck in the western world—The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck.
Since the cards’ creation in 1910, mystics and amateurs alike have relied on its simple yet symbolic images. Such images felt like a god[dess]-send for beginner readers like myself. I could easily decipher the general meanings of the cards based on the images, much like a child learning to read for the first time. So, to discover that this deck that so many consider their go-to again and again had a sexist secret was unnerving to say the least.
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The good news is…you can still use this deck as much as you wish and without fear of misogyny. You’ll just have to purchase it under a different (and far more rightful name).
The exceedingly lovely and knowledgeable women of HausWitch (my favorite new age shop) in Salem, MA, watched as I looked curiously at the Smith-Waite deck they had prominently displayed on a front table. The images of the cards looked similar, but I must have been visibly confused by the name change…what happened to Rider?
As I approached the register with this deck (that I inexplicably could not part with), the cashier asked if I knew why the name had changed. After I shyly admitted that I did not, she explained to me that Rider (a publishing company) had usurped rightful illustration credit from a young Ms. Pamela Coleman Smith, the true artist of the card’s haunting and all too striking images. Sort of like another earlier Margaret Keane debacle!
After researching Smith (who was also affectionately called Pixie), this disservice to her work becomes increasingly sickening. In 1893, she enrolled herself in the Pratt Institute where she studied art, and eventually went on to illustrate for W.B. Yeats, Bram Stoker, and of course, the mystic Arthur Edward Waite. She was a true visionary who seemed completely unbounded by any of the time period’s patriarchal constraints.
When you look at the cards now, the shopkeepers told me, you’ll see the colors are more muted, as Smith had originally intended. Also, the pack included three bonus cards depicting some of Pixie’s mesmerizing yet non-tarot related illustrations to give us the full spectrum of her immense talents.
The muting gives the deck a look of worn-in love and stronger magic. Ironically, the colors of theSmith-Waite deck will probably look familiar to you because films and television seem to always filter the old hat Rider-Waite deck to look just this way.
So, perhaps it’s time to dispose of your behind-the-times Rider-Waite deck (make sure you look up a how-to ritual first!), and purchase the gorgeously liberated Smith-Waite deck instead. I promise that the energy feels stronger, cleaner, and far more positive! And if I may make a further recommendation, purchase your new deck from a feminist-minded occult shop like HausWitch to further your support of powerful women.
All photographs show the Smith-Waite Centennial Tarot Deck.
Kailey Tedesco’s chapbook, These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press this summer. She is the editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a performing member of the NYC Poetry Brothel. She received her MFA from Arcadia University, and she now teaches English at the high school and college levels. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Hello Giggles, UltraCulture, Bellevue Literary Review, Prick of the Spindle, Quail Bell Magazine, and more. On any given day, you can find her watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and craving French desserts.