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R-W-S Images/G.D. Meanings, 1

November 6, 2019

Sport Cards: Relation of Picture to Meaning

The images that grace the Waite-Smith spot cards, so familiar to today’s tarot students, were an innovation at the time the deck was first published, an innovation questioned by many. John Brodie Innes, a member of the Golden Dawn, had something to say on the subject in an article published in the Occult Review, Vol. XXIX, No. 2 (February 1919). Brodie Innes starts with a remark about the picture on the Waite-Smith 2 of Pentacles but almost immediately broadens the scope of his argument. “From whence comes Mr Waite’s dancing man? If he belongs to any of the old forms of the Tarot, or is in any way connected with the original designers, he is worthy of serious consideration. But one would like to know his origin and credentials. And the same remark applies to the other designs.”

I have heard it said that the Waite-Smith spot card images reflect the Golden Dawn’s understanding of those cards. This remark can be applied with a good degree of confidence to the court cards but it is true of precious few spots, and where it is true of a spot card, the image usually highlights one of several significances allotted to it by the G.D. whilst marginalizing or sidelining the rest. As we run through the Waite-Smith images for the spots the truth of this statement will become clear. I have gone into detail in my dissection of the Waite-Smith images, maybe more detail than many of my readers feel the need to concern themselves with. But I constantly come into contact with students of the tarot who believe they are employing the G.D. meanings in their readings based on the assumption that those meanings are faithfully reproduced in the pictures of the Waite-Smith spot cards. I have written this article, in part at least, with the aim of correcting this misapprehension.

It has become so long, however, that I have divided it into four parts, one for each suit.

The Wands Spot Cards

The 2 of Wands in the Waite-Smith pack depicts a man, standing, holding the world in his hands, gazing down from the battlements of a castle. He is lord of all he surveys.

The Golden Dawn meaning for the card is: “Authority, power, control, ascendancy. Victory, or at any rate the fruits of victory, such as influence (as when ‘money talks’).” The Waite-Smith image encompasses the keywords Authority, Power and Dominion but gives no sign of any “victory” while casting only an oblique glance in the direction of “the fruits thereof.”

wands 2    wands 3

Of the design on the 3 of Wands, Waite tells us: “A calm, stately personage, with his back turned, looking from a cliff’s edge at ships passing over the sea. Three staves are planted in the ground, and he leans slightly on one of them.” The ships are his, according to Waite. One can conclude that the man’s ship has come in, in both senses of the phrase, literal and metaphorical.

The G.D. meanings are: “Realisation of hope; completion of labour, struggle successfully concluded, established strength.” The image encompasses “realization of hope” and may be considered as a pictograph of the words “established strength”, but since there is no hint in the image of energy being expended, the meanings “completion of labour” and “struggle successfully concluded” are marginalized almost to the point of extinction.

Waite describes the image on the 4 of Wands as: “From four great staves planted in the foreground there is a great garland suspended; two female figures uplift nosegays; at their side is a bridge over a moat, leading to an old manorial house.”

The G.D. interpreted the card as signifying: “Matter settled and arranged. One’s work perfected. Completion of a thing built up with trouble and labour. Rest after labour.” The party atmosphere presented to us on the Waite-Smith card can be taken as referring to the joy felt at the completion of a thing built up with trouble and labor. The other, more important indications, such as rest after labor, a matter settled to one’s satisfaction, have been banished from the scene.

wands 4    wands 5

The 5 of Wands depicts “a posse of youths, who are brandishing staves, as if in sport or strife.”

Somewhat exceptionally, the Waite-Smith image accurately represents the G.D. meanings – “Quarrelling. Fighting. Strife and contest. Competition” – although Waite weakens the connection by suggesting that the youths may only be participating in a sham fight.

For the 6 of Wands, the Waite-Smith image is this: “A laurelled horseman bears one staff adorned with a laurel crown; footmen with staves are at his side.”

The meanings the G.D. attached to this card are “Gain and success. Victory after strife. Success through energy and industry; pleasure gained by labour.” The image embodies victory after strife but not the more subtle significations supplied by the G.D.: pleasure gained by labor, success through energy or industry.

6 wands w-s     wands 7

“A young man on a craggy eminence brandishing a staff; six other staves are raised towards him from below.” That is how Waite describes the image for the Waite-Smith 7 of Wands.

The G.D. meanings are: “Opposition, obstacles, difficulties; sometimes courage in the face of same. Valour. Possible victory, depending upon the energy and courage exercised.” As with the previous card, one G.D. meaning – Valor – is represented well enough. More complex interpretations of the card are not in evidence, a common trait with the Waite-Smith designs.

Waite describes the image on the 8 of Wands as: “A flight of wands through open country; but they draw to the term of their course.”

The G.D. interpretation of the card is: “A hasty communication, letter or message. Activity; swiftness; approach to goal.” For once several of the Golden Dawn significances can be found in this image: Swiftness, and approach to goal, with activity tangentially alluded to. The “hasty communication, a letter or message” cannot easily be read from the design.

wands 8     wands 9

On the 9 of Wands we find a man with a bandaged head leaning on a staff, standing four-square in front of a row of eight other wands which according to Waite resemble a palisade. The man seems watchful, wary.

The G.D. meaning is: “Great Strength. Power. Energy. Health. Recovery from sickness. Great success, but accomplished only through striving and the output of a great deal of effort.”

The image only partially conveys the G.D. meanings, suggesting possible success in one’s endeavors but only if concerted effort is put into them. The bandaged head hints at recovery from illness, but rather too obliquely in my opinion. The Great Strength (the G.D. documents refer to it as Herculean strength) and Power cannot be intuited from the image.

wands 10

On the 10 of Wands we see a figure striding purposefully toward a distant town. He is bowed down by the weight of the ten wands he carries on his back.

For the G.D. this card represented: “Cruelty and malice towards others. Harshness, overbearing strength. Revenge. Injustice. Oppression. Sometimes shows failure in a matter, with the opposition too strong to resist.” Waite attempts to have his cake and eat it where this card is concerned, for on the one hand he says the man is bowed down by the weight of the wands he carries – i.e., he is oppressed by them – while on the other, he implies that the man will use the wands to beat the inhabitants of the town he is approaching. As is usual with the Waite-Smith images, just one basic element of the card’s significance is portrayed, in this case Oppression, with the more complex implications not being addressed at all.

To be continued.

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