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Almost everyone has noted that the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot images, especially for the Minor Arcana, look like scenes in a stage play. This is not unexpected since Pamela Colman Smith spent much of her early life involved in the theatre, from miniature stage productions to set and costume design to her own costumed story-telling performances. She even wrote two articles on set design and decoration.

I here present selections from her article, “Appropriate Stage Decoration,” that appeared in The New Age magazine (7:5, June 2, 1910. pp 7-9) shortly after the deck was published. I think you’ll find that it will heighten your appreciation of her Tarot cards. I’ve interspersed commentary that shows possible relevancy to her creation of the deck. Pamela begins:

ABOUT us is the glowing beauty of the world, with its leaves and flowers, rags, gold and purple. Kings on thrones of iron, beggars on beds of clay, laughing, weeping, dreaming.

Notice how Smith poetically evokes the scene before our eyes, weaving together shape and color with emotion. My own research fifteen years ago of nearly a hundred people demonstrates high agreement in the assignation of similarly-related emotions to individual cards in the RWS deck.



Land of Heart’s Desire

This pageant of life moves before us, intensified, in the theatre.

Theatre, Pamela tells us, is an exaggeration of life, a march of characters before our eyes. In a tarot reading we have a progression of scenes whose figures are comparable to ourselves and to other people with whom we are involved. It is this intensification of a personal issue in people’s lives that allows them to recognize a repeating theme and, if desired, begin to change it.

People go, most of them, to the play to be amused, and in spite of themselves, are often tricked into a mode of thinking quite contrary to their usual habit of thought. That is why the theatre is the place where all beauty of thought, of sound, of colour, and of high teaching, comes to be of use.

In the U.S. for instance, Tarot, for legal purposes, is billed as entertainment—an amusement that ‘tricks’ querents out of the usual ruts in their thinking, turning the experience into a place of ‘high teaching.’

All arts are branches of one tree.

We can picture this as tree of life and wisdom. It is a reminder of, “As above, so below.”

There in the theatre, unconsciously, the onlooker is moved, or interested, and finds himself agreeing or disagreeing with the playwright and every time he enters a theatre he comes out with a little more knowledge than when he went in. Agreeing or disagreeing, it brings uppermost in his mind some thought which crystallises and becomes a new intelligence.

In many circumstances the information provided by readers is not unknown to their querents, but its significance is usually heightened or it is seen as part of a larger pattern. And it is not so important that querents agree completely with what a reader says. Rather the important thing is that they leave with greater insight than when they came in. This is what we hope for: a new and beneficial realization or insight, or as Pamela expresses it, “some thought crystallized.”

Theatre-going is a habit, where one cultivates a new kind of observation, a new pair of eyes and ears.

In order to enter into this new kind of observation one must have, in Coleridge’s phrase, “a willing suspension of disbelief.” We accept for a moment that mere cards are mirrors of the soul, reflections of our personal issues with answers to our questions. Furthermore, when we make reading our own cards a personal habit we can observe our own patterns of thought and so recognize where we are prone to delude ourselves.

Pamela disparages the then-modern vulgar theatrical display of too realistic scenery—real trees, flowers and animals—that she called “a self-conscious sham without purpose or meaning.”

Those in power have not remembered that illusion is the aim of the theatre. It is a great game of pretence that recalls the time when, as children, we baked stones in the sun for cakes, and feared the dragon that lurked behind the garden wall, or by the pond. A remnant of that imaginative life we re-live in beholding a play set forth before our eyes.

It is through a playful sense of analogy among the figures on the cards and our everyday situations that we are able to face our own dragons.

Art Box S656 no. 4

Caliban from The Tempest

If the illusion is good, we follow it more easily, and illusion to be good need not be realistic. Realism is not Art. It is the essence that is necessary to give a semblance of the real thing.

Absolute correctness in dress or scene does not necessarily give the illusion. Everything must be exaggerated in order that it may be visible across the footlights.

A deck that is too real may be off-putting. A card depicting an office-worker with a computer may be too “real” an image to correlate with someone’s job as carpenter or herbalist. An idealized movie star as Knight of Wands could do little to suggest a problematic boy friend. By contrast, a fantasy fairy tale. as in Pamela’s faux-medieval Minor Arcana, may be easier to inhabit. Moreover, it can help one see the mythic dimension of one’s own life.

The designer must insist on the balance being kept, and work in harmony with, and not be ruled by, the producer or stage manager. Of course the producer must have confidence in the designer to complete his work.

We may take this as a statement of the working relationship between Smith and Waite, in which Smith was cognizant of the importance of not being ruled by Waite, the stage manager/producer. Likewise, Waite apparently gave over illustration of the Minor Arcana cards primarily to Smith, with confidence in her ability to do justice to the task.

Regarding decks that are slavishly based on their predecessors, Pamela complains that all too often costumes are “hired merely in the tradition of the part, the model having done duty in many revivals.” So we should not be surprised when her deck takes a decidedly new form of expression. It might even make one wonder what Pamela would have thought of so many RWS influenced decks.

A great many people find her colors garish. When critiquing the artistic effect of her cards we should take into account that for Pamela:

Colours are forces but little understood. Strong colour is disliked, and perhaps the fear and hatred of strong, clean colour is due to ignorance.

She asks us to:

Observe the work of the French impressionist painters, who use red, blue and yellow side by side to get the effect of light and atmosphere. Is it the fear of the dreaded accusation of vulgarity? I believe the public would prefer the effect got by the use of strong primitive colour, if they saw it.

While some may see her strong colors as a call to vitality and a celebration of life like that perceived in the French theatre posters of the period, we see here that she was also influenced by the impressionist experiments in color theory.

How rarely does one see an entire production welded together into a thing of beauty by artist hands?

 As we’ve already seen, historical correctness is secondary to an exaggerated illusion welded into “a comprehensive thing of beauty.” She further claims that costume is more important than scenery. The latter, she notes, should be kept simple and in harmony with the costumes. Nevertheless, Pamela ends her article with a plea for a dramatic library that would provide historical details for design purposes (much as can be found with simple google searches today). She asks, “Where would one look for the dress of a Jewish woman in England in the year 1185?” and answers herself, “There is the material to go on, given the knowledge of where to find it.

I read this as Pamela’s call for historical awareness at the same time that she observes the primacy of dedication to the art plus the necessity of illusion as essential to having one see with “a new pair of eyes and ears.” This is a formula with which all tarot readers have to contend. And then, knowing what we know of Pamela Colman Smith, we must add a significant dash of intuitive awareness allowing us to experience other realms of perception.

Please add your own thoughts in the comment section.

This spring I am again involved in Magical Tarot tours of the British Isles. But I want to speak here about communing with the land, which we will focus on even more on this year’s journeys to “Sacred Scotland” and “Merlin’s Britain.” These are things you can do in your own community as well as sacred sites—a city park can be as good as a meadow or forest. Even buildings have their energies and stories. Your intention may be to gain knowledge about nature, the land or the place: past, present or future. Or you may be on a quest for personal insight. I’ll mention just a few of my favorite methods that can be used separately or together.


Go to your place of engagement. 

mini waterfalls

With or without shoes, move slowly, with your intention in mind, using your breath to enter a meditative state of open awareness. 

Open all your senses and try to determine a flow or confluence of energies. This energy focus may be found in trees and plants or landmarks or even sounds or air flow. Some people use kinesiology, a pendulum or dowsing rods to assist them.

One time I was walking by a forest stream with many little waterfalls and found myself going back and forth until I came to the exact spot where all the ambient sounds seemed to join together equally in perfect balance and harmony. O Ecstasy of the spirit!

Step Pyramid

A second example was following a nighttime ritual inside the Egyptian Step Pyramid at Saqqara. Standing in the outer temple complex I walked around until I found myself triangulating a position at the juncture of the energies of the pyramid and two other structures. Once I found it, I looked up and the full moon was, just at that moment, cresting the top of the pyramid, resting on its point. When this kind of magic happens I quietly express my gratitude and try to enter into oneness with the place.


Dowsing for Pamela Colman Smith’s grave in Cornwall


Take the Major Arcana from your favorite Tarot deck to a place that intrigues you. You’ll probably want an intention in mind. For instance, you may ask to be guided to a power spot or to receive information about the place or its history, or to get insight regarding a personal concern. Get comfortable. Select a Major Arcana card as your guide either randomly or by conscious choice. If in doubt, select the Hermit.

Gaze at your card until you can recreate it in your mind’s eye while speaking your intention. Close your eyes and breathe in the place while asking your guide to come to you. What appears in your mind’s eye may or may not look like a figure on the card. If it doesn’t, then ask if it is your Tarot guide or sent by your guide. Once a figure is affirmed, ask for guidance regarding this place or the knowledge you seek. Be sure to thank and release this guide and return fully from the parallel astral world in which you met.


communing with stone

Communing with the central Boscowen-un Stone

Select a special rock, piece of plant or wood, or other object (I’ve done this with trash found on my walks!). If possible, hold or touch this “other” and speak aloud. Describe it as thoroughly and objectively as you can—no metaphors or symbols—but rather colors, shape, texture, smell, even taste—all the concrete and subtle details. Next, describe its energy affect and attitude. Is it distant or welcoming? Open and yielding or harsh and inflexible? Whimsical or practical? Or some combination of things? Ask if you can enter into it (the “it” is now a “thou”) and, if you receive an affirmation, then become this other being, stretching or compressing yourself into all it’s nooks and crannies. Let your human self ask this nature-being your question and let it speak what it has to convey. Express your gratitude and remain a few moments in that place of emptiness that follows purpose, for the greatest gifts often reside there.


communing with roots

Diving deep into the roots of Avebury

Check out this video by Martin Shaw. Although a promo for his new book it is really an inspiration for walking the hills with consciousness. Thank you, Carrie Paris.

I invite you to join me, Linda Marson of GlobalSpiritualStudies and Jamie George of Glastonbury’s Gothic Image Books and Tours on our special journeys this coming May. Register now to get special rates, information and view fabulous videos in the links below.

us at stonehenge

Tarot Magic in Sacred Scotland – 14 May to 23 May, 2018
Tarot Magic in Merlin’s Britain – 23 May to 1 June, 2018
London Workshops with Mary Greer and Linda Marson – 12 & 13 May, 2018
Linda Marson’s Tarot Nav: GPS for Life, courses
Interview with tour leader extraordinaire, Jamie George

Wilhelm Hauschild-Lohengrincu01Santo Griaal-Rogelio Egusquiza 1893

The Waite-Smith Ace of Cups image is not unique. A winged figure surmounts a fountain from which streams water in the Visconti-Sforza card. In the Marseille deck two of the aces (Wands and Swords) have a hand emerging from a cloud—a standard medieval device to indicate creation, miracles and gifts from a Divine source. We also find similarities in the pictures above. The first one is from Wilhelm Hauschild’s Temple of the Holy Grail (1878) and the third one is Santo Griaal by Rogelio Egusquiza (acquired by the British Museum in 1901). By the way, if you are Pagan, like me, I encourage you to look at the Christian references as psychological metaphors. Read Part 1 here.

Hand & CloudIMG_2782

To display His divine nature, the hand of God is often depicted emerging from a cloud which hides his body, veiling us from his power as no person could see Him and live. As it is the right hand, it is actively giving the viewer one of the four sacred treasures found in the myths of many cultures. In the Talmud the Cup of Blessing is held on five fingers of the right hand representing the five leaves that protect a rose from its thorns. This image signifies a divine gift in the form of a supernatural vision (the cloud) that is often the starting point for a spiritual quest.

Dove & HostFullSizeRender (2)

Waite has a lot to say about the dove, describing it as the invocation and descent of the Comforter or Holy Spirit to renew the virtue of the Grail and to consecrate the elements.

“In England during the Middle Ages . . . the Eucharist was reserved in a Columbarium, or Dove-House, being a vessel shaped like a dove. It recalls some archaic pictures of a Cup over which a dove broods and the descent of a dove on the Graal.” …
“There is the flight of the mystical dove from the casement to inmost Shrine, as if the bird went to renew the virtues of the Holy Graal.” …
“The Dove descends from Heaven carrying the Arch Natural Host to renew the virtues of the Stone [the form the Grail takes in some of the stories].” …
“O central point and sacred meeting-place of all the sacraments, there falls the Bread,  broken within the Wine-Cup, and from both issues one living Spirit of Life Divine.” …
“On Good Friday, by the descent of a dove from heaven, carrying a sacred Host . . . the crown of all earthly riches were renewed.”

The Holy Spirit represents the life-giving spirit of air, and it was present at the baptism by water of Jesus, the awakening into a new life:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11.

Additionally, the Dove maintains its pagan association with Goddess Venus/Aphrodite and with Love (Waite includes the ancient pagan mysteries in the Secret Tradition). The Dove blesses with supernatural gifts, like the gift of tongues (pictured as Yods, see below), and so it can be associated with the ancient “language of the birds” or gift of divination and with miracles. Waite favors the idea of Grace: “it is grace which fills the heart; it is the Holy Spirit of God which makes holy the spirit of man.” Grace, equated with the Hebrew word Chesed, is a blessing that gives guidance and protects us from the dangers of earthly power and adversity.

So, the Dove can be seen as the descent of Spirit into flesh, of the supernatural into the natural, a theme repeated by the cross on the Host composed of the vertical axis of spirit and the horizontal of matter. (The cross, which represents Christ’s suffering and sacrifice on the cross, becomes a blessing.)

I should note that Waite was known to have a prodigious and exacting memory. He was extremely precise in his use of language, so when an odd phrase appears it is usually a sign that he is quoting a source to further elucidate his meaning. The internet has made it possible to find a good number of these allusions.

For instance, for Waite the Host is the panis quotidianus that has been changed into the panis vivus et vitalis”: that is the everyday bread is transformed into a living and vital bread.  This quote from Waite refers to a popular hymn by Thomas Aquinas (circa 1264) called the Lauda Sion Salvatorem. It speaks of the Eucharist and presents the transformation of bread and wine ending with a familiar maxim “as above, so below”:

Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things, to sense forbidden,
Signs, not things, are all we see. . . .

Living bread, thy life supply:
Strengthen us, or else we die,
Fill us with celestial grace. . . .

Thou, who feedest us below:
Source of all we have or know:
Grant that with Thy Saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.

Spiritual nourishment, the Host, is sent by the Holy Ghost; in many of the Grail stories it is found to heal all wounds.

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Cup, Grail and Fountain of Living Waters

This is the signature image of this card and is filled with meaning on so many levels. We will touch on only a few. As container, it is a major symbol of the receptive feminine and, in Christianity, the womb of the Virgin Mary, the seat of creation and manifestation of Love, esoterically seen as “the Bride”. It is a vessel in which things are “cooked,” making raw materials capable of providing rich nourishment and even, in alchemy, changing lead into gold. It is the cup of transformation containing the waters of life in which water is changed into wine and then into blood. It is the cauldron of Dagda in Celtic myth from which no company ever left unsatisfied. 

“The message of the Secret Tradition in the Christian Graal mystery is this: The Cup corresponds to spiritual life. It receives the graces from above and communicates them to that which is below. The equivalent happens in the supernatural Eucharist, the world of unmanifest adeptship, attained by sanctity [Grace].”

Both cup and water represent the soul.

The Practicus Ritual in Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross initiates one through an encounter with the Living Waters. First we are informed that Water symbolizes the emotions, desires, and psychic nature of earthly man. But this is not the Water one is to encounter in the ritual, “The Waters that are below desire after the Waters that are above. . . . May the peace of their Union be upon us; be we dissolved therein.”

“The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the Waters, and the Spirit of the Most High God shall move upon the Waters of the Soul. . . . The stilled waters of the soul receive the Spirit of God moving upon the face of its waters. . . . Open thy heart, O Brother of the Rosy Cross, and receive the Water of Life.” 

“Fountain of fountains, and of all fountains. Chalice of saving rain. Grace on the soul descending, as rain on the dry grass. Life-giving Rain of Doctrine. Mystical Fruit of the Doctrine. Dew of Divine Speech, falling in stillness on the heart, filling the soul with Knowledge. Enter into the heart and purify; come into the soul and consecrate.”

The image is one of both the Baptismal font and the Eucharist. “A Eucharistic allegory concerns [the dissolution] of the body by Divine Substance communicated to the soul, putting an end to the enchantments and sorceries of the five senses” and to the suffering on the cross (mentioned earlier).

This leads us directly to the five streams coming out of the cup.

FullSizeRenderFive Streams

Why five streams of water and not the four that Waite specifies in Pictorial Key to the Tarot? Furthermore, Bible readers all know that there are four streams that come out of Eden. This could be an error either on the part of Waite or Pamela Colman Smith. Or, it could veil a secret: These five streams might, after all, represent the five senses (see the quote immediately above), or the five ways of salvation and five gates of grace (from Masonic ritual), or the five wounds of Christ, the five points of the Pentagram, the five petals of the rose that rest on five leaves (the fingers), or the four elements plus aether—the quintessence. In terms of the symbolism, five yields far more relevance according to Waite himself:

“In the Longer Prose Perceval we have seen that there is an account of five changes in the Graal which took place at the altar, being five transfigurations, the last of which assumed the seeming of a chalice, but at the same time, instead of a chalice, was some undeclared mystery: so the general as well as the particular elements of the legend in its highest form offer a mystery the nature of which is recognised by the mystic through certain signs which it carries on its person; yet it is declared in part only and what remains, which is the greater part, is not more than suggested. It is that, I believe, which was seen by the maimed King when he looked into the Sacred Cup and beheld the secret of all things, the beginning even and the end. In this sense the five changes of the Graal are analogous to the five natures of man, as these in their turn correspond to the four aspects of the Cosmos and that which rules all things within and from without the Cosmos.”

I believe that despite their blue color, the five streams best represent blood, for as Marie-Louise von Franz tells us, “Grace was depicted as a fountain of Blood from the five holy wounds of Christ,” The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb-GhentBut it is in Evelyn Underhill, Anglo-Catholic author of a well-known book on mysticism, who perhaps reveals the deepest mystery. Underhill was a student or acolyte of Waite, having joined his branch of the Golden Dawn in 1904 and achieving at least four initiations. She wrote for Waite’s Horlick’s Magazine and  published a novel in 1909 featuring the effects of the Holy Grail on a woman who came into its possession. In an article titled “The Fountain of Life” in the Burlington Magazine (1910) Underhill examined the fountains of water and of blood depicted on several religious works of art including the famous Ghent Altarpiece (right). She notes that baptism and penance which ‘renews the grace of baptism,’ are still spoken of by Catholic theologians as ‘effusions of the Precious Blood,’ i.e., of grace. She went on to describe:

“, , , a fountain which is filled by the Blood flowing from the Five Wounds. The Soul, or ‘Bride,’ holds out her heart, and the blood from the wounded side of Christ falls upon it, causing flowers to spring up from the place which has been touched by the vivifying stream. The Precious Blood then . . . stands not merely for an emblem of the Passion, Redemption, or the Eucharist, though it includes all these manifestations of Grace, but for the medium of communication of the Divine Life . . . since for ancient and mediaeval thought the spirit of life resided in the blood.”

Given that the Aces are also seen by Waite as the four Celtic treasures, I’d be remiss in not presenting this option from Celtic Myth and Religion by Sharon Paice MacLeod:

“In Cormac’s Adventures in the Land of Promise, Cormac has a vision of the sacred center of the Otherworld where he saw a shining fountain with five streams flowing out of it. He is told that it is the Fountain of Knowledge [others call it the Well of Wisdom], and the five streams are the five senses through which knowledge is obtained.”

Drops of Dew or YodsFullSizeRender (5)

These drops, in the shape of the Hebrew letter Yod are found on many of the Tarot cards, generally signifying divine Grace. Shaped like a flame a Yod is the divine spark of creation that is the foundation of all the other letters and is the first letter in the Tetragrammaton or four-letter name of God. There are 26 yods and Eoin Keith Boyle notes in the comments that this is the sum of the 4-lettered name of God, the Tetragrammaton, in Kabbalistic gematria. They are also the shape of the tongues of fire at Pentecost:

“They saw tongues like flames of a fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:3-4.

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The alchemist Thomas Vaughn, in a compendium by Waite, calls it the divine spark or star-fire that is sympathetically attracted to its origin in God. It is spirit fructifying the soul.

These drops can also be seen as alchemical dew. Thomas Vaughn again explains that divine dew penetrates and transforms all that is physical. Waite claims that for the Rosicrucians “dew is light, coagulated and rendered corporeal. . . . When digested in its own vessel it is the true menstruum of the Red Dragon, i.e., of gold, the true matter of the Philosophers.”

Pool of WaterFullSizeRender (1)

[In the beginning]the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:2.

It is the soul that desires union with the spirit, “The Waters that are below desire after the Waters that are above.”

This is also the generative water of renewal and rebirth. It also represents the emotions which here have become serene and calm, being fed by the waters of the Holy Spirit. In the parlance of Carl Jung it is the rich and fertile pool of the unconscious psyche—the soul. And Evelyn Underhill already explained that the blood from Christ’s wounds causes flowers to spring up—in this case water-lilies that grow only in sweet waters, reaching up from the mud toward the light. Regarding sweet waters, in Waite’s book of aphorisms, Steps to the Crown, we find: “The Cup of bitterness ceases to exist for him who has drunk from the chalice of immortality”.

 W or M ?

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Finally we come to the major controversy associated with this card—What is the significance of the letter on the cup? The fact is that we will never know, but we do have some very likely possibilities, and knowing Waite, all of them may have been what was intended, for Waite saw all symbols as multi-valenced. 

IMG_2891MacGregor Mathers, in his 1888 book Tarot: A Short Treatise on Reading the Cards claims that an inverted M on the front of the Spanish Ace of Cups represented the waters of creation in Genesis and all that remains of an Egyptian motif of twin serpents (as per this 19th century deck reproduced in the Cagliostro Tarot by Modiano of Italy). The Golden Dawn paper on the Tarot, “Book T,” says, “The great Letter of the Supernal Mother is traced in the spray of the Fountain.”

First it is note-worthy that the letter is shaped exactly like Pamela Colman Smith’s MsAr01 and not like her WsWaPg.

The main contenders for W are:
Waite (see the monogram on the Ten of Pentacles)
Water (“the implicit is that the Sign of the Cups naturally refers to water” PKT.)
Wisdom (more specifically, Well of Wisdom)

The main contenders for M are:
Mystery (“For this is the chalice of my blood, of the new and eternal testament: the Mystery of Faith”).
Mem (or Maim, Hebrew for “water”)
Mary (or Mara, which also means “bitter sea”)
Mother (Matter. As Supernal Mother she is associated with Binah on the Tree of Life and the 2nd letter of the Tetragrammaton, He.)

Mercury (an alchemical maxim: “What wise men seek in Mercury is found”)

I believe that the letter is M and that it stands for Mystery, as viewed from above by the Holy Spirit. It is probably the word Waite uses most in his books where it is usually capitalized. To support this I have found almost this identical summary statement in several of Waite’s books:

“[In conclusion] the maxim which might and would be inscribed over the one Temple of the truly Catholic Religion when the faiths of this western world have been united in the higher consciousness–that is assuredly ‘Mysterium Fidei’–the mystery which endures for ever and for ever passes into experience.” HCHG, p. 469

We might also view the letters like this:

Waite – Mystery
Water – Mem
Womb – Mary/Mother
Wisdom – Mercury 

An Act of Imagination

I suggest one final way of getting at the deeper meaning of this card.

Imagine for a moment that you are the Chalice and, perhaps, the liquid in the chalice. Picture yourself reaching up for the host held in the beak of the dove. You might see yourself as a baby bird stretching up to be fed by a parent. Can you experience the yearning? Or you may be a font of water that wells up from a deep source. Feel the draw from above and your yearning toward the source of that draw. Become aware of the wounds gathered through your earthly experience. The water (or blood) within you could begin to spill over, rising up and falling out in a continuous stream. Can you let yourself go, surrender to the movement, and then to gravity so that you fall into the pool beneath? What happens when you spill into that pond? Where do you go? How do you reflect back what is above?

One final characteristic of Cups, which Waite mentions over and over again through his discussion of the suit, is fantasy—the ability to imagine super-sensible things and have experiences of what he calls the Arch-Natural world. While there are dangers in doing so (the Seven of Cups), it is in through mystical experience, first accessed through the door of the imagination, that we are ultimately able to commune with Spirit. I hope to speak more about this in a third post on a Jungian interpretation of this image.

See also:
Part 1: Waite’s Eucharistic Ace of Cups.
Part 3: A Jungian Approach to the Ace of Cups


Announcing two Tarot Tours this coming summer in the British Isles. Last year’s trip, Tarot Magic in Merlin’s Britain, sold out early. We are doing it again, with a Tarot trip to Sacred Scotland preceeding it, and a discount if you go on both. Don’t let these journeys pass you by! Sign up before the November 30th deadline. Above is a photo of our private full moon sunrise ceremony in the circle at Stonehenge.

Just two weeks ago I discovered that the hotel where we stayed while searching for Tarot artist Pamela Colman Smith’s burial place, was a hotel she actually stayed at as a young woman. It was in 1897, the year King Arthur’s Castle Hotel opened, with its magnificent roundtable at which we did readings, that Pamela met Henry Irving of the Lyceum Theatre fame. Subsequently she toured with the Lyceum Theatre and designed costumes and sets, getting her nickname, Pixie, from her foster mother, the actress Ellen Terry. Here is what is now called the Camelot Castle Hotel in Tintagel, with Merlin’s Cave in the far bottom right.


I can’t begin to tell you all the amazing things we encountered on our journey: sacred wells in out of the way locations; stone circles, several of which we had to ourselves; the special fairy glen; a ritual on a hilltop labyrinth; Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Well where Dion Fortune made her home. IMG_2104One of the most magical moments was our using dowsing rods to find what we believed was Pixie Smith’s unmarked grave. Linda dropped her pendulum, hearing it fall. We searched for it in vain, only to have the bus driver when we returned ask who had dropped a pendulum on the bus. It was Linda’s. That night at the Camelot Castle Hotel we used the pendulum to ask Pixie questions about her life – and it was months later that I discovered from one of her letters that she had probably drunk her favorite “Opal Hush” drink in that same bar 120 years before.

The Tarot Magic in Sacred Scotland Tour is

14-23 May 2018

and will feature Tarot readings in sacred sites for gaining insight into your own spiritual journey…readings whose messages will continue to unfold for years to come. Experience:

  • Inverness and surrounding area – Prehistoric Clava Cairns and standing stones, Rosemarkie Fairy Glen, Loch Ness
  • Orkney – Skara Brae, Maes Howe, Stones of Stennes, Ring of Brodgar, archaeological dig on the Ness of Brodgar
  • Iona – Abbey, Nunnery, St Columba’s Chapel
  • Standing stones at Kilmartin.

More information:

The Tarot Magic in Merlin’s Britain Tour immediately follows on

23 May – 1 June 2018

and takes us to:

  • Stonehenge
  • Avebury and West Kennet long barrow
  • Glastonbury and surrounding area – Chalice Well, the Tor, Glastonbury Abbey, Cadbury/Camelot
  • Tintagel and surrounding area – Tintagel Castle, Merlin’s Cave, St Nectan’s Glen
  • Boscastle – Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
  • South Cornwall – Boscowen-un stone circle, Merry Maidens stone circle, holy wells of Madron and Sancreed.

More information:

Watch this video of our trip, created by Linda Marson, to catch just a little of the magic: 


PCS-fr Russian Ballet

Pamela Colman Smith was known for telling Jamaican folk tales about the spider-man trickster figure, Annancy, and also for her toy theatre performances. The toy theatre scene shown below is from her play, Henry Morganbased on a real life Welsh pirate who became lieutenant governor of Jamaica. The photo above of PCS telling a folk tale using her cutout figures was recently discovered by Dawn Robinson in Cornwall glued into a copy of The Russian Ballet.

PCS-Brush & Pencil-9

Toy theatres were nothing new, as from 1811 they had become a popular pasttime in pre-television, Victorian England (check out this toy theatre site). Below are two newsreels of the original Pollack’s Toy Theatre construction showing how Pamela herself would have made her theatres and especially how she would have used stencils to color her illustrations for “The Broad Sheet”, “The Green Sheaf” and other works.

Finally, join author Ronald Hutton (Triumph of the Moon, Pagan Britain and The Witches) on a tour of modern day Pollack’s Toy Museum and view the Toy Theatres seen in the old newsreels above (view about half way through Hutton’s video).

A photograph of a modern toy theatre using figures from Pixie’s Tarot deck can be found on Pinterest, but since I don’t have the original source for the photo I won’t show it until permission is given by the creator.

Colman Smith001 copy

Photograph by Alice Boughton from the Brooklyn Life magazine, January, 1907. Thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library for a better resolution photograph than I was able to get previously.

PCS-Metropolitan Magazine 1907

Drawing by Pamela Coleman(sic) Smith in the Metropolitan Magazine, 1907.

PCS-first print

from American Printer and Lithographer, vol. 31, 1900.

“A young designer, whose work has considerable interest, is Miss Pamela Coleman Smith. Miss Smith was a student of Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, where her work, especially in coloring and decoration, attracted attention. She was a tireless worker and produced a great many posters, prints and designs, all peculiar for the wealth of decorative detail and the strength of the coloring. Among other labors of love, Miss Smith designed for her mimic theatre the entire scenery and costumes for eight plays, the text for which she wrote herself. This work showed a marvelous study of costume and great ingenuity and invention. After leaving Pratt much of her work was published by R. H. Russell, notably her color drawing for the play, “Trelawney of the Wells.” In the same line was her work with Irving and Terry for subjects. This latter attracted the attention of Miss Terry. The actress became interested in Miss Smith and when she left for England took with her the young designer. While I know nothing of the plans of either Miss Smith or Miss Terry, it is interesting to think that Miss Smith may be added to the staff of the Irving-Terry company as a sort of official designer, in the same way that Alphonse Mucha is the staff artist and designer of Sarah Bernhardt in Paris. Here is reproduced probably the first design for which Miss Smith was paid. It is an illustration of AEsop’s fable of the “Crow and the Pitcher,” and the original is in three printings—green, red and black. The noticeably weak point in Miss Smith’s work is the lettering. In fact, it is the weak point of all students of Pratt Institute. Good as is that school of design, under the management of Arthur B. Dow, no provision is made for teaching the principles of good, strong, vigorous characteristic and individual lettering. Amateur designers, and in fact many professional designers, do not understand the importance of lettering. The lettering should be a part of the design, not simply an interruption or an impertinence.”

I just had to add this additional piece from The Reader: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine, September, 1903, p. 331-332. (note: date corrected).

PCS-1904 The Reader Magazine

MISS Pamela Coleman Smith was born of American parents in London, where her father was at the time engaged in business. On both sides her forebears exhibited in some degree the tendencies which have brought Miss Smith to the front in literary and artistic circles. One may say that from her mother she derived an intense, individual creative desire, which very early in life began to satisfy itself in a curious sort of drawing, later developed into the style already so well known, especially in England. While she was still a child the family removed to the island of Jamaica, where she lived seven years. During the time her chief diversion, outside her drawing, was learning the West Indian negro folk-tales. A volume of this folk-lore was later published by Harper & Bros.; among her other activities in London are her readings from this collection. It is easy . to understand the grace of original composition in one so thoroughly imbued with the simple naturalness which characterizes the style of all spontaneous popular tales, lyrics and ballads.

Two years’ study at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N. Y., followed this period. As no noticeable change showed itself in the character of her work under this tutelage, and as she became more determined to work out her own problems in her own way, she ended her connection with the school and shortly went to London, wehre she became identified with the Celtic movement. For some time she contributed regularly to “The Broad Sheet.” With the beginning of the present year, however, she started a paper of her own, called “The Green Sheaf,” of which thirteen numbers will be published annually. This she edits. To it also she contributes poems and illustrations in color. Herein lies the most striking feature of her work. For, whereas in outline the influence of the pre-Raphaelites is very evident, her colors and color-schemes are all her own. Though fantastically fanciful and in a way impossible, the Mendings always please. From recipes which she has evolved, she herself “prepares many of the unusual shades which she employs, adding more individuality to the general effect thereby. “It is very interesting to see her,” says one who knows, “dressed as ‘Gelukiezanger’ in parti-colored, gypsy-like gown and with beaded hair, sitting in Turkish fashion on the floor of a drawing-room, reciting her outland tales full of their queer conceits and unpronounceable names.” She is an indefatigable worker, enthusiastic and rapid.

We reproduce two of Miss Smith’s drawings published in “The Green Sheaf” (colored, of course) at the time Sir Henry Irving was giving his farewell performances at the old Lyceum Theatre, now being torn down.

The following apologia appears on the cover of ” The Green Sheaf “:

“My Sheaf is small . . . but it is green.
I will gather into my Sheaf all the young fresh things I can—pictures, verses, ballads of love and rear; tales of pirates and the sea.
You will find ballads of the old world in-my Sheaf. Are the)—not green for ever . . .
Ripe ears are good for bread, but green ears are good for pleasure.”

PCS-illus The Reader Sept. 1903

PCS-Henry Irving led on by Courage

With these later news articles it becomes apparent how much of Pamela Colman Smith’s work has been lost. We find a tendency among the reporters to “damn with faint praise” as Pixie moves out of the realm of neighborhood parlour entertainment and begins to be taken seriously by people like Alfred Stieglitz—always dangerous for a woman of the time. I’ve placed Pixie’s paintings-to-music here rather than in my 1907 post (when she began exhibiting them) because these news articles are more slanted toward her musical works. See also this article in Current Literature on “Pictured Music.”

Stieglitz purchased quite a few of Pixie’s paintings, which Georgia O’Keefe sold off separately soon after he died—despite his desire, stated in his will, to keep them together—amid some speculation that a decades-old jealousy was involved. The Delaware Art Museum has a few in of her works in their collection and produced an exhibit in 1975 curated by Melinda Boyd Parsons (she wrote the catalog and has an unpublished biography of Smith), also shown more recently in Santa Fe. Virgin of CzWe now know for certain, from the article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, that Pixie split up her drawings for the Tarot deck, bringing some of them to the US. In what attics might they still reside? 

Demonstrating Pixie’s evolving Catholicism, we find a series of works called the “Litany of Loreto,” described as “byzantine” and taking their names from the call-and-response list of titles given the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1587: Spiritual vessel, Mystical rose, Tower of David, Tower of ivory, Morning star (see below in Latin). This poster featuring the Holy Virgin of Czenstochowa (c. 1915-18) is the only hint we have of what the “Litany” paintings may have been like:


“strong and full of the mystic, impressive power”
Mon., Mar. 18, 1912

Red Cloak

Schumann’s “Doubt”

Pamela Coleman Smith, a Brooklyn artist who made a name for herself early in her career at the Pratt Art Department, is exhibiting “drawings suggested by music, paintings on silk, and other original work” at the Berlin Photograph Company, Manhattan. There are twenty paintings on silk, framed like water colors and her handling of the material is very clever, having much of the strength of water colors, added to the softness of the silk texture. Five pictures exemplify what Miss Smith’s ideas of five Debussy compositions are: “L’Isle Joyous,” Gardens in the Rain,” “The Little Shepherd,” “What the West Wind Saw,” and “Snow is Dancing.” The first two pictures are in the Japanese style, largely, and have gorgeous color schemes. Less fantastic is “The Tree of Dawn,” suggesting an aria, by Mozart; it is the best of the paintings, full of tempered imagination and fine in color. “The Little Shepherd” is charming and natural. When Miss Smith does not give her fancy full rein, she is more enjoyable purely and simply. There is a fine sense of rhythm and swing to her pictures. When the drawings have the merest touches of dark, for example, there is a freedom and action about them which is impressive. “Spring Carried by Showers,” suggesting an aria, by Arthur Foote, and “People of the Rain” are two interesting paintings; in the first the goddess is carried in a litter by personified rain columns, and in the latter, rain people are suggested by falling masses of rain; they are two most attractive designs. “Dancing Trees,” and “Rain Passing Through a Valley.” both inspired by Dvorak music, are tree forms and rain forms, made into figures, cleverly and charmingly. “Snow is Dancing” and “Cloud Faces” are two more nature studies in which faces look out at you from the contours of snow and cloud. “The Ship of Dreams” and “Dreams Returning Home” (Nachstuck), the latter by Schumann, are very different, one being a fantasy and the other a realistic theme where dream people are shown returning home up a hill, toward its top, where a figure stands unfurling a flag. “Ruined Temples and Spilt Wine,” “Seven Towers of Fairy,” “Blue Smoke” and “Phantom Inn” are other color pieces. Designs for the “Litany of Loretto” are: “Vas Spirituale,” “Rosa Mystica,” “Turris Muideca,” “Turris Eburicca” all weird and mystical. A Caesar Franck Prelude has suggested a woman with a paddle in a foreground of rushes an a man in the distance with a paddle. 

Hamlet is not a musical reflection but is strong; the snow drifts around the Dane and his ghostly father. “The Call to Earth” is a Caesar Franck idea, and is clever and imaginative, but most persons will prefer to retain their own impressions of what music suggests rather than exchange them for other’s thoughts. Some of these sonatas, arias and symphonies are highly descriptive, suggesting “Dancing Cloud,” “Ruined Temples and Spilt Wine,” “Seven Towers of Fairy,” “Blue Smoke” and “Phantom Inn.”

Beethoven's Symphony #5

Beethoven’s Symphony #5

The drawings are strong and full of the mystic, impressive power. Miss Smith’s conception of the “Appassionata Sonata” is a swanlike figure, huge and having the face of a woman, billows and turrets, or they may suggest trees, to some observers. The Mozart music themes are interesting as the dress of the time, figures in the drawing. A Schumann symphony suggests a swaying, giant woman’s figure and a background of trees. Miss Smith takes violin concertos, fugues, quartets and other musical divisions to make pictures about. “E Tourdine” shows Debussy’s music suggesting two figures bearing heavy burdens. Strauss music suggests a bold and mystical drawing to Miss Smith.

The designs for a set of Tarot cards are excellent. “Page of Cups,” “Page of Pentacles,” “Ace of Swords,” “Nine of Swords,” “ Five of Cups,” “Four of Wands.” Several hand colored prints are included in the exhibition: “Alone,” “Charles and Annie,” “The Recitation” and other designs.
—  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Cards brought to US by PCS, 1912.

Drawings brought to US by PCS, 1912.

“an imagination of no common order”
Sun. Mar. 17, 1912

Henry James has called music “the great dissolvent,” but after looking at the exhibition of drawings “suggested by music” at the Berlin Photographic company signed Pamela Coleman Smith, one is inclined to think the precise opposite. Miss Smith’s lines seems to quicken into creative activity when she listens to music. The sound waves set her pencil weaving strange arabesques and always to a distinctly recognized rhythm. She is nothing if not rhythmic. Mr. Birnbaum tells us that the artist makes her designs in the concert room. But we hasten to assure those to whom this mixing of the sister arts is incomprehensible that these drawings qua drawings may be enjoyed without their musical genesis obtruding itself. If Miss Smith is affected by music and produces work of such a distinctive delicacy, charm, subtlety, why that is her own psychology. Certainly some of the Debussy illustrations are as satisfactory as their tonal originals. Debussy thinks so himself, owns and admires an entire portfolio.

“Snow is Dancing” is truly an evocation in which the decorative impulse looms large; “Garden in the Rain” is lyric. “People of the Rain” betrays true fantasy; indeed, fantasy rules these singularly attractive paintings on silk and all the drawings. Since Miss Smith first exhibited at Mr. Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession Gallery she has much improved technically. Her line is less crabbed, more firm and sweeping; her color sense is warmer. Naturally these memoranda are never welded into a whole. Miss Smith has yet to make a composition. She has a preference for ultramodern music, possibly because of its indeterminate form, its raporous melancholy and its rhythmic variety, yet she can ring in a virile manner the changes on Beethoven as exemplified in the Appasionata Sonata op 57. Her water colors are exquisite notations. Let us suggest that the entire collection be taken at its face value, artistically speaking, without troubling over the evasive correspondence of tone and form. Theophile Gautier’s poem, “Correspondences,” might serve as a general title for the entire exhibition. The designs for the Litany of Loreto—Rose mystical, Turris Davidica, Turris eburnea and Stella matutina—demonstrate an imagination of no common order. They are decorative, spiritual and with a touch of the hieratic that may be noted in Byzantine art.
— The Sun (New York)

PCS woman mountain

Overture. “Egmont” Beethoven, 1907

“we must not take these very personal expressions too seriously”
Mar. 17, 1912

“Illustrating Music”

pcs - BlueCatwatercolorw

The Blue Cat, 1907

Pamela Coleman Smith is exhibiting at the Berlin Photographic Company’s gallery a group of drawings made to music. Her method is simple. She is not a musician and the laws of structure and harmony known to the composer are not in her mind. While she listens to music she draws lines suggested by the emotion the music causes. Sometimes they are long and slow, sometimes broken and staccato, sometimes whirling, sometimes curly and rococo, and the observer recognizes in some of them his own impressions while listening to certain movements.

It is a guileless art rooted in the great truth that all arts meet somewhere on common ground; but too much easily could be made of it. Miss Smith is sensitive to inspiration and delightfully suggests spontaneous feeling. Many a well-trained painter fails to do this. On the other hand, a painter as well grounded in his art as the musical composers illustrated in this charming exhibition are in theirs would probably not interrupt the rhythms of his line so inadvertently as we frequently find them interrupted here. Three dancing figures twining in swift movement are to the laymen very inspiring, but an artist would feel impatient at noting a stiff little square made by four unnecessary accents of dark among the flowing rhythms, which only means, of course, that we must not take these very personal expressions too seriously.

Miss Smith has given pleasure in a very quaint and personal manner. In a few of her drawings she communicates a genuine thrill, and all are well worth seeing for a quiet half hour. In her paintings, several of which are also on exhibition, she shows anew her fine sense of color. Her hilltop with a sky full of the tints of dawn and the figures of dreams trooping homeward is a rare piece of color and a lovely little fairy story.

All the work, drawings, and paintings alike illustrate childlike feelings and imaginings, and have a sweet, old-fashioned freshness of style, a simplicity of thought not often to be found in public galleries. Children love Miss Smith’s drawings because they retain the sparkle of childish fantasy.
— New York Times

PCS-Unlocking the Door-2

See also:

• Pamela Colman Smith: “out of the heart of the Heights”
Pamela Colman Smith 1896-1899
Pamela Colman Smith 1907 – story teller
Pamela Colman Smith 1909 – magic spectacles
• The Art of Pamela Colman Smith
Pamela Colman Smith on Reading the Cards

• Biography of Pamela Colman Smith (biographical resource)
Roppo’s Gallery for the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith


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