Thursday, August 16, 2012
P is for Pamela Coleman Smith
As a Freemason I have long been a fan of A.E. Waite's writings on The Rosy Cross, Golden Dawn, and his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry was one of the first books I ever owned on the subject. Perhaps what I loved most was his use of Roman liturgical elements in his ritual work, something else we have in common.
I have long been a collector of Masonic Tracing Boards, and I suppose that was the origin of my interest in the Tarot. Since Waite was a Mason I assumed there would be an element of the old Tracing Boards to be found in his Tarot designs. But that wasn't the only reason I chose the Rider deck, I simply, instantly and totally fell in love with the artwork.
This last Father's day I made out like a bandit, I always do. Among the gifts my wife had bought me the Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Box Set, and it's pretty awesome. It includes a Centennial Edition of the Deck, a copy of Waite's Pictorial Key to the Tarot, three frameable prints by Pamela that are not used in the Tarot but really look like they should have been, and a copy of The Life & Time of Pamela Colman Smith by Stuart R. Kaplan. I is a happy daddy.
Long time readers know I don't go by the book when it comes to the Tarot, or much else for the matter. When I first started this project, I threw out the traditional meanings and scryed the cards for my own interpretations. In doing so, I obviously depended totally on the visual elements, the images, the artwork itself. I have long wondered if the cards were all the sole product of Waite's design or if Pamela was given any leeway in the creative process.
In reading the biographic text of the set I came to learn that she was. In fact it seems as though Waite's soul concern was the design of the Major Arcana, leaving the Minor Pip cards to Pamela. As someone who has been successfully utilizing the Tarot and therefore her artwork, in an Introspective Divination Process, to treat Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, this is really a pretty big deal when you stop and think about it.
And as a side note; on several of the cards in the deck such as the 2 of Pentacle, Swords and Cups, there is a horizontal line which divides the foreground from the background. I have always associated this with the Stage and the backdrop, and in reading the biographical text, I was correct. Pamela had a life long love of acting and of the stage, an element she deliberately employed in her artwork. It's nice to get confirmation after all these years.
I specifically choose Pamela for this P post because I have always felt Pamela and her artwork has always been a bit unappreciated and unrecognized. But have benefited so much from it personally, I felt it was high time we started acknowledging her significant contribution to probably the most popular deck in the most popular form of divination ever.
Thank you Lord & Lady, for the courage to throw away the book, and figure myself out.