A Woman to Know: Pamela "Pixie" Colman Smith

... what I see when I hear music-thoughts loosened and set free from the spell of sounds. — Pamela Colman Smith

(image via Wikimedia Commons)


In 1901, Pamela left her home in Brooklyn, and her job illustrating surrealist books, to join an occult society in England: the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. There, she met Arthur Waite, the spiritual thinker who revolutionized the early art of tarot. Together, he and Pamela designed an entire new deck of cards, one that included individualized readings and illustrations for each of the 78 scenes in the tarot. Smith's surrealist influence is seen in cards like The Fool, with a young man about to happily step off the cliff; in The Priestess, a card of the "major arcana" that hints at pagan roots; and in other iconic drawings in the Rider-Waite tarot deck.

The deck, of course, had originally been called the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot collection -- until Arthur and his co-conspirator took all the spiritualist fame and glory for themselves, refusing to pay Smith her fair share for the illustration work. They even exiled her from the Hermetic Order. She died in England in 1918, still trying to make money from her designs, even as her cards traveled around the world.

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