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Non-cloneability of the RWS

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Non-cloneability of the RWS


There are many decks that are patterned after the RWS. However, what I find about those variant decks is that it's rare if ever that the minor arcana of the variant deck gives the same range of divinatory meanings (DMs) as the corresponding cards of the RWS.

An example ... the RWS 2 of Pentacles illustrates several different DMs at once. Those DMs can be Golden Dawn or Etteilla, Italian cartomancy or other pre-GD DMs.

(1) "Gaiety and recreation"

(The quoted DMs are from Waite's _The Pictorial Key to the Tarot_)

The man in the card is juggling the pentacles.

(2) "Agitation, trouble"

The water waves in the background are really rocking the boats.

(3) "News and messages in writing"

This is possibly illustrated by ships.

(4) The pentacles and the endless cord can lead the various DMs assigned by the Golden Dawn.

Even in the closest various of RWS, one or more of these illustrated DMs are lost. For example, by doing a close-up of the man and his pentacles, one no longer sees the ships and/or the wild waves.
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How come that guy in the 2 of Pentacles has that funny-looking hat?


This argument may have placed the cart before the horse in some respects. The interpretation of 'news and messages' may have come in response to the presence of the two ships on the card. Undulating waves may inspire a divinatory meaning of 'agitation', rather than the card including waves as a result of its inherent meaning.
In other words, it doesn't seem proper to quote Waite's interpretations as support for images he commissioned, you know?

But I think the main thrust of the argument holds up. Many of the 'clone decks' concentrate on one or more interpretive aspects of a given Minor card and let the rest go.

You could almost rate the clone decks on a scale of 1-to-10 by how good a job they do in emulating, restating or illuminating the fullest range of meanings to be found for the Minors in the RWS.


Or, you could state the argument from another angle -- which deck is most commonly used as a basis for another deck? The RWS, obviously. Compare the number of RWS 'clones' to the number of decks based on the Thoth or the 1JJ or the Marseilles... It might be fun to get a little bit scientific about it and make some numerical comparisons.
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...And of course the Waite-Smith is fairly closely modeled on the Golden Dawn deck, although sometimes (like the 6 of Cups or the 6 of Swords), they hew closer to MacGregor Mathers' rather misleading published Tarot pamphlet.
But, yeah, I agree that most clones don't have the full, vast range of symbolism contained in the Waite-Smith...even the Universal Waite loses a lot be re-coloring the cards.
Of course, I think a lot of it is no longer necessary (and I'm talking about Astrological and Kabbalistic attributes here, not divinitory meanings). When the Waite-Smith was first published, only Golden Dawn initiates knew the the "true" associations of the cards (as opposed to the Eliphas Levi attributes), so Waite had to simultaneous reveal the associations (so that initiates would find them useful) and conceal them (so that no one else would).
Thus, does it really matter today if the dog on the Fool card is shaped like an Aleph, or if the symbols for the Moon and Aqaurius are in the background of the 7 of Swords? Any good book on the esoteric Tarot will tell you that the Fool corresponds to Aleph, so the visual "clues" are no longer necessary...it's cool to find them (and I have to admit that I love hunting for them), but it's like re-reading a mystery...you already know whodunit, now you're just looking for the subtle hints along the way.
As far as the divinitory meanings go, I think rota has a good point about Waite putting in symbols that confirmed his beliefs about the cards. A more useful task would, I think, be to compare the pictures of any deck to Book T or the meanings given by Eteilla.
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Etteilla and GD DMs cited by Waite


rota wrote: This argument may have placed the cart before the horse in some respects. The interpretation of 'news and messages' may have come in response to the presence of the two ships on the card. Undulating waves may inspire a divinatory meaning of 'agitation', rather than the card including waves as a result of its inherent meaning. In other words, it doesn't seem proper to quote Waite's interpretations as support for images he commissioned, you know?

rusty replies:
"News and messages", cited by Waite and illustrated in the card, corresponds to the reversed Etteilla meanings/synonyms for the 2 of Coins.

"Agitation", cited by Waite and illustrated in the card, corresponds to the upright Etteilla meanings/synonyms for the 2 of Coins.

"Gaiety and Recreation", cited by Waite and illustrated in the card, doesn't seem to be an Etteilla meaning/synonym. (Query whether Gaiety and Recreation is an Italian cartomancy meaning for the 2 of Coins.) However, "Gaiety and Recreation" would seem to correspond with one of the DMs indicated in the Book T for the 2 of Pentacles: "pleasant change, visit to friends".

Thus, it would appear that the DMs "News and messages", "Agitation" and "Gaiety and Recreation" are horse rather than cart. Those DMs are illustrated by the RWS 2 of Pentacles rather than merely inspired by the images in the artwork.

One or more of these three particular DMs are often "lost" by variants of the RWS.
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Ah. All good points. I wasn't aware of Etteilla's interpretations; thanks for pointing them out!
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