The Minor Cards

The Minor Cards were almost certainly designed (conceptualised) by Pamela Colman-Smith herself with little or no supervision from A. E. Waite.

She was not in London with Waite for most of the summer of 1909, and so was working on the Minors by herself. It may be that Waite refers to this obliquely by later stating he had to ‘take steps’ to avoid Pamela ‘picking up’ psychic material from other members of the Golden Dawn, etc. In fact, he was just covering the fact she was staying with her theatre friends, not mixing with the esoteric and occult circles in London.

Waite also makes several obvious statements in his accompanying book, Pictorial Key to the Tarot, which clearly demonstrate he had not seen the images, or Pamela had drawn something differently to his notes, or he was unsure as to the design.

We have sourced all the most likely inspirations for Pamela based on her life and background, and the fact that she had to draw quickly on “to-hand” references to produce the deck in less than six months – with probably only the Golden Dawn “Book T” material written as her reference.

Pamela Design Chart for Minors

Pamela Design Chart for Minors

Almost 60% of the Minors (and some of the Court Cards and Majors) were drawn to illustrate the Golden Dawn “Book T” text, inspired by the Sola Busca style, using real world models from Pamela’s life, theatre, and environment of the time. 

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Another 20% was drawn from Shakespeare, with 10% drawing on Pamela’s work as an illustrator of children’s stories and folk lore.

The remaining 10% or so was drawn from other plays and theatrical sources, and pieces of art which inspired Pamela, including Edward Burne-Jones (see the 2 of Pentacles).

For the Minor cards, Pamela did not draw upon textbook learning or complex alchemical. masonic, Arthurian or other esoteric lore – her images and designs can be simply explained with the references she had inside her and about her at the time.

This is why we suggest in our book that reading the Book T titles and interpretations for the Minors, then consulting the sources in our book, will give the new tarot reader a better grasp of the intended meaning and design of the Minor cards than reading Pictorial Key to the Tarot by A. E. Waite or anything following that work, which will be extremely misleading – for this reason.

Our book contains over 100 images and photographs extensively researched and licensed which illustrate the sources for most of the cards and how this sharpens our understanding of the intended meaning.

Learn the True Intentions of the Designs of the Tarot


Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot.

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Learn More about the meanings of this card in everyday readings in Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot and over at our free sister-site, My Tarot Card Meanings where you can also download a free guide to card meanings and spreads, Keys to the Tarot by Andrea Green.

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