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The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,569 ratings  ·  67 reviews
This pictorial key contains a detailed description of each card in the world's most popular 78-card Rider-Waite tarot deck, along with regular and reversed meanings.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 15th 1973 by Weiser Books (first published 1910)
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Occult Library
641 books — 280 voters
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel PollackHolistic Tarot by Benebell WenTarot for Your Self by Mary K. GreerThe Pictorial Key to the Tarot by Arthur Edward WaiteMary K. Greer's 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card by Mary K. Greer
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19 books — 24 voters

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Average rating 3.71  · 
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 ·  1,569 ratings  ·  67 reviews

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Nov 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: encyclopedic
I've been reading Tarot since 1969, when I purchased my first Tarot pack. I'd been over at a friend's place in Isla Vista, CA, and while I was there, a friend of his dropped in to give him a birthday present: a pack of the Frank Albano edition of the Waite-Rider Tarot, and the book -- this book -- to go with it. He did readings for his friend and me, and I fell in love with those gorgeous pictures then and there. So, on my way home, I stopped in at a store near my place, also in Isla Vista, and ...more
Danger Kallisti
Feb 12, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people needing a tarot overview
Yep, the guy who brought us the ubiquitous Rider-Waite tarot deck also brought us this gem of Victorian literature, shedding some “light” on the arcane subject of soothsaying.

It was almost impossible to read, it was so dense and frumpy. Half of the book just focuses on shooting down the ideas of other “parlor wizards” of the era. All of the imagery seems to be based in Judeo-Christian ideology, and any suggestion to other roots is cast down as “make-believe”. As if all of this isn't, to begin wi
Aug 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Good, basic, very early tarot learning based on the Rider/Waite deck, which is kind of the King James Version of Tarot (learn it, and you know the basics and can go on to other stuff).

This also happens to be the only book I ever in my life shoplifted. I took it from a mega bookstore at which I was working when the managers instituted a search everyone on entry and exit policy. Little paperback, 1.95 at the time. No, they didn't discover it in the extremely thorough search of my nice 20 something
Dec 13, 2012 rated it liked it
This is Waite's own key and explanation to the Rider-Waite tarot, one of the most popular and influential decks ever. Like most tarot guides, it covers the meanings of the cards, explaining some of the symbolism, and suggests a few spreads for reading. Waite also delves deeply into the history of the cards, perhaps too deeply for many beginners. It is recommended with reservations.

As other reviewers have pointed out, Waite often comes off as a pompous windbag, quite erudite and overly fond of co
Oct 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book comes bundled with most editions of the famous Waite-Smith tarot, the most used tarot deck in North America. It's also on public domain and therefore available online. It is an overview of the symbolism of the tarot as Waite sees it and of its history up to the book's release (1911).

The language is amusingly baroque, full of curious lexical choices — might just be outdated, but he insists on "shew" for "show" every single time — and obtuse adornments, but it occasionally rewards you wi
Aaron Francione
Aug 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: occult
This book is the first modern, accessible book on Tarot, bridging the gap of arcane French literature to contemporary books on Tarot available today. It contains an accurate history of the cards and some general history of the occult. It takes a rational approach, debunking a lot of unfounded, quasi-historical claims made by earlier writers on the origins of the cards. For those interested in the origins, Waite also provides a comprehensive bibliography of earlier writings commenting on what ide ...more
Jun 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Digging deeper into my French heritage is fun with this sardonic man!
Jan 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
I confess that I actually find Waite's condescending snark kind of amusing. Forgive me. If I take into account the divinatory meanings this book loses a star or two (or three). As soon as he starts talking about the Minor Arcana it becomes pretty skip-able. But why even bother with divinatory meanings written by a man who considers divination such a base and pointless activity? A lot of his snarky "everyone-is-wrong-but-me" history is... meh, skim. And, granted, I came in with low expectations. ...more
Lloyd Scott
May 19, 2009 rated it liked it
I bought this in Jan, 2009; the book is okay, it comes with the tarot cards and a small poster of information about the cards and the different common spreads that are used in a tarot reading; I had another book with more detailed information of each card, and the meaning of each card in detail, as well as the meaning of the cards in reverse fashion, but this book does its job and it opens the doors in some detail, to inform you of the meaning of each card.
Nate D
Mar 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: The Fool (0)
Recommended to Nate D by: The Hierophant (V)
I tried to mark this "non-fiction?" but the extra marks didn't take and it flew to my usual non-fiction shelf. Read for art project research (and general symbolism-understanding research), this book did much to condense the modern tarot archetypes, both as dubious philosophy and as divination. Since a bunch of this was supposedly privileged knowledge at the time, Waite is amusingly circular about some pretty obvious points and well-known bits of ceremony (he "reveals" the celtic cross arrangemen ...more
Taliesin Mcknight
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book goes with the Rider Waite tarot deck and is used to interpret that particular deck. Arthur Edward Waite first published this book along with his tarot deck in 1909. I think this is a very good book. For anyone seeking to learn tarot, i would highly advise both the Rider Waite tarot deck and this book. One thing that i really like is how Waite gives a critical examination of tarot history. I give this book 4 stars.
Lee Fitzsimmons
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Interesting work... Currently perusing the section that deals with the Minor Arcana...

Currently, I am too busy creating my own content (both written and musical), so I do not have very much time to read the content of others.
Jean Marie Angelo
Nov 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
This is the classic book on tarot. Years ago I embraced several spiritual paths and became open to the artwork of the many tarot decks, and the ancient belief systems depicted. This path led to the mystical and Kabbalah, then to other sacred texts, then back to my Judeo-Christian roots.
Lynn K.
A good reference book for the different card meanings. I recently discovered that tarot were originally used to play card games and only later did people attach mystical meaning to them.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it liked it
The 1-5 Star Review is the total of what I have to say about this book, specifically.

Caveat: This review is historical/archival in nature. 'Date read' is speculative.

This book is one of many books I have read about the occult/paganism/witchcraft. This was the readily available faith in my household as a child. Additionally, I worked for a company in this field, 2015-2016, and had to read an ocean of this stuff to do my job.

Like televangelists, and snake-oil salesman, these publishers prey on the
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tarot
Although I would definitely not recommend this to be your only tarot book, it is a good supplement to any tarot library. The pictorial key is just that, it breaks down the scene on each card to help you understand the symbolism in each part of the picture, which is extremely helpful when trying to memorize meanings (putting meaning to a color, symbol or picture is much easier to remember). Arthur Waite is the original designer of the Smith-Waite classic tarot deck which many newer tarot decks ar ...more
Apr 30, 2020 rated it liked it
It's worth skimming. Waite's research is deep, but he assumes some familiarity with the texts he cites, giving only a cursory explanation. There are frequent asides so that he may grumpily judge previous tarot commentators, often without support. His favorite targets are Éliphas Lévi ("in his most shallow and plausible manner") and Antoine Court, but he denigrates many others.

If you use Pixie's deck, the book is useful because it identifies every symbol on every card. His explanations of the gre
David Burkam
As I prepare to teach a university course on the Tarot, it seemed appropriate to read Waite's own book on the imagery and interpretation of the famous 1910 Rider-Waite (or Waite-Smith or Smith-Waite or Rider-Waite-Smith) deck. The book is more of an historical interest at this point -- there are far richer, far deeper discussions written in recent decades. Waite's book often takes a more traditional divinatory approach rather than one of personal spirituality and development. An important book t ...more
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
The lack of absolute meaning in Waite's opaque prose reflects the challenge of creating any objective guide to the subjective nature of divination. Though style supersedes substance, flair carries the reader through Waite's and Smith's riddlesque paragraphs and pictures, and through style the querent and diviner alike are left to fashion their hair how they sit fit, though it lay on the universal.
It's a classic.
It's got that sort of condescending victorian sense of humor, and Waite's being enigmatic about the GD's system of tarot. If you can handle Waite's ego, it's a valuable text for understanding the design methodology of the RWS deck, but I feel like there are probably much better texts available given the intervening century.
Candice Islander
The Rider Tarot Deck U.S.Games Systems, Inc. 468 Park Avenue South New York NY 10016 1971, The original and only authorized edition of the famous 78-card Tarot Deck designed by Pamela Colman Smith under the direction of Arthur Edward Waite. Reissued in collaboration with Miss Sybil Waite and Rider & Company, London. Copyright 1971 by U.S. Games Systems, Ince NY 10016. ...more
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This classic work has been used by me for self-awareness for many years.

I read solely for Major Arcana insights never for 'divination'

The finished reading date is for the form only. I will never stop using this as a reference.
Frank Merkx
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great book! Not something that you just start reading. I bought the tarot deck a while ago and used to book to teach myself the art of tarot reading. The book is clear and easy; explaining all cards one by one in a useful manner. Loved it!
May 07, 2020 rated it liked it
A bit hard to understand if you’re not used to a much older style of English. Very flowery. I had to go back over several passages. The best I got out of the book was how it illuminates a bit of the history of fortune telling and playing cards in general.
Kerry Lynn Barron
Great for a beginner like me.

This gets a 5 star rating due to the fact that it is a concise and visual aid for the beginning tarot reader.
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good overview from the guy that designed the now classic deck. I understand he wasn't the artist, but he decided on the symbolism, which seems most crucial to me, nice though the drawings are.
May 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great tool

Easy to understand and follow . Highly recommend this for new readers of the tarot deck. It’s Absolutely worth it
Suzana Glisovic
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I may be traditional,but this deck is my favorite as well as all Waite's meanings.
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: occult
After rereading this, I remember why the song "Good Morning, Mr Waite" has the line "Never trust a grimoire you get from Arthur Waite."
Mar 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A classic.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in learning about the art of Tarot. Every Tarot reader should look into it!
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Arthur Edward Waite was a scholarly mystic who wrote extensively on occult and esoteric matters, and was the co-creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. As his biographer, R.A. Gilbert described him, "Waite's name has survived because he was the first to attempt a systematic study of the history of western occultism←viewed as a spiritual tradition rather than as aspects of proto-science or as the pa ...more

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