The Rider-Waite Tarot deck is probably the most popular deck in the world. It is the inspiration for thousands of new decks.
The Rider-Waite Tarot deck by A.E. Waite and artist Pamela Coleman-Smith is the basis of many modern tarot decks.
While the Rider-Waite deck is the choice for teachers and pupils, the purpose of the deck is quite different.
Waite was head of his own secret society, an off-shoot of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Secret Societies are supposed to be secret, so how do you recruit new members? One answer is to create a tarot deck that piques the interest of the student to find out more. This is done by deliberate obfuscation and mystification of the subject, omission of details, and a modest claim that by joining this Order (and paying dues), the aspirant will find out the true secrets of the Tarot!
A.E. Waite leaves enough clues in the accompanying book and designs to show that the Golden Dawn (still secret when the deck was published, but hinted at) is the primary inspiration. Waite could then claim that he had not broken any of his solemn vows not to reveal any Golden Dawn secrets.
There are many versions of this deck, while most modern and original tarot decks are based upon it. Familiarity with the Rider-Waite deck will help you understand other decks.
Structure of the Rider-Waite deck
The 78 cards are divided into three main groups, Major Arcana, Minor Arcana and Court cards. The Aces are separate from these groups, but I have put them with the Court Cards.
I have included interpretations by other noted writers on the Tarot, including Ouspensky, Thierens, Etteilla, and Paul Foster Case.