The Universal Waite (UW) Tarot Deck

The history of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot is fascinating. A. E. Waite and Pamela “Pixie” Colman Smith began to create a tarot deck together in 1909 which was completed in a mere six months. This was during an era of high interpersonal drama for the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn. Waite, who was being increasingly drawn towards Christian mysticism wanted to make a deck dramatically different than what the order had been using at the time.

I have read that Waite and Smith created a Major Arcana based on the works of Eliphas Levi and Paul Christian combined with Grail mysticism and the Golden Dawn astrological attributions. Then the minor Arcana images were inspired by an eclectic mix of Etteilla’s work, the Sola Busca deck in the British Museum, and Smith’s brilliant imagination.

For divinatory meanings Waite draw heavily on Etteilla but then presented an intentionally oblique and misleading explanation of the cards in The Pictorial Key to Tarot. I am pretty sure he is also the author of another baffling and less-then-helpful tarot book of that period called A Manual of Cartomancy, Fortune-Telling and Occult Divination under the pseudonym Grand Orient. These books are great for getting insight into AE’s personal truths; I don’t recommend them for much else.

The Rider-Waite deck, as it came to be known, was published in 1909 by Rider Company in England then pirated by American publisher DeLaurence in 1916.

Within a couple of decades, however, the deck (and tarot in general) fell into obscurity. Then Stuart Kaplan obtained the publishing rights for the Rider-Waite-Smith deck for US Games Systems in the early 1970s. The decks that US Games Systems began to publish and Kaplan’s own book, Tarot Cards for Fun and Fortune Telling (1977) helped tarot cards become widely popular once more. The RWS decks are now the most widely recognized and popular tarot decks in the world. The original Pamela Colman Smith card images are in the public domain and found on Wikipedia. Images from the UW deck are not. They are copyright protected by US Games, Inc.

© US Games Systems, Inc

UW Deck Card By Card

Because RWS based decks have so many wonderful websites already devoted to them, I will not be creating my own content specifically for UW card meanings. Instead, if you click on the name of individual cards it will take you to the meanings at one of my very favorite established websites,, in a new tab. This is a site I will be directing student tarot readers to use as a reference if they need it while I’m streaming “Free Tarot Lessons” on Twitch.

UW Major Arcana

0The FoolMutable Air (Modality)Alef א
IThe MagicianMercuryBet ב
IIThe High PriestessMoonGimel ג
IIIThe EmpressVenusDalet ד
IVThe EmperorAries (Cardinal Fire)He ה
VThe HierophantTaurus (Fixed Earth)Vau ו
VIThe LoversGemini (Mutable Air)Zayin ז
VIIThe ChariotCancer (Cardinal Water)Chet ח
VIIIStrengthLeo (Fixed Fire)Tet ט
IXThe HermitVirgo (Mutable Earth)Yod י
XThe Wheel of FortuneJupiter Kaf כ ך
XIJusticeLibra (Cardinal Air)Lamed ל
XIIThe Hanged ManFixed Water (Modality)Mem ם מ
XIIIDeathScorpio (Fixed Water)Nun ן נ
XIVTemperanceSagittarius (Mutable Fire)Samekh ס
XVThe DevilCapricorn (Cardinal Earth)Ayin ע
XVIThe TowerMarsPeh ף פ
XVIIThe StarAquarius (Fixed Air)Tzaddi ץ צ
XVIIIThe MoonPisces (Mutable Water)Qof ק
XIXThe SunSunResh ר
XXJudgementCardinal Fire (Modality)Shin ש
XXIThe WorldEarth & Saturn Tav ת

UW Minor Arcana Pips

NameSefiraAstrological Decan“Lord of”
Ace of WandsKether
Two of WandsChokmahMars in AriesDominion
Three of WandsBinahSun in AriesEstablished Strength
Four of WandsChesedVenus in AriesPerfected Work
Five of WandsGeburahSaturn in LeoStrife
Six of WandsTiparethJupiter in LeoVictory
Seven of WandsNetzachMars in LeoValour
Eight of WandsHodMercury in SagittariusSwiftness
Nine of WandsYesodMoon in SagittariusGreat Strength
Ten of WandsMalkuthSaturn in SagittariusOppression
Ace of CupsKether
Two of CupsChokmahVenus in CancerLove
Three of CupsBinahMercury in CancerAbundance
Four of CupsChesedMoon in CancerBlended Pleasure
Five of CupsGeburahMars in ScorpioLoss in Pleasure
Six of CupsTiparethSun in ScorpioPleasure
Seven of CupsNetzachVenus in ScorpioIllusionary Success
Eight of CupsHodSaturn in PiscesAbandoned Success
Nine of CupsYesodJupiter in PiscesMaterial Happiness
Ten of CupsMalkuthMars in PiscesPerfected Success
Ace of SwordsKether
Two of SwordsChokmahMoon in LibraPeace restored
Three of SwordsBinahSaturn in LibraSorrow
Four of SwordsChesedJupiter in LibraRest from Strife
Five of SwordsGeburahVenus in AquariusDefeat
Six of SwordsTiparethMercury in AquariusEarned Success
Seven of SwordsNetzachMoon in AquariusUnstable Effort
Eight of SwordsHodJupiter in GeminiShortened Force
Nine of SwordsYesodMars in GeminiDespair and Cruelty
Ten of SwordsMalkuthSun in GeminiRuin
Ace of PentaclesKether
Two of PentaclesChokmahJupiter in CapricornHarmonious Change
Three of PentaclesBinahMars in CapricornMaterial Works
Four of PentaclesChesedSun in CapricornEarthly Power
Five of PentaclesGeburahMercury in TaurusMaterial Trouble
Six of PentaclesTiparethMoon in TaurusMaterial Success
Seven of PentaclesNetzachSaturn in TaurusSuccess Unfulfilled
Eight of PentaclesHodSun in VirgoPrudence
Nine of PentaclesYesodVenus in VirgoMaterial Gain
Ten of PentaclesMalkuthMercury in VirgoWealth

The ten sefirot (plural of sephira) are part of the Tree of Life which is at the heart of Qabalistic Tarot. Tarot decks can still be esoteric without being Qabalistic; the Order of the Golden Dawn birthed conventional Qabalistic tarot, however. The RWS, Thoth, B.O.T.A, and Haindl decks most definitely are Qabalistic tarot and there are dozens of others.

Decans are three subdivisions within each of the twelve zodiacal signs. I don’t know at this time if the author(s) of Book T were the first to make attributions of them to the minor trumps or it was borrowed from someone else, possibly in a modified form. That’s a question I intend to explore though when time allows. My assumption is that these titles relate directly to one or more astrological texts available at the time.

UW Court Cards

King of WandsFire of FireCancer-LeoENTJCommander
Queen of WandsWater of FirePisces-AriesINTJArchitect
Knight of WandsAir of FireScorpio-SagittariusENTPDebater
Page of WandsEarth of FireINTPLogician
King of CupsFire of WaterLibra-ScorpioENFJProtagonist
Queen of CupsWater of WaterGemini-CancerINFJAdvocate
Knight of CupsAir of WaterAquarius-PiscesENFPCampaigner
Page of CupsEarth of WaterINFPMediator
King of SwordsFire of AirCapricorn-AquariusESTJExecutive
Queen of SwordsWater of AirVirgo-LibraISTJLogistician
Knight of SwordsAir of AirTaurus-GeminiESTPEntrepreneur
Page of SwordsEarth of AirISTPVirtuoso
King of PentaclesFire of EarthAries-TaurusESFJConsul
Queen of PentaclesWater of EarthSagittarius-CapricornISFJDefender
Knight of PentaclesAir of EarthLeo-VirgoESFPEntertainer
Page of PentaclesEarth of EarthISFPAdventurer
The zodiacal rulership column associates the last two decans of the first sign
+ first decan of the sequential sign to the the Kings, Queens, and Knights.

These are the most conventional elemental and astrological associations made for the RWS court cards.

There’s a lot of variance in how the court cards associate with the MBTI personality types. I have provided the associations I first learned from articles written by Linda Gail Waters. TarotX uses them. The MBTI archetype names are fairly conventual and found on as an example.

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