Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols by Robert V. O'Neill The Magician

The Magician

Lemniscus Wirth T de Marseille
Age - Youth Wirth T de Marseille Cary Sheet
Black Hair Felkin Piedmontese T de Mantegna
Right hand up Felkin Vieville
Left hand down Felkin Vieville
Wand Falconnier Vieville Cary Sheet
Points down Falconnier Bolognese
Headband Falconnier
White Tunic Falconnier T de Mantegna
Red Cloak Etteilla III
Snake Belt Falconnier
Stone Table Falconnier T de Mantegna
Knife on Table Falconnier T de Marseille Visconti-Sforza
Cup on Table Falconnier T de Marseille Visconti-Sforza
Rod on Table Felkin Minchiate
Coin on Table Falconnier T de Marseille Visconti-Sforza
Carvings Falconnier Vachetta


  1. Rose Arbor - may be a reference to Rosicrucianism. Members of the Rosicrucian orders, such as the inner order of the Golden Dawn, were considered to be great magicians and alchemists.

  2. Roses & Lilies - in the “Pictorial Key,” Waite writes: "Beneath are roses and lilies, the flos campi and lilium convallium, changed into garden flowers..." The Latin words are from the Vulgate (Latin) Bible, the Song of Songs, Chap 2, Verse 1, “I am the Rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys. As a lily among the thistles, so is my love among the thistles, so is my love among the maidens” - so the words are translated as Rose of Sharon and Lily of the Valley. So that is the ultimate source of the symbolism.

    1. The more immediate source comes from the Golden Dawn initiation ceremonies, as outlined in the "Cipher Document." In the Zelator Initiation, (lines 12-13) are the words "Rose of Sharon. Lily of [the] Valle[y]. Also in the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross (87) is a reference to Isiah 35:1 - “The desert shall blossum as the Rose.” The Vulgate says it's “lily” rather than rose. The Hebrew word would today be translated as "Meadow Saffron."

    2. Another proximal source may be W. B. Yeats, the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet who was a leading member of the Golden Dawn.

      In an article in the Occult Review (Volume X, 307-317) entitled “The Tarot: A Wheel of Fortune,” Waite stated that as he and Pamela Colman Smith designed the deck, “we have had other help from one who is deeply versed in the subject.” Roger Parisious (“Figures in a Dance: W. B. Yeats and the Waite-Ride Tarot”) suggested that this help came from Yeats. There may be a real basis for the influence of Yeats in the case of the rose and lily imagery which Yeats used in his early poetry.

      In The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats (Finneran, ed., Vol 1 - The Poems, Macmillan, 1989), we find #41 “A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose,” #42 “Soon far from the rose and the lily and fret of the flames would we be,” and #71 “Lilies of death-pale hope, roses of passionate dream.”

      Robert Schuler (“W. B. Yeats: Artist or Alchemist?” Review of English Studies 22:37ff) interprets this last line as relating to Yeats's interest in sexual magic. Schuler also notes that the lily and rose in alchemical literature symbolize the moon and the sun, the white and red tinctures in the alchemical process. More detail can be found in Gorski's Yeats and Alchemy (State University of New York, 1996).

  3. At the top of the visible leg, just below the bird, is the word “DIN.” It’s Hebrew (nun-yod-daleth) and means judgment. It's an alternative name for the Sephira Geburah (e.g., see Scholem: Major Trends p 263). The Magician is not a path to or from this Sephira in the Golden Dawn system, so its presence on the card is obscure.

    I have two possibilities to offer:

    1. In Holy Kabballah (p 427) Waite associates Geburah with gold, in the sense of the end of an alchemical operation. So perhaps the Din is to suggest that the Magician is an Alchemist.

    2. Din is also used as judgment in the sense of favorable judgment of the Just operating through nature. For example, Job 36:31 - “Thanks to them he nourishes (Din) the nations with generous gifts of food.

    It's a bit of a stretch but perhaps the Din is on the card to fit in with the nature theme of the Magician card(??).

  4. Waite Works of Thomas Vaughan p 205, "Out of this Mercury alone all the virtues of the Art is extracted...the Tincture, both red and white..." (Magician???? Rose and Lilies??)

  5. The waistband formed of a snake biting its tail may have a Masonic root. Ward (An Interpetation of our Masonic Symbols) discusses the waistband that holds up the Mason’s apron and says: “The Serpent. - The modern arrangement by which the apron is fastened - viz. a piece of webbing with a kind of hook and eye - gave a fine opportunity for some really profound symbolism, and I feel certain that it not accident which led to the universal adoption of the snake to serve this purpose.”

Based on original research by Robert V. O'Neill. To add to this collection of information, please email Robert V. O'Neill.

The Fool
The Magician
The High Priestess
The Empress
The Emperor
The Hierophant
The Lovers
The Chariot
The Hermit
Wheel of Fortune
The Hanged Man
The Devil
The Tower
The Star
The Moon
The Sun
The World
Introduction to Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols

Additional Tarot History Resources Related to
Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols

Holly's Rider-Waite Site A. E. Waite
The Hermitage: A Tarot History Site Villa Revak