The Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot by A.E. Waite; based on illustrations by Pamela Colman Smith; recolored by Virginijus Poshkus

Review by Mark McElroy

If you would like to purchase the Radiant Tarot deck, click here.

Riders, Riders Everywhere


How many versions of the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) cards do we really need?


For purists, there’s the venerable Rider-Waite deck from U.S. Games (you can also get it super-sized). For many people, this deck, with its heavy line art and bright, flat colors is the ultimate and only Tarot.


Prefer softer lines and more gentle color and texture? Try the Universal Waite. Want aggressive background colors for the minors? The Albano-Waite awaits. Want colors approximating the original four-color images Waite himself might have used? Try the Original Rider-Waite. Want less detail, murky color, and an odd copper border? The Golden Rider will make your day.


If you’re in need of a good read, the Quick and Easy Tarot shrinks the pictures, allowing the publisher to squeeze tiny divinatory paragraphs into the borders. Shrink the mages even more, surround them with obnoxious psychedelic patterns, and voilá: it's the Diamond Tarot.


Send in the Clones


Then, of course, there are the so-called clones: decks deliberately designed to emulate the RWS images to some degree. Llewellyn distributes Lo Scarabeo’s Universal Tarot, which, as Lee A. Bursten notes, offers a glimpse into a strange “alternate universe … in which A. E. Waite went to Roberto de Angelis instead of [Pamela Colman Smith].” The Tarot of the New Vision, also from Lo Scarabeo, spins the RWS drawings around 180 degrees, revealing what was “behind the camera” when the images were made.


Sick of borders? The Morgan-Greer ditches the borders entirely, allowing its autumn-toned, RWS-inspired artwork to dominate the cards. The New Palladini offers jewel tones and groovy updates of Miss Smith's art. A Dutch publisher offers Tarot in the Restored Order, which, apart from two new cards and some re-numbering, is nothing more than an exuberantly re-colored Rider-Waite Tarot.


The Halloween Tarot reinterprets the familiar RWS images in terms of everyone’s favorite holiday. The Tarot of the Cloisters not only attempts to make the images appear to be created with stained glass…it prints the images on cardboard beverage coasters. The Royal Fez Moroccan deck (a good argument against Mensa members becoming Tarot artists)  looks like a Rider-Waite deck redrawn in dull pencil and re-colored by someone whose supply of water colors was running low.


And speaking of water colors: one the most elegant and evocative RWS clones I’ve ever seen – Andreas Schroter’s Aquatic Tarot – hasn’t even been published yet. That’s a pity, because it puts many commercially-available decks to shame.


In the end, dozens of decks, from the Art Nouveau to Zolar’s Astrological Tarot, ape, copy, duplicate, or otherwise draw inspiration from the Rider-Waite.


But Waite … There’s More!


Which brings us to the latest RWS-inspired deck: a “vibrant re-coloring” of the Waite-Smith tarot cards sold as The Radiant Rider-Waite.


Identical in size to the standard Rider-Waite, but slimmer and shorter than the Universal Waite, the Radiant Rider-Waite purports to be, well, more radiant. Think Universal Waite with the hue and saturation controls kicked up several notches, and you’ll get the idea.


What’s next? The Pixie Smith Purple and Peach Tarot, perhaps? A. E. Waite’s Amazing Technicolor Dream Cards? Or maybe Tarot Chroma: an RWS rendered entirely in depressing shades of gray?


For now, though, the yellow sky behind the Empress features burning shades of orange and gold, and the wheat stalks at her feet blaze with color. Watery purple pervades sky and stage on the Four of Coins. The Queen of Wands sits beneath a buoyant blue sky. The guy on the Five of Swords appears to be blushing about what must be a particularly uncomfortable case of razor burn.


In case that's not enough brilliance for your buck, the central image on each card – usually a human figure – is always surrounded with an aura of light. And, oddly, the colors on The Lovers and The Devil are so punched up, the nude male figures -- how to say this delicately? -- no longer display what nude male figures would normally display.


In addition to these color changes, the cards feature fat white borders (à la Lo Scarabeo). To accommodate these, the images are slightly smaller than those on the Rider-Waite or Universal Waite. Worse, the illustrations also appear to have been slightly squished. As a result, the Empress looks positively ferret-faced (especially when compared to her plumper sisters), the guy on the Seven of Coins appears anorexic, and the Queen of Wands is more skinny than her cat for a change.


It’s also worth noting that character expressions seem to have been softened and brightened, as though everyone in the deck – even the stingy king on the Four of Coins – has been given a mild dose of Zoloft.  


Is this deck an improvement over other versions of the RWS? Is it a worthy addition to your collection? Should you rush right out and buy it now?


Your answer to those questions likely depends on your penchant for loud-colored clothing, your preference for people with bland expressions, and your predilection for castrati.


If you would like to purchase the Radiant Tarot deck, click here.


While interested in the divinatory and meditative applications of Tarot, Mark McElroy favors a more practical, less mystical approach to the cards with “no focus on hocus pocus.” Mark is the author of Putting the Tarot to Work, a book on visual brainstorming for business, and Putting the Tarot to Bed, a brainstorming book focused on love, sex, and relationships. Both books are due from Llewellyn Publications in 2004. His Idea Deck, a Tarot developed specifically for use as a brainstorming tool, is also in development. For more info, please visit Mark's website.


Images © 2003 US Games
Review © 2003 Mark McElroy
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes