The Women who Shaped Modern Tarot

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May 2, 2021

There is something truly magical about women. The mysterious prophecies of priestess oracles, the healing hands of curanderas and the otherworldly whispers of mediums have guided cultural revolutions and foretold the fall of empires. In fact, the world of the supernatural has historically been one of the few spaces where women have been allowed to hold positions of power despite the patriarchal milieus of society at large.

The tarot as we know it today is just one example of a magical practice shaped and guided by femme artists. The following women have dared to channel their creativity and passion into making the cards accessible tools for personal and collective growth.


Pamela Colman Smith

The Rider Waite Smith Tarot is perhaps the most well known and influential tarot deck, with imagery that continues to inspire modern day interpretations. Today, more than 100 million copies are in circulation in over 20 countries, making it the most popular set ever made. While its creation was guided and commissioned by occultist and Golden Dawn member Arthur Edward Waite, the artistry and influence of Pamela Colman Smith brought the cards to life. The Rider Waite Smith deck was the first tarot to offer a visual interpretation of the Minor Arcana cards, illustrating the occult allegorical meanings of the simplistic playing card designs of former versions.

Smith was a commercial artist and set designer. She was also rumored to be a synesthete, capable of turning music into image. Waite guided the Major Arcana, but allowed Smith more creative freedom as she developed the rest of the cards. She would often paint while listening to music, allowing the mood and tone of the images to be shaped by the melodies she was hearing.

Although Smith never reached a high level of commercial success in her lifetime, her artwork has entered into the lexicon of human consciousness and continues to inspire artists to this day.


Lady Frieda Harris

(The art of Lady Frieda Harris)

Late in his life, the controversial occultist Aleister Crowley created the Thoth Tarot with the help of artist and noblewoman Lady Frieda Harris. Although Crowley commissioned Harris to paint the deck, it was Harris whose passion drove the project. Rather than creating a traditional tarot, Harris pushed Crowley to infuse the deck with the occult symbolism that he had spent a lifetime amassing.

Although Crowley was a notoriously difficult character to collaborate with, Harris was undaunted, often painting several iterations of each card until Crowley approved of the design. Although neither of them lived to see the deck published, it remains one of the most popular tarot decks to this day.


Kim Krans

The resurgence of the tarot back into popular culture has been driven by fresh interpretation, a renewed interest in all things spiritual, and the ability of artists to independently publish their own decks. The Wild Unknown Tarot by Kim Krans has helped fuel the modern tarot renaissance, quickly becoming a favorite deck for experienced readers and collectors alike.

Krans' background in depth psychology and her beautiful hand drawn images elevated the art of tarot reading into the mainstream, turning it from a fortune telling game to a pathway for spiritual and psychological discovery.


Courtney Alexander

Recently the tarot has also become a tool for modern activism and social awareness, thanks to artists and mystics such as Courtney Alexander of the Dust II Onyx Tarot. Inspired by the African diaspora and Alexander’s own experience as a queer femme artist, this melanated deck is an evocative and in-depth exploration of identity and the transformative power of art.

By creating a deck that reflected her own experiences and image, Alexander once again shifted the tarot to new heights.As a living art form, the tarot will continue to transform and adapt to our changing world, guided by the healing and intuitive women of future generations.

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