5 facts about Pamela Colman Smith: the forgotten heroine of divination

Pamela Colman Smith died penniless and uncredited for designing and illustrating the most recognisable modern divination tools, The Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.

  1. Pamela was heavily involved in the suffrage movement. From assisting women in attending suffrage meetings to eventual imprisonment for her suffrage activities, she was a political activist during the times when sexism and misogyny was blatant and cruel.

She was affectionately known as Pixie by her family and friends. She had an eccentric personality and was in general, a badass Aquarius woman.
(Photo source: blog.littleredtarot.com)

2. The world would still not have attached her name to the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck had it not been for the PCS signature that she left on all her works. Instead, the men who commissioned her for her work – Arthur Waite and William Rider would have continued to receive all the credit.

Pixie explored all avenues of her creativity, even drawing and designing postcards, which has strong political and feminist themes and messages. The 1909 tarot deck has become the most recognisable pieces of art in the world and is said to be inspired by her role in the suffrage movement.
(Photo source: findagrave.com)

3. Smith had synesthesia which allowed her to intuitively engage her senses when she made her art.

One of Pamela Colman Smith’s other undated paintings, Sea Creatures. Deeply emotive, whimsical and robust with symbolism.
(Photo source: Yale University)

4. Although she studied at the Pratt Institute, she never completed her studies due to her deteriorating health and the loss of both her parents by age 21. She later joined a theatre company which ended up influencing a lot of her works, including the tarot deck itself.

 A very familiar character in the Rider Waite Smith Tarot deck, possibly inspired by Pixie’s earlier work: “Sir Henry Irving as ‘Cardinal Wolsey’ in William Shakespeare’s ‘Henry VIII’ (1904)
(Photo source: hyperallergenic.com)

5. She was specific about how readers should interpret her cards. She wanted the reader to first interpret it as literally as possible and act the depicted scenarios out. Eventually, one is supposed to end up in the exact world of the card where the possiblities are infinite.

Pamela designed minature stories that have become the catalyst for millions of spiritualists to read tarot. For many years, I thought the Rider-Waite-Smith deck was the only tarot deck in existence. That speaks to how monumental her work has been in not just the spiritual community, but in popular culture as a whole. Her work has inspired many, including myself, on their spiritual journeys and should be celebrated and remembered as such.

Long live the spirit of Pixie.

Pamela’a alma mater, The Pratt Institute has an exhibition dedicated to all her life’s work. It also includes a deep and detailed history about Pixie’s family and ancestors, her early works and her magum opus, the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.
(Photo source: magicianandfool.com)

Further reading:

Fool’s Journey: The Fascinating Life of Pamela Colman Smith

Pamela Colman Smith on Reading the Cards

Pamela Colman Smith

Reviving a Forgotten Artist of the Occult

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