Pamela Colman-Smith: Pixie and the 78 Watercolor Paintings

It is with great pleasure and with humbled awe that I get to present a blog post on the inimitable and incredible Pamela Colman-Smith, affectionally dubbed Pixie by her friends. I have mentioned her a few times in the previous blog posts as being instrumental and influential to the world of Tarot. I did not however discuss her life or artwork in detail. While it is impossible to describe all of it in just a single blog post, what I will highlight are flourishes and glimmers of magic in her being and in her art, and why we need to honor this beautiful soul who brought Tarot into its modern age. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in! First, who was she? We know the tale: she was the mastermind artist behind the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck that became so iconic and popular as the first, comprehensive modern Tarot deck. The woman behind the artwork was a prolific artist. The mystery and intrigue into her story are almost like taking the journey through the Tarot deck itself. Let’s take a look at Pamela Colman-Smith’s heroine’s journey from the Fool to the World and the beyond.

Corinne Pamela Colman Smith was born on February 16th, 1878 in London to American parents Charles Edward Smith and Corrine Colman Smith. Her ancestry was something of a mystery to many. People perceived her differently based on assumptions they made regarding her looks. Regardless, Pamela impressed others with her personality and talent. She came from a family of writers and artists. Her maternal grandfather was a notable bookseller and publisher. (Foley O’Connor 15) Her maternal grandmother was a great writer in her day. Pamela’s mother was an actress in a private theater. Her father also exhibited artistic tendencies and worked in design. It is easy to see where Pamela gets her talent from, no doubt. Her maternal uncle was an artist himself. (Foley O’Connor 15-17) We see the influences of art, theater, and folkloric storytelling in her works. Pamela was educated at the illustrious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She was only fifteen at the time and by the time she reached the age of nineteen, she had already sold four watercolor paintings and had her first feature exhibition. (Foley O’Connor 21-22)

Pamela was also fascinated by Jamaican folklore. Her family relocated to Jamaica when she was young, and this would serve to cement her artistry, poetry, and ultimately storytelling style in a way that was so uniquely her. She had her fair share of struggles, having to cope with her mother’s illness and death, manage family affairs, and assume responsibilities of that of the head of the household and still work on her art. She was only eighteen! (Foley O’Connor 21) It was also here at this point that she had started work on miniature theater. Her play Henry Morgan was intricate and beautifully designed. She performed it in Brooklyn in addition to Jamaica to positive reception overall. It is quite astonishing to imagine a young woman, a teenager designing art for miniature theater, performing and composing her own play, and juggling family finances simultaneously. This only goes to show her remarkable spirit. She had a lot of ambition for her future and certainly defied all tradition. Pamela was not married, did not have any children, and in fact worked her whole life. In addition to art, she was also a costume designer. She was an enterprising woman, who even when challenged, proved to be a formidable force.

By early 1900, Pamela Colman-Smith had lost both her parents. However, she was constantly seeking new opportunities for artistic and storytelling pursuits. She made friends with people in theater, art, and publishing. In January of 1903, Pamela had launched her own magazine The Green Sheaf. (Foley O’Connor 47) She was influenced by W.B. Yeats and Irish mythology, but in spite of consulting with him, she did not “incorporate his suggestions” (Foley O’Connor 47). However, one can clearly see that her work was the result of a holistic view—one that combined the mundane and the mystical. There were often scenes of realism sprinkled with whimsy. Pamela’s poetry had an evocative, folkloric voice that left a lasting impression. Her book Anansi Tales was filled with such a voice. Though she struggled with finances, she was meticulous in her endeavors and aware of the growing issues. Unfortunately, the magazine was not viable financially. After 1906, Pamela had to come up with a new plan.

Here is where we get to the more magical aspects of Pamela’s works. She produced a series of music pictures. Indeed, by February of 1908, she had produced 98 drawings by her own admission! (Foley O’Connor 60) Pamela would respond to the aesthetics of the music she heard and create images based on that. She even describes the experience as having a vision. “Pamela’s ability to visualize music she heard is one of the most important keys to her artistic ability. It is evident that she had synesthesia.” (Foley O’Connor 60) I believe Pamela had many visions and beyond just colors, she was able to construct vivid images. Several works of hers have such a metaphysical quality to them that they shimmer off the page. I highly recommend picking up this book, Pamela Colman-Smith the Untold Story by Stuart Kaplan along with Mary K. Greer, Elizabeth Foley O’Connor, and Melinda Boyd Parsons. Many of Pamela’s beautiful illustrations are preserved in this book, and you get a more intimate look at her life and influences.

Let’s talk about the Tarot, which is what a lot of people most associate her with after all. The imagery in the Tarot has Christian undertones and also utilizes inspiration from the Visconti Tarot. There is a classical style to these paintings. Earlier works by Pamela Colman-Smith reveal her interest in Arthurian themes, early Renaissance styles, and an overall passion for folklore and the use of colors. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck is one that I believe is the most comprehensive since its inception. She not only illustrated the spiritual journey of the Fool to the World in the Major Arcana, but she also subtly threw in some feminist imagery throughout the deck. She was a suffragette. Note her Magician, her Queens, and a few other pip cards. Some of the images are inspired by Pamela’s close friends. (Boyd Parsons 366-7). Pamela Colman-Smith was reported to have been a member of the Golden Dawn though she later converted to Catholicism. Some around her have also surmised she was psychic. She was even associated with spiritualism. It would not surprise me if Pamela Colman-Smith had other-worldly connections her whole life! These are speculations from an earnest seeker, but I do not believe I’m alone in this sentiment. Pamela’s works would go on to influence many Tarot artists—music, psychology, and much more. Her legacy lives on in Tarot, in her folklore, her storytelling. This humble biography is not sufficient enough to describe her life. I may have to create another blog post on her. In the meantime, I hope this garners your interest. Read the book on Pamela if you can. And feel the essence of her magick in the Waite-Smith deck.

Thank you for reading another lengthy blog post! My next one to be published immediately is an astrology forecast from a Vedic standpoint and on the full moon. Blessings beloved readers! Namaste. With love, the Foxy Witch.

Works Cited:

Foley, O’Connor Elizabeth. “Pamela’s Life.” Pamela Colman Smith: An Untold Story. Edited by Lynn Araujo, Jennifer. A. Kaplan, and Paula Palmer. U.S. Game Systems Inc. July 15th, 2018. Stamford, CT.  

Parsons, Boyd Melinda. “Influences & Expression in the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck.” Pamela Colman Smith: An Untold Story. Edited by Lynn Araujo, Jennifer. A. Kaplan, and Paula Palmer. U.S. Game Systems Inc. July 15th, 2018. Stamford, CT.

Tarot Part II: The Mystique.

Key 8: Strength, the Major Arcana from my Waite-Smith deck.

Hello again, lovely readers. As I sit down to write the second blog post on Tarot, I do so with a heavy heart. Before we get into our topic today, I want to say something about what we witnessed a little over a week ago. Perhaps others can relate, but I felt like I was watching the Tower card playing out in real time on the news, and it also made me feel like my own house was violated. And that was heartbreaking. A symbol of hope was subject to property damage, theft, and vandalism. I recall what I felt intuitively when we were entering 2020 from 2019. I felt a sense of portentous, negative energy on its way. It just did not feel like it was going to be a good year. To contrast, I felt differently coming into 2021. While I do not feel like this year is going to be as ominous as 2020 was, I believe that the major changes taking place are going to be uncomfortable—the battle is uphill, but we are already familiar with the storm, so perhaps we can navigate differently. This leads me to our topic on the Tarot.

First, I want to give you a collective forecast for 2021. So far, the running themes seem to be the Chariot, Justice, and the Wheel of Fortune. These three cards have been on my mind lately. I keep thinking about how we are each the storytellers of our destinies. We hold the reins to the chariot, and sometimes it can be challenging to maintain them. We have fought hard to get where we are through right actions, just causes, and tempered behavior. The tides are turning and changing with the wheel of fortune. Yet we sometimes feel bound by external forces and circumstances. Coming out of a tumultuous 2020 into what feels like a polarity shift on shaky legs in 2021 can leave us disoriented. This confusion and lack of control we sense are major reasons why we may consult Tarot or other methods of divination. Ultimately, the three cards above are positive cards. While things are difficult, there is hope. Fighting for justice, balance and fairness, achieving victory over adversity, and changing our tides/fortunes for the better are good omens for the collective. I also pulled an additional card yesterday, the Four of Wands. This card is about prosperity and renewal. Things are changing even if there are hardships. I see the overall message of the cards as one of hope. Be true to who you are and remember that the wheel of fortune is always in motion.

As promised, this post delves deeper into the more mystical aspects of Tarot from personal experience. I wanted to discuss Pamela Colman Smith’s contribution to modern interpretations of Tarot imagery for the twentieth century, but there’s so much more to include. So, I will honor her in a separate blog instead of alluding to her in small snippets. At the moment, I want to focus on the magick of Tarot. We had but a brief overview into the long and extremely interesting history of Tarot in the last post. Now we can look at Tarot in terms of the modern use of cartomancy. It is important though to keep the history of divination and the inception of Tarot in mind. It enriches our experience with using the cards for psychological and spiritual purposes. With that, let’s dive right into our topic of the day.

In terms of the way we use cards for divination, we can see that there is an intuitive process involved. Each person has a different gut reaction to the cards. Have you ever held a card and instantly felt as if it had some kind of magnetic pull on you? I have that with several specific cards, especially when I do readings for myself with the cards I’m directed to draw. It’s as if the energy is pushing or pulling me in certain ways. Sometimes, the pull is so strong that I feel like the card is going to attach itself to my hand. It truly has a vibration. I liken it to a sound or light wave. If I could measure what that feels like or typify it with another example, I would say it could qualify as an EKG graph too. It goes up and down and sometimes flatlines. The flatline occurs when the same cards keep coming up. It happens when we hit a roadblock and seek repeated clarification. Who here has pulled cards and then not liked said cards, then shuffled and pulled new cards only to get a similar reading or the same cards? I know I did many times! It is the proverbial backhanded slap of “what did I just say?”, except in the form of Tarot cards. Intuitively, you probably already knew the answer. Sometimes, it helps to see it validated in the cards—and other times, it is important to look at the best direction to take, especially if there are too many variables.

With the many decks available to us, it may seem at first daunting to figure out which deck you want to get. Why are there all these decks? I think the answer lies in how we evolved as a society. Cartomancy may not have been as popular before nor were they mass produced on a broad scale like today. Once they gained momentum, the demand rose. Initially, the first modern deck, the Waite-Smith Tarot, provided a gateway allowing both Christian imagery as well as the esoteric for what felt like a relatable approach at that time. It stands to reason that people over the decades and into the 21st century also wanted something relatable and thus created decks based on interests, diversity in imagery, themes they believed would resonate with lots of people—not aiming at a singular audience necessarily, though some are likely to appeal more or less to others. The decks I have are vast and diverse: The Lovers Tarot, the Universal Waite-Smith deck, the Mystic Dreamer Tarot, the Ukiyoe Tarot, the Archeon Tarot, the Margerete Peterson Tarot, the mini-Secret Tarot, the mini-Manga Tarot, the King Arthur Tarot, True Heart Tarot, and a Celtic Lenormand deck. I know, I know! I have a lot of decks. One could say I developed a habit. And each of these decks have such a unique vibratory resonance. This brings me to the magick. When we start to talk about Tarot magick, we can look at how to invoke them during rituals.

I like to incorporate the Tarot with manifesting. An excellent card to use is the Nine of Cups. It is a very fulfilling card. Nine is also a special number, the last one before double digits—I also believe that nine embodies the traits of one through eight to carry forward. The Cups suit is about intuition and water energy. The combination of the two and the significance of traditional plus modern meanings make Nine of Cups a card of rewards, of the cups being filled, and wishes being granted. The World card from the Major Arcana is a great one as well—we can think of this card as completing our journey and reaping the benefits in multiple ways including the spiritual. When we see ourselves or deities perhaps in the cards, we can invoke and evoke them during rituals for maximizing the energy of the moon phase or planetary alignment in addition to what we put out as well. I believe Tarot magick is one of the most wonderful forms of visualization, because it provides us with an image to focus on easily. And with that, I conclude this post. More to follow on Tarot!

Once again, thank you for reading my post. I will be making a Part III to my Tarot posts, a separate post on Pamela Colman-Smith, and some future blog post topics will include hereditary and folk magick practices. Thank you again, beloved readers! Have a blessed rest of your January. Be safe. Be well. And invoke the Strength card to get you through the day and through the upcoming Mercury Retrograde. Namaste. With love, the Foxy Witch.

The Divine Dance of Tarot

Photo by Alina Vilchenko on

Happy new year beloved readers! We have finally left behind 2020. We are entering a new phase of awakening! Have you felt it yet? We are currently moving towards karmic returns and rewards. Plan ahead and plan accordingly. That’s what my intuition tells me anyway. This blog post, as promised in the previous, is about Tarot! What a time to discuss it as we move into a mystical year. This is the year of the Hierophant. 2+0+2+1=5. Key 5 in the Major Arcana is the Hierophant. The Hierophant traditionally refers to orthodoxy or tradition and has a spiritual connotation. I interpret it for 2021 to have a deeper, inner meaning for each of us. We can develop our own traditions and spiritual practices as well as utilize what we already know. To delve into our blog topic, I want to first begin with an amazing experience on the Winter Solstice Great Conjunction day last month. I was privileged, humbled, and honored to do a group Tarot reading as a 2021 forecast live on Zoom! So, why was it such a big deal? Well, because this was not something that I have done in a group setting or had even thought about doing publicly. And it absolutely set my soul on fire! Let me add to that statement. It reignited the embers of my passion for Tarot that were simmering away inside all this time. I remember when I got my first Tarot deck. I received it as a gift during high school: The Love Tarot deck by Sarah Bartlett and illustrated by Nancy Tolford. It is an unusual deck in that it does not contain the full seventy-eight cards, just the Major Arcana. At that time, I wasn’t sure if it was going to have the same effect as a full Tarot deck, but I used it, nevertheless. It even went to college with me! I used the Love Tarot my freshman year to gain insight into a “Victorian era” style romance that I was unsure of, and the wisdom through it proved helpful. Thus, began my “secret love affair” with Tarot.

Tarot is a riveting study because of the numerous benefits it offers from a psychological perspective as well as the spiritual guidance side of it. But before we get into that, let us peek a little into the origins of Tarot. To do that, we need to first look at the concept of divination. Divination by itself is nothing new. Many cultures have had methods that predated the inception of paper. They used stones, shells, leaves, tree barks, to name a few, and some continue to do so, and others with modifications. We humans have always had a fascination with divining knowledge and learning about specific outcomes to predict our own futures better. I believe the reason for this lies mainly in the fear of our mortality and in our desire to be happy. These two factors influence our decision-making daily whether we actively think about them or not. It is hard to pinpoint the exact origins of divination in terms of place and the time period, but I think we can relatively assume that it was a natural progression after we gained awareness of our existence within the scope of the world and the universe as our early ancestors understood it. So, that makes divination an ancient study that endures to the present day! This brings us to the subject of Tarot as a divinatory practice today.

I want to briefly discuss the history of Tarot. I know, I know “Why the history lesson, Foxy Witch?”—but this is incredibly interesting and something I believe adds to the mystique of Tarot. I’ll be succinct, because I’m merely presenting a humble overview of what I understand with works I cite at the end as well as in-text of this blog. So, let’s begin! Tarot as we know it can trace its existence back to the late medieval/early Renaissance era in Europe, most notably in Italy. It was not used for divination at that time. Tarot was a card game. You may note the similarities with the Tarot and playing cards used today. There are a few origin stories with regards to the divinatory nature of Tarot—some claim it can be traced back to Egypt. There are other theories as well, however, the most-well known and evidential explanation of the Tarot itself dates back to the fifteenth century. The Visconti Tarot, Sola Busca Tarot, and the Visconti-Sforza are among the earliest decks. But it wasn’t until the 1700s when Jean-Batpiste Alliette also known as Etteilla, ascribed meanings to the cards and created spreads that enabled divinatory interpretations that changed how Tarot was viewed. Occult societies began to gain momentum around that time and well into the 1800s, most notably the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. (Wen 8). That brings us to the modern Tarot deck that popularized Tarot for the twentieth century: the Waite-Smith deck. It is the work of Arthur Edward Waite and artist Pamela Colman Smith who were both members of the Golden Dawn. Smith’s art could be considered the standard that inspired other modern decks. A lot of decks publish it as Rider-Waite Tarot—but I will use Waite-Smith. She is an intriguing woman to study, and I will be making a post dedicated just to her. I’ll explain more towards the end of this blog.

The Waite-Smith deck is modern in nature because it captures both esoteric elements as well as Christian symbology. The Tarot decks in existence today are plentiful with a variety of interpretations. The early decks seem to have strong Christian, Hebrew, and Greek influences. They are more classical and allegorical in terms of the artwork, which is reflective of the Renaissance period. The emergence of the modern Tarot did not discard this completely as we see in the Waite-Smith deck. (“History of Tarot”). However, the more occultist approach became popular. This brings us to the main point of the blog: Tarot for divination. The Tarot deck by itself may seem just a set of images with meanings attached to them. To the mystic, there is an intuitive approach to divining. We meditate, set up sacred space, and cleanse and shuffle the deck. We let our intuition guide us to the cards. Either we let the cards jump out as we shuffle, or we pull them based on how we want to lay them out. But we are guided to the cards, however we do them. The messages are contained in our impressions of the cards as we scrutinize the images. We use the knowledge of the meanings of the cards as well as our reactions. Then we notice them in the context of a spread. There is an art and science to the Tarot. In terms of magick, we can use the cards to help us manifest, connect with deity or guides. We may lay them on our altars or use them in a specific ritual or during a new moon or holiday. There are astrological and elemental associations we utilize to help us divine. It supports us in terms of our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to environments and people around us. There is much more to be said on the Tarot. I will make another blog post on it as this is already quite long!

I want to end on a note about my decks. I communicate with them regularly. I pick them up and meditate. Each one has a different vibrational feel to it. The Archeon deck practically hums in my hands. This deck holds special meaning to me. I did not get it by accident. I’ll discuss that more in the next post! I also use the Universal Waite-Smith deck frequently. I feel Pamela Colman Smith’s essence permeate the deck. It actually seems infused with her energy! I want to say much, much more on this. So, my next post will discuss my decks and Tarot magick, Pamela Colman Smith, and end with a current forecast for the collective for 2021. If you made it this far, thank you! Until next time, happy new year readers. Namaste. With love, the Foxy Witch.

Works Cited

Wen, Benebell. Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth. North Atlantic Books, 2015.

Payne-Towler, Christine. “History of Tarot”, 24th May. 2018, Accessed 6 January 2021.