The Magical Pixie Of Tarot
The Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck were a collaborative design between Arthur Waite and Pamela ‘Pixie’ Colman-Smith. As the artist and esoteric master, who was of Queer, possibly mixed race and political non-convention. I feel like Pixie strongly influenced the symbolism and rich meanings in the RWS deck.
She brought together the folk images and archetypes; numerology, planets and astrology. It was also Pixie who brought people to the images that we now recognise as the Minor Arcana. Up until then, they were number cards, as with an ordinary playing card deck.
Pixie’s images have transformed and inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of Tarot decks. They give a face to the cards in a way that we now expect in Tarot cards and take for granted.
Years of staring intently at the cards have made me curious about Pixie, her story and the images she brought to the cards. Working in narrative therapy has only encouraged my curiosity. As I have come to appreciate that people bring themselves to the stories they tell.
Pixie brought her story as a well-travelled, accomplished writer and painter. She was also well connected through her wealthy Anglo-American Caribbean influenced family. She was popular within the women’s suffrage, occultist and spiritual networks, which, although controversial, were all pretty happening at the time.
Pixie was a part of these communities on both sides of the Atlantic. Creating art exhibitions and publications in both, despite these connections and her many gifts, she still struggled financially. Probably in part due to remaining single.
She was noble in her lack of convention and didn’t marry, preferring to have affairs of the heart, most of them with women.
In her work of that time, you can see this, which is distinctly erotic and exotic.—conveying an open attitude to her sexual fluidity and immense imagination for fantasy, folly, ecstasy, death, and the macabre.
Pixie had the gift of Synesthesia, which is seen nowadays as a neurological disruption of the senses, where the senses of sight, taste, sound and touch can become interwoven with each other. But back in Pixie’s day, it was a magical spiritual experience of the occult.
It merged her spiritual and creative loves of mysticism, music, art, nature, and folk culture for Pixie. When she painted accompanied to music, it cast a spell freeing her thoughts, surrounding her feelings with mystical visions and striking colour schemes.
Pixie wrote in the 1908 essay Pictures in Music: “When I take a brush in hand, and the music begins, it is like unlocking the door to a beautiful country […] with plains, mountains and the billowing sea.”
I feel this comes through in the rich metaphors that Pixie brought to the images in the cards to convey their message.
Like many women of her time, she got very little credit and even less financial recognition for her efforts; Despite being socially connected, moving in hip art circles and spiritual groups/cults of her day.
As I said, it was in part due to her lack of convention, but it was also political. Pixies’ interests were on the politically controversial topics of race, non-materialism, and gender nonconformity. She made these issues the focus of her work through her emphasis on Caribbean folk tales and spirituality, emphasising female artists and the suffrage movement. These acts of political activism were popular for a time, but they were the hobbies of the rich, and few people committed to the long term as they are not popular earners. That and a couple of world wars, depressions and the rise of capitalism. All got in the way.
I think of the ongoing presence of these issue in our own lives now. Where we are still struggling for equal recognition for race and gender, fair legislation and pay, it’s not a massive leap of the imagination to see why Pixie died in poverty.