Six of Wands

The Six of Wands

The Six of Wands is a design Pamela Colman Smith used from her earlier depiction of “The Silent Knight”, in her own short-lived magazine, The Green Sheaf, December 1903, just six years before her work on the Waite-Smith Tarot.

In Secrets of the Waite Smith Tarot (2015) we reveal the research based on a simple insight; A. E. Waite gave Pamela Colman Smith the Book T descriptions of the Golden Dawn, against his oath, as it was material reserved for a higher grade than Pamela. It was from these descriptions that Pamela designed the Minors, to suit their meaning, not the designs. When she returned the images to Waite, he had little idea of their sources, but did not really care for the Minors, so roughly re-described them in Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1909). This process also explains why the Pictorial Key is not the best book to go with the Waite-Smith Tarot card meanings for the Minor Arcana. It is better to read the ‘meanings’ from Book T of the Golden Dawn and the design sources revealed for the first time in Secrets of the Waite Smith Tarot.

We discovered Pamela had then spent the summer at Smallhythe Cottage with Ellen Terry and friends, likely designing the Minor Arcana by herself. She painted them quickly, within five months, and drew on her immediate surroundings, her experience in theatre set design, and the works of Shakespeare and other plays with which she was familiar. She also re-used designs from her previous work, pieces of art by artists who had influenced her (such as Edward Burne-Jones) and a smattering of images from the Sola-Busca Tarot, of which she and Waite had seen drawings in the British Museum that same year.

In this card, the original source was a picture she had painted to illustrate a poem “The Knight Errant” by Lady Alix Egerton (Egerton also wrote “The Lament of the Dead Knight” in the Green Sheaf later that year, in July 1903). The Knight Errant poem is a version of that published by Egerton in the same year, in a collection entitled The Lady of the Scarlet Shoes and Other Verses, which we produce here in full:

The Knight Errant

So unselfconfident, and yet so proud,
So much has borne, so much yet to endure;
With every chance he yet remains obscure,
Dwelling in solitude among the crowd.
He could not face the world, unless disguised,
For Fear rides ever constant at his side,
None know it, his indomitable pride
Upholds the honour he has always prized.
With all his wealth of failures, yet, the right
To wear his golden spurs he won at length.
Through his great love, which is his only strength;
And truly is he called “The Silent Knight.”
Be this his epitaph when comes the end :
A true Knight always and most loyal Friend.

Pamela would have no doubt seen this as the perfect illustration of the Golden Dawn Book T description of the 6 of Wands, titled “Victory after Strife”:

Victory after strife: Love: pleasure gained by labour: carefulness, sociability and avoiding of strife, yet victory therein: also insolence, and pride of riches and success, etc.

Notice how Pamela has returned to the “golden stirrups” in the 6 of Wands, from the poem, even though they have been, as she was worried about in her only known writing on her tarot work, “coloured [by the printers] – probably very badly”.

So, in a reading, this card does mean victory, after strife, but it can also mean that we must keep our own views to ourselves for a while, play it safe and careful until victory is assured. It is a reminder that most accidents happen on the way back down the mountain, after the success of the summit.

Interestingly, the poem is also entitled “R. de M.” so it was likely dedicated to someone or about a person known to Lady Egerton. We wonder if this was Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921).

For the ground-breaking research into the Waite-Smith Tarot, see Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot by Marcus Katz & Tali Goodwin (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2015).

It is not often that book comes along that really changes the way we understand tarot. Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin are incredibly thorough and dedicated researchers who have written a book that will change almost everything we think we know about the Waite-Smith Tarot.

– Barbara Moore

“Astonishing revelations of Pixie Smith’s contributions to the Tarot! Masterful, and not to be missed.”

– Mary K. Greer, author of The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals