I guess nothing is what it seems to be. A very representative example of how the meaning of the cards can be altered from one artist to another and art can and is misleading when someone does not know and understand the content, respectively what is behind the images.
For the small, numbered cards Waite and Smith get inspired from the Sola-Busca deck. However, Waite for an unknown reason switched up some of the cards, mainly Wands with Swords. Fire and Air are standing for two substantially different things. One represents instinct, the other thoughts. Sola-Busca 10 of Swords became the Rider-Waite 10 of Wands. Regarding the Swords, Waite adopted a very gloomy approach. Although Swords represent Element Air, respectively thoughts, ideas, concepts, he displayed some very dark and physical imagines. Waite also totally disregarded the astrological attributions of the card. According to the Golden Dawn system, 10 of Swords represents Sun in Gemini (by no means swords stabbed in someone’s back!), and 10 of Wands is Saturn in Sagittarius. Regarding the Kabbalistic view, respectively the progression of the numbers within the small cards. Crowley in his Book of Thoth explains it that the Ace (1) represent “the first positive manifestation of the idea”, 2 represent the idea in action and so on, till the idea grows and materialised. However, Crowley speaks about the “progressive degradation of the idea,” which reflect the very essence of the Western, fundamentally Christian notion of spirituality over materialism. The spirit is pure, the material, the flesh is corrupt. Having the reputation of a hedonist and satanist, Crowley once again prove to be very conservative and traditionalist underneath the surface.
The 10s are “showing complete materialisation.” Bottom line is, Waite choices are odd and arguable. In my opinion, relying exclusively on the images is a dangerous path and might be misleading. Have a great day and a wonderful weekend!