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Thursday, May 26, 2011

REVIEW: The Wildwood Tarot

Every time I try to tell myself "NO MORE TAROT DECKS" I see a new deck that calls to me. The call of The Wildwood Tarot was loud and insistent, and I am glad I responded.

The Wildwood Tarot is a reconception of The Greenwood Tarot, which was published in 1996 by Thorsons and is now out of print. Whereas The Greenwood Tarot was a collaborative effort by artist Chesca Potter and actor/writer Mark Ryan, The Wildwood Tarot was created by Mark Ryan, author John Matthews, and artist Will Worthington.

Matthews describes some of the differences between The Greenwood Tarot and The Wildwood Tarot as follows: "In its new form, the vision is still mostly Mark's, but here and there we have worked together to enhance the imagery and meanings of the cards, added substantially to the Minor Arcana, and generally made what was already a dynamic Tarot into something new, to reflect the most ancient worlds of the forest and those who dwell within them."

"Based on seasonal rhythms and ancient festivals, The Wildwood Tarot gift set draws inspiration from pre-Celtic mythology and shamanic mysteries. This stunning new deck introduces us to classic forest archetypes--including the Green Man and Woman, Archer, and Blasted Oak--and explains how to use them as a meditation system, divinatory oracle, or reference. Will Worthington's powerful pagan images connect us with a long-lost world that can help us make sense of our own."

The deck follows the Rider Waite model, with 78 cards, 22 trumps, and four suits.

The names of the Major Arcana cards differ from those in the RWS; however, many of the cards are similar to the RWS Majors. For example, Trump 0 is The Wanderer (rather than The Fool), but the figure on the card is "poised on the edge of a white chalk cliff," preparing to "step across the abyss and into the Wildwood beyond." The Wanderer "is ready to make the leap into the unknown -- all that is required is faith." Instead of The Magician as Trump 1, we have The Shaman. The other Majors are:
2 - The Seer
3 - The Green Woman
4 - The Green Man
5 - The Ancestor
6 - The Forest Lovers
7 - The Archer
8 - The Stag
9 - The Hooded Man
10 - The Wheel
11 - The Woodward
12 - The Mirror
13 - The Journey
14 - Balance
15 - The Guardian
16 - The Blasted Oak
17 - The Pole Star
18 - The Moon on Water
19 - The Sun of Life
20 - The Great Bear
21 - The World Tree

The suits of the Minor Arcana are Arrows (Air), Bows (Fire), Stones (Earth), and Vessels (Water). The King, Queen, Knight, and Page of each suit are animals. The subtitle for each Court Card is the name of the animal pictured on the card. The Ace through Ten of each suit are also given subtitles. For example, the Ace of Arrows is "The Breath of Life," the Two of Arrows is "Injustice," the Three of Arrows is "Jealousy," and so forth.

I find some of the subtitles to be particularly intriguing. For example, the Six of Stones is "Exploitation." I generally think of the Six of Pentacles as representing generosity -- giving to or receiving from someone else. The card traditionally shows a wealthy person giving money to a poor person. "Exploitation" confers a different twist. Both of the figures on this card are begging. A broken rake lies on the ground behind them. Damaged, abandoned bee hives sit on stones in the background. This card is about the human race's exploitation and overuse of non-sustainable resources.

The human beings depicted on the cards are shown, when fitting, as neither male nor female. This was done in order to make the various archetypes accessible to everyone.

Although slightly larger than regular playing cards, these cards are easy to handle at 4-3/4 inches by 3 inches. The stock is sturdy. The finish is glossy. The backs of the cards are deep forest green. White borders surround the images on the faces of the cards. Card titles and subtitles appear in black at the bottom of each card. I am pleased with the quality of the printing. The images are sharp and clean.

The 160-page book that accompanies this deck is well worth reading and studying. It features two prefaces: one by Mark Ryan and one by John Matthews. An Introduction by Mark Ryan is also included. The write-up for each card is accompanied by a small picture of the card. The text and images inside the book are dark green. Quotations from such notables as Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, and Carlos Castaneda are inserted at appropriate intervals.

On page 26 we see The Wheel of the Year, which underlies the Wildwood Tarot system. For each Major Arcana card, the authors describe the card's Position on the Wheel. This is followed by Description, Meaning, Reading Points, and "Roots and Branches" -- a list of key words/phrases for the card.

For each suit of the Minor Arcana we are given a quotation, Position on the Wheel, Element, and Associations (key words/phrases). For the individual Minor Arcana cards, we are given Description, Meaning, and Reading Points. Court Cards are also given a set of key words/phrases called "Tracks and Pathways."

The last section of the book is called Finding Your Way: Working with the Deck. Several spreads are included. I especially like The Pathway Spread, which explores The Issue, Action to Avoid, and Action to Take.

I have been a fan of Will Worthington's art ever since I acquired The Druid Animal Oracle deck many moons ago. He also illustrated The Druid Plant Oracle, The Green Man Tree Oracle, and The DruidCraft Tarot. If you are unfamiliar with his work, you may want to visit Will Worthington Art.

Not being a professional art critic, I can only tell you that I love Worthington's renderings of the cards in The Wildwood Tarot. The level of detail is delightful. The images are evocative, and each is unique in its own way, while maintaining a consistent tone and *feel*.

This deck will appeal to people interested in what Mark Ryan calls "cultural and spiritual awareness of our relationship to the inner landscape of our mind" as represented by an "ancient, nature-based mythos."  A familiarity with the traditional RWS card meanings is helpful when using this deck, but be prepared to re-examine the implications and messages in the context of nature-based traditions and cycles.

(To read my interview with this wonderful deck, click HERE.)

The Wildwood Tarot
By Mark Ryan and John Matthews
With card illustrations by Will Worthington
Published by Sterling Ethos (an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.) 
ISBN 978-1-4027-8106-3


  1. I really didn't have any plans on getting a new deck but, darn it all, this is gorgeous!

  2. LOL - Raelyn, I know the feeling!

  3. I couldn't possibly buy another tarot deck however................. :)

  4. This indeed looks like a lovely deck and that was a very nice review!

  5. I can not wait to get my copy :)

  6. This is an awesome deck- I was drawn to it when I saw it. I read the book from cover to cover and love the feel and beauty of this deck. I drew out the wheel of the year and placed the cards as described it the book- it was as if the deck came alive!

  7. Hello Rhonda, thanks for stopping by! It really is a special deck, isn't it?

  8. This deck has been on my Amazon to-buy list for years- literally. I never see them in any shops when I am out though! I definitely want to add them to my collection after reading this review.

    1. Hello Violet! I don't think I have seen these in stores, either -- but I don't have any decent Tarot stores in my area. I had to laugh at your comment about your Amazon list. I've had a few things on mine for years as well. Someday, someday... (luckily, my family knows to choose from that list when buying me a Christmas or birthday gift!)

  9. Beautiful Deck! The Ancestor literally called me to them, postman will be bringing them to me within the next few days! :D

    1. I hope you enjoy them! I'm pretty sure you will!

  10. This was my first tarot deck ever! I got it at my local witch supply store! (It was a gift from my parents) studying the story that these cards tell, as well as exploring what they mean to me has been engaging and beautiful. I definitely recommend it!!


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~ Zanna