The Wildwood Tarot*
Authors: Mark Ryan and John Matthews
Illustrator: Will Worthington
I was delighted when I heard that this deck was coming out. It’s pretty hard to be a part of the tarot community and not to have heard of the Greenwood Tarot. However, besides the fact that copies over the last few years have generally fetched in the region of £400, I have never liked the artwork. It feels too primitive to me, and I never connected with the images.
That was certainly not the case with the beautiful and powerful Wildwood Tarot. When I heard that there was to be a reworking of the Greenwood concept, but with artwork by Will Worthington, I was sold. The illustrator of the DruidCraft Tarot, as well as three Druid Oracles and the Green Man Oracle, Will Worthington is renowned in the tarot community for his beautiful, naturalistic artwork. Having long been a fan of the DruidCraft, I eagerly anticipated this new tarot deck.
When it arrived, it did not disappoint. With a detailed, illustrated companion book it was easy to get a grasp of the card meanings, though they differ markedly from standard Rider-Waite-Smith associations. The book also explains the structure of the deck, with its links to the Wheel of the Year, useful for those who work with timings in a reading.
Mark Ryan created the original concept, and his vision is still very clear in this reworking. The explanations of the cards in the book are thoughtful and thought-provoking, with both a strong environmental and scientific bent. Nevertheless, the book remains spiritual, and offers reading points, as well as visualisations and three original spreads. John Matthews has added his insights to the cards, as well as adding some structural elements to the deck as a whole, and suggesting a renaming of all the Majors, which before were a combination of new and traditional titles.
The cards, unlike the DruidCraft, are a normal size (12 x 7.5 cms) and easy to shuffle. They have a narrow white border around the image and the card title below, with arabic numerals used for the Majors (0-21), and alphabetically written numbers for the Minors (Two-Ten). Each card also has a keyword or phrase; for example, the Ace of Bows is the Spark of Life, while the Eight of Arrows is Struggle. The suits have been renamed from traditional versions, giving us Bows (Wands), Chalices (Cups), Arrows (Swords) and Stones (Pentacles/Disks). The images of this deck take us for a walk in the Wildwood, meeting many of its inhabitants: human, animal, tree and other.
One of the most striking things about this deck is the fact that all the Court cards show various birds and animals, rather than any people. With Will Worthington’s impressive artwork, these are very beautiful images of natural creatures. They also contain other symbolism, be it the environment around them – the plants and rock formations, buildings and trees – symbols etched into the rocks, or simply the suit descriptors – bows, chalices, arrows and stones. This may at first present a challenge to readers, but can also be very liberating, freeing us from notions of gender, age and status to look more at inner characteristics and actions.
In fact, it is not just in the Court cards that humans are notable by their absence. By my reckoning, exactly half the cards in the deck have no “people” in them. For those steeped in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition it is peculiar that the Five, Six and Seven of Bows (Wands) have no people on them, and yet the Eight does! Once again, the richness and “reality” of the images means that there is still a wealth of detail to spark intuitive readings and interaction between the cards when in a spread, as well as the depth of meaning portrayed in the book.
The only thing I would have liked to have seen in the deck which isn’t there is a more balanced picture of women. While there are some mature and even old men in the deck, all the female figures are young, svelte and buxom. However, this is a minor quibble with a deck which is otherwise both inclusive and interesting.
The cards can easily be used for readings, creative inspiration, visualisations and pathworking, or any other use which a deck can offer. It also provides an engaging perspective both on ancient times, otherworldly beings and nature. I really like the fact that many of the beings are “strange”, challenging our ideas about our separation from nature. I also like that there is a better balance, especially in the Majors, between masculine and feminine energies. For example, the figure in the Ancestor (Hierophant) card is not only feminine, but has the body of a woman and the head of a doe and beats on a drum, guiding us to shamanic knowledge.
This is a fascinating deck, well thought out and beautifully illustrated. While perhaps not most appropriate for beginners, it will add a very different element to any collection and is both delightful, challenging and readable.
*First published in TABI‘s Yule 2011 Ezine.