Newly published tarot and oracle decks arrive on Amazon, Etsy, crowd-funding platforms, and in bookstores every month. Today there are literally thousands of decks to choose from, including out-of-print decks as well as published ones. Reviewing a deck is a subjective judgment intended to help readers determine if they want to own the deck.
The critical review of a deck for AskAstrology involves looking at the quality and size of the cards, visual accessibility of the art, quality of the companion book or booklet, and potential usefulness in professional practice. This month I have chosen to review the Dark Wood Tarot by Sasha Graham and Abigail Larson.
From the back of the box:
Dare to enter the dark wood and discover your shadow self with this enthralling Rider-Waite-Smith style deck. As you take on the role of a witch entering the wood, each magnificent card becomes a vision of deep wisdom that guides you to a richer understanding of yourself. Examine secret desires and shadowy dreams. Explore the unknown recesses of your psyche. This captivating deck and full-color companion book lead you through the darkness and into the light that reflects your hidden talents and personal power.
About the Author:
Sasha Graham teaches tarot classes and produces tarot events at New York City’s premier cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has appeared on film, television, radio, and in the New York Times.
Card Stock and Shuffling
Printed on medium card stock, these cards have a glossy finish with curved edges. They are easy to shuffle, and a little slick when you first get them out of the box. They may slip out of your hands until the cards get some wear from handling and repeated use.
Artwork and the Visual Accessibility of the Deck
The artwork is quite beautiful, leaning heavily towards Japanese anime, with a blend of modern American comic book styles, which make the deck one that would appeal to a modern, and youthful, tarot reader. Unfortunately, the artist and her artwork do not easily convey the meanings of the cards, so you will need to rely on the very nice companion book to know the meanings the creator selected. There are some nods to the Rider-Waite-Smith design, but also some very new interpretations.
About this card:
The ram is a symbol of Aries and the embodiment of strength, initiative, determination, rules, and order. This is a card of power. The cliff reflects his boundaries. He would destroy them at a moment’s notice when they no longer serve his purpose.
Father figure. Habits and strategies creating success and results. Authority and domination. Defense and protection. Established rules. Asserting boundaries when needed and moving them when necessity calls for it. Self-possession and, above all things, self-control. (64)
Four of Swords
About this card:
Four is the number of stability. Swords are the suit of the mind. It is the calmness and quiet that we enjoy when mentally balanced. Yet even the surface water is bound to be touched by the wind sooner or later. The mind is an ebb and flow of thoughts, realization, logic, and knowledge.
A need for new stories, narratives, and unique ideas. Balanced and logical thoughts. Rest with a plan for action. Just when everything is settled, something comes along to provoke you in new and interesting ways. Trust what you know instead of what you see. (213, 215)
Queen of Pentacles
About this card:
The Queen of Pentacles reflects a personality pleasantly entranced with the natural world and with the ability to manipulate it. She is representative of physical manifestation and the care of herself and others.
Love, care, and nurturing. Motherly love. Manifestations of something physical. The evolving physical body. Cooking, cleaning, and rearranging. Gardening, teaching, and creating spaces that make people feel warm and at home.
Explanation of the Cards
This deck does have a very nice trade paperback companion book that is beautifully designed. The book contains colorful artwork on the outside and inside. All the cards get at least two pages of explanation, including a positive meaning and the shadow meaning.
Queen of Pentacles Shadow
The witch who fools you into things you really don’t want and especially don’t need. The ability to lead you astray with material possessions. Being consumed with the cost or indulgence of any item and spending money for money’s sake. That dark hole never is filled.
The explanations of the cards are thorough and helpful, and the card art is enlarged to show the full detail of the cards. Also, the companion book has a glossy finish similar to the cards, which makes it feel as collectible as the cards themselves.
As a professional reader, I can say that this deck is a very good one for reading in public where people who have never had a tarot or oracle reading might want to get one and the crowd is not conservative. The art style is edgy thanks to the “dark wood” theme, clearly invoking images of vampires and witches. However, the art is not “heavy-handed,” giving the harshest cards a darkly romantic feel instead of an oppressive one.
I would recommend the deck for personal use, collecting, and limited public professional use. This deck is eye-catching; people will likely consider getting a reading from the deck as something intriguing or “risky” to do, because of the art style.
The deck is romantic, risqué, and insightful, visually-speaking. The art conveys the meanings effectively, once you learn what the creator intends them to be. The book is excellent, from a design standpoint, and great in terms of explaining the meanings of the cards. Also, instead of “upright/reversed,” the writer chose “meaning/shadow,” which stays in line with the more modern approach. The flexible card stock makes shuffling easy, and it will get easier once some of the initial slick sheen wears off with frequent repeated use over a long time. I give this deck four out of five stars.