Tarot and Oracle Decks have exploded into the common experience since the 1990s. Today there are literally thousands of decks to choose from, including out-of-print decks and published ones. Reviewing anything involves subjective judgment based on various criteria: quality and size of the cards, visual accessibility of the art, quality of the companion text of the deck, and potential usefulness in professional practice. This month I have chosen to review the Wildwood Tarot by Mark Ryan, John Matthews, and Will Worthington.
The Wildwood Tarot
The Wildwood Tarot was published in 2011 by Sterling Ethos. This deck does come with a nice companion book. The deck can be purchased new on Amazon or through resellers like eBay and Alibris.
From the back of the box:
Look to the heart of a primeval forest where deep ancestral wisdom lies to help make sense of your world today. The cards draw inspiration from pre-Celtic mythology and a belief system steeped in shamanic mysteries. It’s easy to quickly access the magical lore of the Wildwood through descriptions of each card revealing its historical and mythological background as well as its divinatory meaning.
The card stock is good, but not the best and will begin to show wear with continued and regular use. Cards are longer but not wider than playing cards. Even though they are larger than playing cards, they are still easy to shuffle (size-wise). They flex without too much resistance, though they are not at all flimsy.
I have rather average to small hands (I cannot palm a basketball), so the size of a deck of cards matters when it comes to shuffling them, especially in front of clients. This deck is more rectangular than square, with rounded edges, and solid print quality, so the images are sharp but not as rich as the Messenger Oracle cards (the previous deck reviewed).
The Wildwood Tarot is a useful deck for professional readings, and an excellent deck for public readings; the artwork and the concepts work well for the first time or experienced clients. The artist, Will Worthington, does an excellent job capturing the Celtic and Druidic concepts as well as communicating the keyword intention of the cards, especially in the minor arcana.
This deck is one of the top twenty decks I bring with me to use in my public reading rotation and clients really appreciate and enjoy the easy to understand the artwork. This deck does use keywords and phrases to further explain the meaning of the card (besides just looking at the image), which you can see on the cards above.
The creators chose to change the traditional suit symbols from cups, swords, wands, and pentacles to vessels, arrows, bows, and stones, which are more appropriate for the pagan imagery used throughout the deck.
Visual Accessibility of the Deck
This deck is definitely visually accessible, which shows in the artist’s choice of images for the themes described in the cards. In the cards above, the Shaman replaces the Magician. All the major arcana get renamed accordingly: the Fool becomes the Wanderer, the High Priestess becomes the Seer, and the Empress becomes the Green Woman, and so on.
The King of Stones is represented by the Wolf. All the court cards become animals; such as the Knight of Arrows is the Hawk and the Queen of Bows is the Hare. Each animal is viewed as the “spirit” energy of that card. So, the Wolf in this image is the alpha that leads the pack.
Finally, the 6 of Vessels, Reunion, shows the vessels returning to the water source. Other cards in the suits follow some of the Rider-Waite designs while others are completely new. The addition of the keywords helps people learn the meanings of the cards and provides clients with an easy understanding of the card during a reading.
Explanation of the Cards
This deck comes with a very nice companion book that is as well designed and easy to use. The Major cards get two pages of explanation, starting with a description of the card, followed by the meaning of the card, and finally a paragraph with reading points. For the Shaman card shown above, the reading points text says:
You may hear the beat of a drum or the song of the wind. It may be the dancing of light on water or the midnight barking of the fox, but whatever awakens your desire to return to the wild, the Shaman within you is ready for initiation into the mysteries. (39)
The Minor cards get one page of explanation, also including sections for description, meaning, and reading points. Here is the description for the 6 of Vessels above:
A green mound is crowned by a grove of trees. In the face of the mound is an entrance framed with upright slabs of stone. Water gushes from the mouth of the mound and spreads out to form a pool of still water. On the water float six small vessels, each one filled with light. Two otters regard the scene. (135)
The meaning of the King of Stones, the Wolf, is:
Revered as a ruthless tracker and hunter, the Wolf has had a special symbolism for thousands of years and was the subject of ancient Pictish stone carvings. Comfortable in the dark and cold of winter, it was seen as a guardian of the dead on their journey through the night to the underworld. (111)
As a professional reader who started reading cards for pay in 1992, I can say that this deck is excellent for all clients and public settings. This deck is more visually accessible than most decks and would actually make a good starting deck for someone interested in learning to read cards.
I will give this deck a high rating. Clients who have worked with this deck have found it helpful and transformative. The deck does target readers and clients who have a strong interest in Celtic, Pagan, and Druidic imagery and lore. But it is certainly not limited to those with a special interest in nature mythology. However, if you are looking for a specifically Celtic/Pagan deck, then you certainly want to own this one.