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Review The Wildwood Tarot

DATASHEET
Name : The Wildwood Tarot
Author : Mark RYAN - John MATTHEWS
Publisher : Sterling Publishing
Tradition : Tarot Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS)
Packaging : Rigid Case / 15,8 x 21 x 3,3 cm / 5.9 x 8.2 x 1.1 in / plastic dispenser
Deck : 78 cards / Plastic-coated, glossy / 12.1 cm / 4.7 in x 7.5 cm / 2.7 in
Size : high
Handbook : Booklet of 160 pages in B&W
Reverse side : Yes, the backs of the cards are reversible.
Switch of 8/11 : Yes
Universe : Gaïa / Nature / Plant / Animal , Magic / Wicca / Druid / Shaman , Celtic
Use : Prediction , Personal development
alternative
WARNING
Please note: this review is based on material in French. This does not change the content of the review in any way, as the material is identical in both languages. Sorry I can't systematically offer me my tarot cards and books in both languages (I don't receive any gifts from the publishers) ! ^_^

The French edition

The French edition

The deck of cards is delivered in a cardboard box of a suitable thickness but relatively flexible. The cards are housed in a plastic dispenser. It is not easy to remove the cards, the box has to be systematically turned over to take out the cards. The box is large, so we regret the absence of a cloth bag or a second box to carry the game with us.

The cards are of normal thickness for a "mass-market" product. With 12 centimetres high, the cards are rather large, it can be difficult for a person with small hands to shuffle the deck horizontally, in such a case, shuffling the cards vertically will be necessary.

The English edition

The English edition

The English and French versions have the same material, with the same soft cardboard box and the same plastic dispenser inside. The English cards look thinner than the French ones. Note that in the first English edition (now out of print) on the back of the cards there was a tree. Today the two versions have the same empty back without any pattern.

The authors

The game is co-created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, designed by Will Worthington.

Mark Ryan, who has a rather impressive bio, is first of all an author, but above all an actor and an action director on the film sets. Moreover, his wikipedia page talks more about his film career than his literary production, even if his participation in the creation of the Wildwood Tarot still takes a whole paragraph.

John Matthews is a specialist in Celtic and Arthurian traditions. He and his wife Caitlin have written several dozen books on Celtic culture, translated into several languages. Together, they teach shamanic and spiritual practice in Celtic traditions.

Will Worthington has designed several tarot cards like : The Green Man Tree Oracle, The Druid Animal Oracle, The Druid Craft Tarot, The Druid Plant Oracle, The Wildwood Tarot (here the tarot of this review: The Enchanted Forest Tarot), The Camelot Oracle.

The Book, Part 1: Genesis of the Project

The authors thought it best not to begin their book with a brief summary of the history of tarot. They were right, as these summaries are usually too short to be really interesting and often strewn with inaccuracies. There is also no chapter on the art and manner of card drawing. The beginner should therefore already have some notions in the divinatory practice of tarot, i.e. know how to devote his cards or prepare his deck for a draw. But does a beginner really need to know a consecration ritual? To ask himself if he should cut his deck with his left hand ? No, of course not, so the authors were right again to spare these few pages.

The first part of the book is therefore devoted to the genesis of the project. It is rare that the authors take the time to evoke the reasons and the elaboration of their creation. However, it is often interesting for the reader, because this chapter helps him to immerse himself in the universe and the atmosphere of the game.

However, in their explanations, the authors address multiple subjects, too many subjects ? I have listed some emblematic keywords: the question of the Grail (p7), ardipithecus ramidus (p8), the carbon footprint (p8), renewable energies (p8), the film King Arthur (p9), Robin Hood (p14), the Round Table (p15), the Grimm brothers (p17), the cult of assassins (p18), DNA (p19), the dishwasher (p23), Percival (p24), Deepak Chopra and Carl Jung (p25). Obviously the authors have mastered their subject, that is to say the Celtic tradition. But at the end of the talk I felt a bit lost or drowned in this flood of ideas, and I asked myself the question : "what about the wild wood in all this ? With the many references to the legend of King Arthur, I even wondered "what about an Arthurian tarot deck ?". Actually, "The arthurian tarot" was once created by Caitlin and John Matthews. So the reader is invited to take an interest in this tarot deck as well.

The Book, Part 2: The Wheel of the Year

The Book, Part 2: The Wheel of the Year

Then comes the evocation of the very structure of the tarot, centered around the idea of the "wheel of the year". This wheel is created according to the cycle of the 4 seasons in which the 22 cards of the Major Arcana are distributed. The concept is very interesting, however, reading the authors, I wondered if using the classic tarot structure (22 trumps, 40 pip cards and 16 court cards) was really relevant ? Why try to add structure and rules to an already existing system ? Quickly, I wondered if the authors would not have done better to free themselves from the internal structure of the tarot and create an oracle instead. The game would have had a free organization specific to the authors' vision, whether in number of cards or categories of cards.

Indeed, studying in detail the concept of the wheel of the year, it is clear that the authors try to make cohabit a cyclical vision of the world related to the 4 seasons with another initiatory vision of the world that are the 22 trumps of the tarot. Certainly the card THE WORLD (21) opens on a new cycle, but here we are talking about a spiritual cycle very different from a cycle of Nature. The transposition quickly reaches its limits according to me. I was not convinced, and the rest of the book confirmed my first impression.

The book, part 3: Presentation of the deck

The book, part 3: Presentation of the deck

The authors devote about 2 pages to each trump of the Major Arcana. On the first page appears a B&W copy of the card. The image is small and it is still necessary to have the cart in front of you. The explanation of the cart is composed of 5 parts. The first part recalls the position of the cart within the wheel of the year. The second part describes the graphical details of the cart. The third part discusses the meaning of the cart. The fourth part lists the essential points of the reading. Finally the last part named "Roots and branches" proposes a sequence of key words or short sentences.

The "Roots and Branches" list often holds surprises with, for example :

  • The card THE GREEN WOMAN (3): Isis, Blanchefleur, Lady Marian.
  • The card THE GREEN MAN (4): Dark Man of the Sacred Oak, Heart of Pendragon, Dagda
  • The card THE FOREST LOVERS: Arthurian White Deer.
Some keywords seem obvious, others much less so, especially when they come from other cultures or imaginary ones such as Isis, Egyptian goddess. Many of these keywords deserve an explanation in the text.

For each card of the Minor Arcana, 1 page is used, with a summary keyword (I like), then 3 paragraphs: description, meaning, and essential points of the reading.

A touch of poetry and lyricism embellish the descriptions. The texts are thus bathed by the presence of Mother Nature, it is appreciable, it participates in the immersion in the universe of this tarot. However, just as the authors had used multiple references in the exposition of the genesis of their project, the same is true in the explanation of the meanings of the cards, often with several ideas present in the same sentence. Personally, I had difficulty understanding and integrating some of the texts (not all of them fortunately).

Finally, the four elements Earth, Fire, Air and Water are associated with the four suits Stones, Bows, Arrows and Vessels. The authors follow the astrological tradition for Earth and Water. Curiously, they place "science" and "philosophical and esoteric pursuits" in Fire and "projected wishes" and "Ambition" in Air. Traditionally, an astrologer would have said the opposite.

The book, last part: Draws

Extremely short, this section is only 8 pages long. "Spreading the Path" shows a 3-card draw. "The Spreading of the Arc" is built with 7 cards, finally "The Spreading of the World Tree" has 8 cards. The instructions are concise, and an example is given for each draw.

Finally, a meditative text called "The Visualization of the Hermit Cave" concludes the book. The text brings together all the 22 trumps in a story describing a kind of initiatory journey. The initiative is interesting. I would have liked a real thread to link the whole story in order to give it a global meaning.

The cards I Like

9 - The hooded man

The cards I Like

On this card, I like the presence of the closed door on the massive tree trunk. This door reminds us that the path of THE HERMITE is not endless, it has a destination. This path leads to the ancestral and intuitive wisdom nestled deep within us (the door opens on the inside and the heart of the venerable tree) but that we must know how to open the door to access it. Finally, the work of THE HERMITE is not so much to walk and advance in the dark but to open up to oneself, to one's deep interior.

19 - The sun of life

19 - The sun of life

Far away from this child conqueror perched on his galloping horse (traditional image of the SUN for the RWS), here is an image that offers another vision "burning with life". The man haloed by the sun seems to receive all his fire, his warmth, his burning waves. Man's heart throws a light as bright as the sun. The man is the sun. We have here a positive vision that describes the realization of oneself, far from the infantile aspect of the traditional vision (the youthful aspect which nevertheless has a real meaning).

The pip cards

The pip cards

I appreciate that the authors were able to distance themselves from the canonical form of the RWS. For example, the ten of arrows (= 10 of sword) is here associated with the instruction (very far from the usual meanings of melancholy or violence). Otherwise the eight of bows (= 8 of wands) evokes group communion. On several occasions, the authors give a personal vision of the Minor Arcana. I appreciate this renewal of ideas and concepts; the Aces are also particularly successful. Again, this innovation makes me say that this card game deserved to be built like an oracle and not like a tarot deck.

The cards I like less

5 - The ancestor and 8 - The deer

The cards I like less

THE ANCESTOR (5 - THE HERIOPHANT) and THE DEER (8 - STRENGH) have a very similar representation. On the first card, we see a deer-headed human figure with a shamanic drum and a mallet in his hands. On the other card there is also a deer-headed man with a shamanic drum and an axe in hand. On one side we have a mallet and the image of a triskel on the drum. And on the other side we have an axe and a tree of life drawn on the drum. These two details alone really differentiate the two trumps. This seems to me too little, for a card that evokes "ancient memory" (THE ANCESTOR) or "the sovereignty of the earth" (THE DEER).

12 - The mirror

12 - The mirror

Here is proposed a completely different version of THE HANGED MAN. The originality of this card seduced me. The card is coherent and renews the usual iconography. It speaks of (I quote the authors): Interior journey, Lady of the Lake, Long dark night of the soul, Dark Goddess of knowledge. However wouldn't these be rather aspects covered by the card THE MOON (18) ? Especially since we see the moon and a large body of water. The heron could replace the wolves, and the death boat would replace the crayfish. Nevertheless, the name "The Mirror" offers a pertinent reflection on the symbolism of THE HANGED MAN, namely introspection. With this card, I don't know on which foot to dance.

15 - The gardian et 20 - The great bear

15 - The gardian et 20 - The great bear

Exactly like the trumps 5 and 8, we have here two cards that look very similar (too much ). THE GUARDIAN displays a skeleton that obstructs the entrance to a cave. THE GREAT BEAR displays a bear standing on a dolmen and seems to prevent the reader from moving forward. Both cards give the same feeling, that of a danger, a warning, a threshold to cross, a guardian to fight or coax. Moreover, both images offer a vision far from their traditional form. Indeed THE GUARDIAN replaces THE DEVIL who usually speaks about the problem of alienation, or even excess or sexuality. THE GREAT BEAR replaces THE JUDGMENT which generally evokes an announcement, a rebirth or fervour.

21 - The world tree

21 - The world tree

A thousand-year-old tree appears on this card. This image seems to naturally close the end of the Major Arcana, a figure of the same style is used in "The green witch Tarot" for this same card. At the foot of the tree is a door inserted in the trunk (duplicate with card 9 - THE HOODED MAN). I regret however the presence of the labyrinth in front of the tree, signifying to the consultant that he must walk a winding path in which he could get lost, before reaching wisdom (the tree). Indeed, at the last card, I think we are finally there at the foot of the tree, the door is even now open, the labyrinth is behind us and not in front of us. The labyrinth is the previous 20 trumps, we are out of the maze, so there is no more reason to show it on the final stage of the journey.

The court cards

The court cards

The 16 court cards here are associated with animals. If the authors had the very good idea to put the name of the card and the central keyword on the numbered cards, it is not the same with the 16 honors, where the name of the card and the name of the animal appear. For example we have for the Queen of Vessels (Queen of Cups) a salmon that tells us about "Virtue, Kindness, Safety". A King of Stones in the form of a wolf who tells us about "Trading, Speculation, Mathematical Skills". Salmon = kindness and wolf = speculation. I personally have difficulty with these associations. Compared to the 4 elements Earth, Fire, Air, Water, the meanings are pretty accurate. But with images of animals that are not very evocative of the underlying interpretations, the practitioner has no choice but to learn by heart the meaning of the court cards.

The back of the cards

The back of the cards

The backs of the cards are a solid green colour. Those who practice divination by looking at their cards face down may regret an empty back. Indeed, there is no eye-catching motif. Moreover the presence of copyright is not the most beautiful effect when the game is spread out on the table.

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My opinion on The Wildwood Tarot

The game is beautifully illustrated, which is undoubtedly one of its primary qualities. But here again, this judgement is more a personal taste.

The design of the game is original, the authors do have their own vision of the world, and shows it in the different cards of the game. However, if they had designed an oracle with a specific number of cards and categories of cards, their creation would certainly have gained in clarity and consistency. Let there be no mistake, the game is coherent and successful in the form of a tarot (if we disregard the concept of "the wheel of the year" which is nevertheless a central element). I just think that the game would have revealed its full potential if it had been created in the form of an oracle. By way of comparison, the reader can study Kyle Gray's "Angels and Ancestors oracle", based on the same shamanic but multi-cultural (Celtic, American Indian and Australian Aboriginal) tradition.

The beginner reader may perhaps come up against a text that is sometimes dense with ideas and concepts, but the game remains very accessible except for the 16 court cards that do not have an intuitive reading.

For the confirmed practitioner, the game will find an honorable place in his personal library, it clearly deserves to be used for draws based on the numbered cards of the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana takes great liberties with respect to the Rider-Waite-Smith or Tarot-de-Marseille tradition, one likes or dislikes it.

"An oracle in the form of a tarot card" Tweet
TYPE OF USE
  • Prediction
  • Personal development
PROS
  • Beautiful illustrations
  • Successful numbered cards
CONS
  • Non-intuitive Court Cards
  • A Major Unconventional Arcana
MATERIAL QUALITY RATINGS
3
/5
Quality
Packaging
3
/5
Quality
cards
5
/5
Rating
Artistic
EASE OF INTERPRETATION RATINGS
3
/5
Richness
of symbolism
5
/5
Legibility
of cards
3
/5
Structure
level
EASY-TO-USE RATINGS
2
/5
Ease
of use
3
/5
Accessible
to children
3
/5
Interest
in the study
OVERALL RATING
3.3 / 5

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