The Wildwood Tarot (WWT) is the only deck I own that would not be considered either a “classic” or “historical” deck. It is the only deck that is directly inspired by another deck in my collection, namely the Rider-Waite-Smith. This is, however, the very reason I chose it. Well, sort of.
When assembling my collection of five decks, I was attempting to be as well-rounded as the number would allow, and touch as many bases of Tarot history as possible (why not just collect more, you ask? well, I would, but I try as best I can to live my life by the laws of moderation, and that includes the number of Tarot decks I own; five strikes me as more than too few, but less than too many, if that makes any sense*). So I acquired a Marseille, I obtained a Rider-Waite, I picked up a Thoth, and I even got myself an Etteilla (not quite in that order). But history only has meaning in the context of modernity,** so a recent deck was, I felt, a necessary addition to my collection. And since it is undeniable that the vast, vast majority of decks made available in the past few decades are just copies (albeit sometimes quite creative ones) of the RWS, it only made sense that I should round out my collection with one of them. But which one, out of the thousands out there, is the right one for me?
You read the title of this post. You know that I’m about to say the Wildwood Tarot.
While this deck is clearly in the tradition of the RWS, to label it a mere clone or a copy does not do it justice. It is much more. The basic RWS structure is implied in its design, but the creators had an alternate system, called the Wheel of the Year, in mind when they made the WWT as well. But before I delve deeper into all that, let me explain why I personally chose this deck over the multitudes of other options.
First and foremost, I really like the artwork. Like, really. It’s phenomenal. With the possible exception of Lady Harris’ work on the CHT, this is the most beautiful artwork in my Tarot collection. And my primary reason really is as superficial as that.
Secondly, the themes of this deck particularly appeal to me, such as a connection to nature and to ancient Celtic/European culture. I love walking in the woods and spending time among the trees, and this deck is ideal for a mental walk through the forests of the imagination. It calls for us to take better care of our natural environment before it’s too late, which is a cause I very much support. And if you’ve read some of my previous posts, it should come as no surprise that I am drawn to the European mythic symbols in these cards. I love all mythology, but the mythology of the Celts is the mythology of some of my ancient ancestors. Alright, I admit, pseudo-mythology might be a more appropriate term for the WWT. There is no mythology in the academic sense. But the feelings I get when I use these cards are reminiscent of the feelings I get when I read Celtic myths and legends. The creators called the theme they used a “pre-Celtic” mythos, which gives them plenty of artistic liberty, considering we have almost no written records of Celtic culture, let alone the stone-age cultures which preceded it. We know they existed, and that’s about it. And that leaves a lot of room for criticism about the authenticity of this theme (there are definitely some anachronisms), but to that I say, the Wildwood is not and never was a literal forest during a specific time in Europe. The Wildwood is a representation of the realm of Faerie, a timeless dimension imbued with magic that we can only reach through our imagination and our dreams, in which anything is really possible. The Celtic influences therefore serve only as inspiration here.
I said earlier that the RWS is the template that this deck is based on. This is certainly true, but a Tarot beginner would likely have a bit of difficulty seeing how these decks are connected. The Major Arcana do follow the same pattern (actually, the WWT has restored its equivalent cards for Strength and Justice to their pre-Waite order, which was something I was pleased to see), beginning with 0 the Wanderer (equivalent of the Fool) and ending with 21 the World Tree (equivalent of the World). Every single one of these cards, however, has been renamed, and the content and meanings of a few have been rather drastically altered. These changes work very well for some, but others are a little strange for my taste (not saying that’s a bad thing – there is not one card in the Majors that I truly dislike). The traditional numbering of the Major Arcana means that it is naturally set up in the order of the so-called Fool’s Journey, and this deck gives a very interesting and distinct version of that journey. However, the cards can also be arranged in a different order according to the Wheel of the Year, a system which follows the cyclical progression of the seasons on multiple levels of consciousness. If for no other reason, it can be said that the integration of the Wheel of the Year system into the Tarot is enough to justify this deck as independent from previous systems, regardless of its roots in the RWS (and the more I think about it, the more I realize that the WWT is really no more a copy of the RWS than the RWS is of the TdM).***
The small cards are illustrated with scenes depicting their meanings rather than simple pips. Many of these scenes are reminiscent of their counterparts in the RWS, but many are not, and this reflects differences in the intended divinatory meanings.
The suits have been renamed and reordered as Arrows (Swords – Air – Spring), Bows (Wands – Fire – Summer), Vessels (Cups – Water – Autumn), and Stones (Coins – Earth – Winter).
The court cards display the most noticeable difference between the WWT and the RWS, or any other deck, for that matter: rather than depicting people, they depict animals commonly found in a temperate forest. I’m fascinated by this, and take it to mean lessons to be learned based on the abstract qualities possessed by both the animal and the suit of which it is a part. Lots of room for interpretation here.
So that about wraps up my thoughts about this deck. It’s not my favorite, but it is one I’m very pleased to have as a part of my small collection. It provides a unique perspective on the possibilities of the Tarot, lifts my mind into the clouds while keeping my feet planted firmly in the living Earth, and being non-traditional, it reminds me that the Tarot is never beholden to any one method of interpretation.
*My definition of moderation is arguably the most subjective statement in this or any of my posts.
***I can’t stress this point enough. The Wildwood is actually not a RWS derivative. This post is one of the earliest of my blog (back when I only had five decks), and at the time, I simply did not understand much about the Tarot and its structure, at least compared to now. I’m adding this footnote now (it’s currently August 2017) rather than editing the post, though, because I like to go back through my old posts occasionally to see how I’ve learned and evolved over time (any after-the-fact editing on my part is usually a change of an awkward phrase or grammatical error, not a change of content). There are quite a few early posts that have similar issues as this one; someday, I may go ahead and just write new posts that re-examine old themes, but in the meantime, I wanted to make this addendum, in case anyone was reading this and was like, “how can this clown of a blogger seriously think the WWT is based on the RWS?”