It seems as though I’ve been in writer’s hibernation for a while, now. Here I am, poking my head out of my hole, squinting in the bright sunlight. Time for a stretch; shake off the cobwebs; put on the coffee. Here we go.
While I haven’t been writing, I have been reading about the Tarot and using my cards. The Council has (finally) joined me on the Tarot bandwagon, and I am no longer alone in my cartomantic practice. So I have been thinking and talking Tarot, creating exercises to help them get acquainted with their cards (which I may post on here at some point), discussing, positing theories, studying, and taking suggestions from them (they catch on quick when they want to). I’ve also been spending time getting to know my own decks, deciphering their unique nuances, and evolving my overall relationship with the cards in general. I think there will be more writing to come after this. It’s been building up inside for a while.
In particular, I’ve been really spending time with my Wildwood deck, using it for readings like I’ve never been able to before, but more importantly (I think), familiarizing myself with the Wheel of the Year.
The Wildwood Tarot is essentially composed around two separate structures. The first is that which is common to every Tarot. There are 56 minor arcana divided among four suits, numbered within each suit from ace (1) to 10, and complete with four court cards per suit; there are also 22 so-called trump cards or major arcana, 21 of which are numbered in sequence, with the addition of an unnumbered (Fool) card. In this way, the WWT is a Tarot just as any other.
The second structure underlying the WWT is known as the Wheel of the Year. Where the typical Tarot structure is essentially linear,* the Wheel of the Year (or Wheel, as I’ll henceforth be referring to it, not to be confused with Arcana X the Wheel of Fortune) is cyclical. It is the presence of this structure, co-existing with the first, which sets this Tarot apart from others.
The WWT did not invent the Wheel of the Year. This deck was inspired by the earlier Greenwood Tarot, which used (what I presume to be) the same system. I’m not positive, but I believe there are some other Tarot decks out there that also have used this or similar systems. As a spiritual concept, the idea behind the Wheel is older, predating Christianity and indeed, the Tarot itself. However, in my collection, it is through the WWT that I have become acquainted with the Wheel, and so everything I say will be in terms of that deck and its corresponding guidebook.
The Wheel of the Year is essentially based on the cycle of four seasons that is characteristic of temperate climates. Unlike astrology, which is also a wheel of the year in a sense, albeit existing in the heavens, this system is rooted in the earth. While the stars and planets operate on the same yearly cycle, the Wheel here in question is much more immediate, much more tangible, and has a much more noticeable effect on humans than its counterpart in the sky (no matter how much stock you may put into astrology), not to mention its simplicity next to all the decans, dignities, and what-have-yous of the heavens. In terms of yearly-cycle-systems, this makes the WWT more immediately accessible than other occult decks that base their attributions on astrology.
The function of the Minor Arcana in this system is fairly straightforward, making use of the divisions inherent in traditional Tarot structure (four suits for four seasons). The suits are re-named to match the theme of the deck and reordered to follow the seasons: Arrows (Swords) for Spring; Bows (Wands) for Summer; Vessels (Cups) for Autumn; and Stones (Coins or Pentacles) for Winter. Each season begins with the Ace and King of its suit, and progresses through the remainder until the season changes. The Court cards progress separately but alongside the small cards, meaning that the time it takes to go through the four cards of the court is the same amount of time it takes to go through the ten small cards. Each season is roughly three months long, and while the guidebook doesn’t specify which cards go on which days, it’s a fairly simple matter to figure out a system that works for you. Generally speaking, a small card will encompass a little over a week, and a court card somewhere around three weeks.
For the Major Arcana, things get a little more complex. In order to understand, it helps to visualize a literal wheel with 8 spokes. These spokes represent the start or midpoint of each season, always associated with a festival (or sabbat, if you’re into that neopagan/wiccan jargon). On each spoke stands a pair of Majors. These two cards represent energies specific to the festival on which they stand, one of which is individual, and the other collective.
But that only accounts for 16 of the trumps.
Four of the remaining six trumps sit at the center or hub of the wheel, and they each represent, you guessed it, one of the seasons. The Time of Stones, for example, begins with Samhain (11/1), upon which stand the Journey (Death) and the Guardian (Devil). Halfway through the season, we reach the Winter Solstice or Yule (12/21), and here are the Great Bear (Judgement) and the Hooded Man (Hermit). The Time of Stones gives way to the Time of Arrows with the Pole Star (Star) and the Ancestor (Hierophant) at Imbolc (2/1), and the cycle starts again. However, throughout the entire season of Stones, the Wanderer, one of the four “hub cards,” is present. He (or she) represents the entire season.
The four Elemental cards (as I personally refer to the hub cards) are the Wanderer (the Fool – Winter), the Shaman (the Magician – Spring), the World Tree (the World – Summer), and the Seer (the High Priestess – Autumn). The final two cards remaining, that are neither on a festival nor representative of a season, are the Sun of Life and the Moon on Water (the Sun and Moon, respectively). Each of these is assigned to half of the wheel, divided along the line of the Equinoxes.
So, on any given day, you have at least four cards (two Majors, one court, and one small card). On the eight festival days in the year, you have an additional two Majors.
For example, at the time of this writing,** the cards are the Sun of Life, the World Tree, the Stoat (Page of Bows), and the Ten of Bows, titled “Responsibility.” These are the very last cards of the Time of Bows, and in a couple days (8/1), we will enter the Time of Vessels, and while we’ll keep the Sun of Life for a few more weeks, the World Tree will give way to the Seer, the Stoat will hand the baton off to the Heron (King of Vessels), and the Ten of Bows will become the Ace of Vessels. Additionally, on August 1st, which is Lammas festival in the Celtic Wheel of the Year, we’ll have both the Woodward (Strength) and the Blasted Oak (Tower) to examine and celebrate.
As you can see, the Wildwood and the Wheel are structured in such a way that can be used as an interactive calendar, which is a novel use for the cards to me.*** As I progress through the year, I meditate on the meanings of the cards assigned to each day. Many people consider the WWT to be a rather dark deck, and while I don’t totally disagree, the guidebook takes a very positive and constructive stance on interpretation. As I consider the cards of the day, I remember the lessons and suggestions of the guidebook, and no darkness is ever too dark to penetrate. The result is a deck that acts as a daily spiritual guide for me, and while I realize it is completely possible to do this with any Tarot deck, I doubt any would be so thorough by virtue of its design. This is the best way to get to know the WWT. It takes a year, but I think it’ll be worth it.
I’ve been using the WWT like this since about May (the Time of Arrows), and because of it, the WWT has gradually become one of my favorite decks in my collection. As of now, it is my primary deck for personal spiritual development, and it is quickly becoming one of my best reading decks (it works surprisingly well with my Sentinel Spread).
I’ll check back from time to time with updates on my thoughts about the Wheel of the Year.
*This is a simplified generalization compared to this more accurate description of my views of the Tarot structure. What I really mean by linear in this instance is the sequential numerical progression, which, when taken in segments of 10 (or 22), is a line.
**This part of the draft is outdated, written during the final week in July, but I kept it because it was on the cusp of the change in seasons, and I liked that example. If you’re curious, the current cards as of August 27th are the Sun of Life, the Seer, the Salmon (Queen of Vessels), and the Three of Vessels, titled “Joy.”
***I love discovering new and innovative ways in which the Tarot cards can be employed. When I picked up my first pack, I never would have guessed I’d be using cards as a calendar tracking spiritual development six or seven months down the line (I also never would have imagined I’d own more than one pack). The possibilities are limitless.