Wildwood Tarot

The Companion Book.
 Where splashed the murmur of the forest's fountains;

With all her loveliness did she beseech,

And all the sorrow of her wildwood charms.

 Madison J Cawein

Wild Wood Tarot Review
 Wildwood Tarot by Mark Ryan & John Mathews
Illustrated by Will Worthington 
Review by Angie, Ann Enchanted
I am a fiercely hesitant shopper, and will have a lot of questions about a tarot deck before I buy one. Often the information I seek is nowhere to be found. Here I will try to answer what I would have liked to have known, and dive into the pros and cons of the deck, as well as how it handles in actual use. As a side note, please be aware that images used here are from my own copy of the deck where I have trimmed the borders off.

The cards are rather lovely to look at, first of all. The artist has a wonderful command of water scenes, and uses it often in his art here. Perhaps my favorite visual aspect of the cards is how the scenes have a sense of stepping inside, or continuing. There's a real feeling of depth and attention to background detail that invite the viewer to lean in, focus, think. Personally, I much prefer this style to decks that rely on a central foreground figure and give a basic wash of color to the background. 
Another very important visual aspect of the deck is that there are no awkwardly floating suit symbols, yet each of the minor arcana can easily be tied to it's correct suit and number. The ten of stones is featured at right, this would be pentacles/coins in another deck, and here we find no floating disks or clever placed pentacles. Instead we find the ten heavy stones of an ancient archway. As the pentacles, or stones in this case, are tied to the element of earth the Wildwood at last offers a deck where the suit of pentacles gives a real sense of solidity and structure. In a nature based religion, as most in their brand of craft tend to be, this alone gives the deck an invaluable and beautifully grounded feel that makes it an excellent meditative and divination tool.

Click to expand image
 Animal Cards
Perhaps the first daunting feature of this deck is the heavy use of animals. All of the court cards are animals, with many other animals scattered throughout the deck. Many of the Major Arcana have animals as central figures, or show a figure that is part animal (such as the Heirophant / "Ancestor", pictured at center left).
I had my doubts about an animal ensemble cast of court cards, but this is one of the many instances where the companion book really shines. The explanations of the court cards, the behavior of that animal and how that can be translated to events or people, is a system that works wonders in spreads. The use of animals quickly became a major strength of the deck and now I'm quite fond of it.

Cards Themselves
Measure 3” x 4 ¾” and I was pleasantly surprised by the cardstock. This deck was not printed on the thin flexible cardstock often found in new decks, but is a thicker sort. The back of the cards (with that gorgeous tree of life, pictured below) have a textured surface which gives off a lovely kind of grip. The card's face has a smooth lamination, and shuffles well.

The Book
The book is thick enough, 154 pages, and offers some original spreads. The Wildwood makes a lot of bold decisions, use of themes and renaming of cards, and therefore most people coming to the deck will need to rely on the book to get them going. For that reason I very much appreciate the layout of the book, which is arranged in a logical way that makes it very easy to quickly land on the page you need while doing a reading.

Wildwood Renaming
The standard tarot suit system are pentacles, wands, cups, and swords. The Wildwood has Arrows (Swords), Bows (Wands), Stones (Pentacles) and Vessels (Cups).
Additionally, all of the major arcana have been renamed, as follows. 0 The Wanderer (The Fool) 1 The Shaman (The Magician)  2 The Seer (The High Priestess)  3 The Green Woman (The Empress)  4 The Green Man (Emperor)  5 The Ancestor (The Hierophant)  6 The Forest Lovers (The Lovers)  7 The Archer (The Chariot)  8 The Stag (Strength)  9 The Hooded Man (The Hermit) 10 The Wheel (The Wheel of Fortune)  11 The Woodward (Justice) 12 The Mirror (Hanged Man) 13 The Journey (Death) 14 Balance (Temperance) 15 The Guardian (The Devil) 16 The Blasted Oak (The Tower and The Hanged Man) 17 The Pole Star (The Star) 18 The Moon On Water (The Moon) 19 The Sun of Life (The Sun) 20 The Great Bear (Judgment) 21 The World Tree (The World)

The renaming of the Major Arcana is hardly noticeable, except in the case of cards like the Hanged Man/Mirror where the meaning of the card has also changed. The effect of the suit changes is more noticable. First of all, as there are no swords to be found anywhere in this deck (don't know you miss it til it's gone). Then there's the bit of confusion when decks have both a bow and an arrow and the suits become mixed.

Card Meanings Changed
The cards most drastically changed in meaning I've pictured at left. Though they're quite gorgeous, these six cards specifically make up the worst thing about the deck for me. 

The Mirror replaces the hanged man, and the book offers an explanation as to why, saying, "as the hanged man sees life from another angle, so those who look into the mirror see things reflected as they truly are." Alright.. well what about the atonement, the suspension, the sacrifice? The book says, "we have chosen to amalgamate aspects of this into the Blasted Oak." (That would be their version of the Tower, a card to do with destruction and little to do with atonement.)

Possibly the worst offender of the bunch is the five of vessels/cups. This card traditionally signifies loss and disappointment, and in the Wildwood the card is named "Ecstasy." Those sound rather like opposite interpretations to me, and this time the book gives no explanation as to why the card is so significantly different. Moving up to the seven of vessels/cups we traditionally meet the dreams and imagination card which, in the Wildwood, is the card of "Mourning." The nine of arrows/swords should mean nightmares, instead it is "Dedication" etc etc. I'm perfectly fine with wrapping my mind around most themed decks, but when cards are changed from what is considered the standard without explanation, it tends to bug me. I can't stress enough that this only happens with a few cards, and does not overall hurt the deck once the initial confusion is processed and pushed aside. 

Wildwood vs Druidcraft Tarot
Click to view the DruidCraft
on AeclecticTarot.
It is natural to compare the two as they have similar themes and are the product of the same artist (Will Worthington). I've read reviews of the deck where the Wildwood was considered less detailed, overall inferior in artwork, to the DruidCraft. Let me dispel that right idea now.

For me, essentially the Druidcraft is colored pencils and Wildwood is watercolors. The DruidCraft (at left) uses an art style without hard lined edges, everything is shaded out in an attempt to create a smooth portrait-like feeling. The Wildwood (right) uses an entirely other style, where the black outlining is intentionally present in the art, and the color comes in to support the lines.

Also in the DruidCraft you find a lot of dense, saturated colors. Deep blue skies and rich red cloaks abound, with trees of emerald green surrounding. The Wildwood, on the other hand, uses saturated colors more sparsely. Opting instead for muted mossy greens, clouds of wisping gray, moonlit water, etc. The Wildwood is not inferior to the Druidcraft in quality or attention to detail, merely takes another approach at styling and, in my opinion, produces something overall more relaxed and contemplative.


  1. Hi there!

    Really loved this review and the pictures provided. Thanks so much! I've been wanting to purchase the deck for a while and I just haven't been able to decide either way.

    Quick question--I've read a lot of accounts of disappointment in the card stock. Over time, have you had any shredding/peeling apart at the edges?

    Also--the Five of Cups (Vessels) discrepancy is one that I've found puzzling, but being that I like to read decks as they are and not fret over things not "fitting into" the RWS foundation, I actually find it a bit refreshing! It'd be cool if there were more discrepancies in meaning that way. Thank you for reading :)

    1. Hi, thanks!
      I haven't had any trouble with wearing down, shredding, or peeling with the card stock. I've had the deck about a year and I'd think I was even more vulnerable to that sort of thing because of the trimming, but it's held just fine. The explanation is probably due to the fact that there are two distinctly different printings of this deck. When I bought mine I expected the backs to be plain green (as I had seen them), and was surprised to find the white tree. As the white-tree version seems to be good quality, I wager the plain backed version is the one prone to peeling. That is, of course, total speculation.

      About the Five of Cups/Vessels, I didn't include it in the article (because I hadn't noticed it yet) but the Wildwood has an underlying system that makes some sense of this. The suits have a kind of story, or evolution from card to card. If the Wildwood finds a RWS meaning out of balance with this evolution it completely changes it into something that flows.

  2. Thank you for the review!

    I wanted to ask if there was a code that would denote the identical edition to yours at a shop.

    I really want that specific variety. The one with the borderless images and the white tree on the back.

    When I look on Amazon, i only see the plain azure green back and the cards have a white border that I dislike.

    Thank you for the help.

  3. Thank you for this information. I've had the same deck that you do, for a couple of years. I fell in love with the visuals, but I was only just starting out and the differences in this deck from traditional decks were a real obstacle to understanding the story in the cards. I'm just starting to work with them and gaining a more intuitive understanding - this review really helped.