By Mark Ryan and John Matthews (illustrated by Will Worthington)
The Wildwood is a magical forest that is home to creatures as old as time. Like life itself, the forest is a fantastical place filled with beauty and grace, but also riddled with dangers and hardship. It is inspired by the natural landscapes in Britain and incorporates pre-Christian concepts along with British folklore to tell the tale of human triumph as well as our trails and tribulations.
The twenty-two cards of the major arcana are placed within different sections of the wheel of the year, an ancient concept of time that is still used in pagan rituals today. The wheel is sectioned off into seasons and the four elements are mapped over them. This tarot deck corresponds the element of Air to the season of spring, Fire to summer, Water to autumn and Earth to winter. Therefore, instead of the more common approach of intersecting the masculine and feminine suits, it places both masculine suits before the feminine ones.
After several weeks of using and studying this deck, I have found that its strong nature theme is a double-edge sword. One the one hand, the beautiful scenes of nature is what attracted me to this deck in the first place. On the other hand, it’s focus on nature makes some of the cards a bit unrelatable to a city dweller like me. This is, however, only a minor issue and one without a lasting effect because I was able to apply my own spirituality into the cards’ interpretation once I became more familiar with the deck.
My larger issue contained within its nature theme is the creators’ judgement on the modern lifestyle. It repeatedly condemns modern humans for our reckless destruction of nature. While I don’t disagree with that the authors are saying, judgement shouldn’t be incorporated into the theme of the deck. The tarot itself should not be a source of judgement. As with the previous point, however, this doesn’t detract much from the deck because all the judgement are in the writings of the handbook accompanying the deck and does not carry over into the actual images of the card.
My last area of criticism is, admittedly, a personal source of peculiarity rather than a genuine fault of the cards. This deck uses non-traditional symbols for the four suits, with bows used in place of wands. While I generally really enjoy non-standard suit symbols, the bows seems a bit forced to me. Much of the images in this suit shows unfinished bow staves, which looks just like the traditional staves used to represent wands.
Again, this does not act as a source of discontent. The cards are still very beautiful as well as rich in imagery. Overall, I really enjoy using this deck. The Wildwood is a great allegory to life and shows deep reverence for the spiritual journey. For me, that makes it a deck for meditation.
I would not, however, recommend this deck for beginners . This is because I am an avid follower of the Rider Waite Smith interpretation system and this deck does not fully adhere to this system. While the cards are still very easy to interpret, especially because each minor arcana card has a name that sums up its meaning, I think it is harder to learn the tarot well when initial learning is done with a non RWS adherent deck.
Lastly, I would like to end this review with a short tribute to my favourite card of the deck – The Woodward. He replaces the card that is traditionally called Strength in the major arcana. I find it really interesting that a man is used to replace the female lion tamer. While every deck brings something new to the tarot and gives each card a new image, I don’t recall any other decks that have switched the gender of the character depicted in Strength. Almost always, whenever there is a gender switch, it is a switch from male to female so as to give the feminine a stronger representation. I think this switch is a pleasant reminder that, just as traditionally masculine qualities can be assigned to women, so too can traditionally feminine qualities to be assigned to men.
I also like what this man represents. The description for this card explains that his body language is saying, “I am not a victim. Treat me with respect. Do not mistake my passivity for weakness.”
While most Strength cards speak of compassion, humility and kindness, the Woodward represents another aspect of this card. Instead of progress through harmony and respect, it is about firmly standing one’s ground. Rather than advocating the idea of advancing without harm to others, it’s about not letting others advance in ways that harm ourselves.