The Robin Wood Tarot - Review by Lee A. Bursten

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

rw21.jpg (21594 bytes)I had always avoided this deck because I had read that it was Pagan oriented, and I know nothing about Paganism. However, I have also read that non-Pagans can use it without even being aware of the Pagan elements, and having bought and looked through the deck, I can indeed attest that that is the case, as I can’t even find any Pagan elements, except that the deer headdress on the Magician (pictured on the box) strikes me as sort of Pagan-looking.

To me this deck is an extremely well-illustrated, well-colored version of the Waite-Smith. Titles of Majors, suit names and Court cards are all unchanged. The artist seems to have made a real effort to have the pictures illustrate the traditional meanings, and I think she has been extraordinarily successful. For example, the figure on the 2 of Pentacles balances on a tightrope while juggling the pentacles; the figure on the 7 of Swords simply oozes sneakiness and is obviously up to no good; the miser on the 4 of Pentacles is enclosed by three stone walls. For this reason this would be a great deck for a beginner.

All the action seems to take place in the pseudo-Medieval world of the Waite-Smith, but in the Majors the artist has chosen to simplify the images and do away with much of Waite’s esoteric symbolism. For example, the Wheel of Fortune becomes a roulette wheel, with nine pictures of the same woman placed around the wheel, in different emotional states. In the Bottom of the Deck Survey someone likens this card to a 1965 Barbie ad, and I must say there is some truth to that, although frankly I was never too fond of the imagery on the Waite-Smith card either. The High Priestess is simply a woman standing outdoors with a crystal ball in one hand and a book in the other, with two thin trees and the moon in the background.

In some of the Majors there are some interesting additions. The angel in Temperance, rather than pouring water from one vessel to another, is juggling three metal spheres, two silver and one gold. This is the kind of imaginative change that I like to see in a Tarot deck, where the original idea is conveyed in a new way. And in the Hierophant, the two acolytes have become two little boys, one of whom seems to be stifling a mischievous smile.

The Devil has completely original imagery. In a long tunnel, a naked man and woman try to drag a chest full of jewels in opposite directions. The chest is connected by chains to the sides of the tunnel. This is a very interesting picture that conveys an almost existential feeling. The man’s hand reaches out toward the tiny landscape visible beyond the door of the tunnel in a very affecting manner.

Judgement also has new imagery: A naked woman rises up out of a cauldron full of flame. A Phoenix rises behind her.

There is no more nudity in this deck than there is in the Waite-Smith deck, that being in four cards: the Lovers, the Devil, the Star, and Judgement. However, it makes somewhat more of an impact in this deck due to Wood’s greater attention to detail.

One of my favorite cards in this deck is the World card. The dancer practically jumps right out of the card at the viewer. This card illustrates the vividness and dynamism evident in many of the cards.

The Minors are more traditional, but also more vivid. There are some interesting additions here too, such as the birds flying by the tightrope walker on the 2 of Pentacles. These birds are equipped with sails! I also like the 5 of Wands, where the men are pictured as ballet dancers, and their battle seems choreographed, thus leading to the possible meaning of working together besides the more traditional meaning of struggle. And on the Ace of Wands, inside the wand is what looks like a DNA strand, symbolizing life in its most basic element.

The Court cards are particularly successful in illustrating their traditional qualities. Each Page bears on her belt an emblem illustrative of her suit; the Page of Swords has a telescope, the Page of Pentacles a book, the Page of Cups a painter’s palette, and the Page of Wands a string of firecrackers.

I worked with this deck exclusively for two weeks and liked it a lot. It’s a fun deck to work with. However, I began to tire a little bit of the earnest friendliness of many of the faces. I think it’s a good thing for one to feel that a deck is approachable, but it’s a little disconcerting to see the High Priestess giving one a welcoming smile. Also, there is indeed a certain Ken-and-Barbie feeling to most of the figures, which starts to get a little old after a while.

I suppose a certain loss of mystery is necessary if one wants to make a simpler and more direct deck like this one, but I started to miss the mystery. In a deck like the Hudes Tarot, for example, the meanings are not as clearly illustrated, but that sometimes gives one more leeway to let one’s intuition come up with different possible meanings for a specific card.

I do still like the deck and think it would be a great deck for beginners. It reminds me a little of the Hanson-Roberts deck, which is another well-illustrated, well-colored Waite-Smith derivative, but the Wood deck avoids the Hanson-Roberts’s cloying cuteness.

There is now a book available for this deck written by Robin Wood, called "The Robin Wood Tarot: The Book," which I have not seen, which is available from Robin Wood at her web site or from There is another book from Llewellyn called "Tarot Plain and Simple" which uses this deck for illustrations but doesn’t discuss the specific imagery. It’s an excellent compilation of card meanings, but one should take some of the reversed meanings with a grain (not to say a pound) of salt, as they are ridiculously negative and predictive.

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

The Robin Wood Tarot
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications
P.O. Box 64383
St. Paul, MN 55164-0383
ISBN: 0-87542-894-0

Copyright 1998  Lee A. Bursten

Page Copyright 2000 Diane Wilkes