The Greenwood Tarot                                                                    Review by Michele Jackson

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

This deck is markedly different from the "traditional". In order to make the cards fit the Celtic/Wiccan "Wheel of the Year", several reassignments in card number order were made. The Major Arcana are in this sequence:

  • 0 Fool
  • 1 The Ancestor (Hierophant)
  • 2 The Star
  • 3 The Archer (Chariot)
  • 4 Justice
  • 5 The Lovers
  • 6 Balance (Temperance)
  • 7 The Greenman (Emperor)
  • 8 The Greenwoman (Empress)
  • 9 The Blasted Oak (Tower/Hanged Man)
  • 10 Strength
  • 11 Reflection (Related to the Hanged Man)
  • 12 The Wheel
  • 13 The Guardian (Devil)
  • 14 Death
  • 15 The Hermit
  • 16 Judgment
  • 17 The Seer (High Priestess)
  • 18 The Moon
  • 19 The Shaman (The Magician)
  • 20 The Sun
  • 21 The World Tree (The Universe)

Obviously this is a marked departure from what we are used to. The suits are Wands, Arrows (Swords), Cups and Stones (Pentacles). The Court Cards have been assigned to animals and do not depict humans at all. No explanation is given for this change in the book that accompanies the deck. The Minor Arcana have scenes, though the art attempts to replicate primitive art styles in many cases. The colors are mostly muted, though some cards do have a touch of bold or bright color. There seems to be a predominance of bluish gray in the background of many of the cards. The art style varies somewhat throughout the deck. Some cards have a linoleum block style, some are fairly realistic animal renderings and others have a New Age/Wicca/Shamanistic look, which I think is the look the artist was trying to achieve overall. Although the book states the deck is based on pre-Celtic Shamanism, I noted images from several other cultures have been incorporated into the art as well. For example, The Lovers has an Egyptian look, and Strength has a Native American look. Some may find the mixture of symbolism bewildering, but others will find this eclectic approach appealing. The Major Arcana do not have numbers on the cards themselves. The Court Cards have the name of the card on top and the name of the animal on the bottom. The Minors have the name of the card on top and a short, one or two word interpretation on the bottom. The cards are a little wider than most, measuring 3 1/8" X 4 5/8".

I will admit that I was prepared not to like this deck. My impression before examining the deck closely was that this was another attempt to make a quick buck by combining Tarot with the popular movement du jour, namely Celtic Shamanism. However after going through the book and looking at the cards, I discarded my initial impression. I think this deck is flexible enough to appeal to a fairly wide audience. Great liberties were taken in rearranging and revising the cards, so much so that it is really stretching to call this a Tarot deck. On the other hand, it is closer to a Tarot deck than to an entirely new system like Medicine Cards or Soul Cards. Although the numbers of the Major Arcana have been changed, the fact that the numbers have not been written on the cards, makes this a minor issue. You can use them in whatever order you see fit. The use of animals, vice people in the court was troubling to me, but I suspect this will appeal to many. Animal decks of various types are quite popular, and many feel an affinity for various creatures which they have adopted as totem animals. Most of the Minor Arcana interpretations have been radically changed, but some are still familiar. There is enough similarity to traditional Tarot to keep me from divorcing the deck entirely from Tarot, but there are certainly enough differences to make one question the use of the name "Tarot." If I sound ambivalent about this, it is because I am.

The book that comes with the deck does a good job of explaining the creators' point of view and what they were trying to achieve. They make no excuses for straying from the beaten path. I think their view is well articulated in this passage: "I have often been criticized by some of the more formalized pagan or craft groups for defending some of the more superficial and faddish types of spiritual or esoteric practice. My belief is simple: it doesn't matter how people start looking for greater spiritual meaning, awareness or fulfillment, only that they do. Let nature guide them on their own path." This deck is a step in that direction. It is non-threatening, and easy to use. It could be easily adapted to fit into a fairly wide range of spiritual practices. Although the book is heavily based on the Celtic legends, the art on the cards themselves could be adapted to work well with other traditions. The descriptions of the Major Arcana describe the symbolism of the card, its assignment on the Wheel of the Year, what it means in a reading, and a section of short key words, phrases and correspondences. The Section on the court cards describes the attributes of the animal assigned. The Section on the Minors provides a short description of the symbolism and an interpretation. The final section of the book has two new spreads and a visualization.

I would recommend this deck for Pagans of various traditions who don't mind a deck that is non-traditional in approach. While this deck is easy enough for beginners to work with, I would not recommend it as a first deck in a study of the Tarot due to its substantial deviations from "traditional" decks. I would recommend it for those who are looking for something very pagan/shamanistic in feel and approach. Again, calling this deck Tarot is a stretch. The differences are substantial, but as long as you purchase it with that understanding from the beginning, you will probably find this deck useful. It is sold as a deck/book set and comes in a slip sleeve case with a well for the cards in the back.

See cards from The Greenwood Tarot

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

The Greenwood Tarot
Creators: Mark Ryan and Chesca Potter
ISBN 1-85538-384-5
Published by Thorsons: An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers


The forest is both a metaphor for live and for the unknown and sometimes shadowy aspects of it. Its sanctity and mystery are as old as man, its symbolism used in every religion and philosophy from the Cistercian monks to the Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales. Within the forest mythos every human trait and condition is stored and cherished for future explorers to wander along the path, absorb study and meditate as they choose. What better basis for a Tarot pack than this?

There have been many fine books about the Tarot and there are now many different packs available for the interested amateur or the experienced professional reader. The aim of this book is not to go over the same ideological and mythical areas that have been extensively covered elsewhere, but to add a few personal reflections on the nature of esoteric experience and the search for meaning.

This page is Copyright 1997 by Michele Jackson