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Review of the Tarot of the Magical Forest

This article was written by Barbara Moore on October 17, 2008
posted under

Summary: The Tarot of the Magical Forest is a quirky and slightly bizarre version of a Rider-Waite-Smith deck. As such, it can be used easily by anyone familiar with that tradition. For beginners who learned on a more traditional RWS deck and are seeking a new deck, this would certainly be a choice, if the art resonates. As for its appropriateness for a beginnerís first deck, Iíd probably suggest something else simply because I donít think the LWB provides enough for a beginner. In tandem with a good introductory book, though, this would be very appropriate.
Name of deck: Tarot of the Magical Forest
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN: 0738714127
Creatorís name: Hsu Chi Chun
Artistís name: Leo Tang
Name of accompanying booklet: Tarot of the Magical Forest
Number of pages of book/booklet: 63 (14 in English, the rest in Italian, Spanish, French, and German)
Author of booklet: Giovanni Pelosini
Brief biography of author: Giovanni Pelosini is a Tarot artist and author.
Reading Uses: General
Artistic Style: Whimsical/Fantasy
Theme: Animals/Nature
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: yes
Does it have extra cards?: no
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: no
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits?: no
The minor arcana are traditionally named, but they also have an additional association:
Chalices feature bunnies.
Pentacles feature foxes.
Wands feature frogs.
Swords feature cats.

Review

"Once upon a time there was an enchanted forestÖ" begins the LWB ["Little White Booklet] for this deck. The text goes on to remind us of the literary tradition of tales with talking animals (or is it talking animals with tails?): Aesop, Carroll, Andersen, the brothers Grimm, for example. Anthropomorphizing animals has been done for centuries and continues to be used today as a device in books, movies, television shows, etc. Why? Probably because it works. Using animals with whom we associate certain traits is a shortcut, a use of symbolism, as almost all Tarot is. So while we may be tempted to relegate this deck to the "charming Rider Waite clone" pile, we should take a little closer look before doing so.

The Minor Arcana suits, while traditionally named, each feature one specific animal: Cups have bunnies, Pentacles have foxes, Wands have frogs, and Swords have cats. These choices really represent the suit qualities very well. Bunnies do bring forth feelings of warmth and sweetness. Foxes are thought to be clever, using their smarts to achieve what they want. Itís easy to see cats as intelligent and emotionally distant. Frogs, well, they like games (leap frog, anyone?). And, here is something I didnít know before: apparently "they [frogs] particularly enjoy the joys of sex." The Majors have a variety of animals, such as sheep, lions, bears, pigs, hedgehogs, and kangaroos. Do these associations provide more depth or a different point of view to the cards or are they merely clever? They are clever. But they do add a different feel to the cards most of us are so familiar with. They are somewhat happier, more basic. And I think thatís a good thing. These images arenít as layered and complex as in some decks. However, they do evoke an immediate response that has strength in its simplicity. I rather like that for many reasons, one being that not everyone wants to learn a new language (such as that of Kaballah or astrology) in order to read Tarot.

These cards do have an air of simplicity to them. Perhaps it is the sign of a very good artist that s/he can evoke emotional, intellectual, and spiritual responses in a simple image. For example, in the 7 of Pentacles, although we cannot see the foxís mouth, there is this feeling that he is looking at his pentacles and smiling. To me he seems very pleased with his work. In the 3 of Wands, we just see the frog from the back, but the aura about the card is one of patient yet confident waiting. The 7 of Wands makes me smile: the frog is holding a wand and facing six others coming at him. His expression is one I recognize: "oh *&%#!" I get that look sometimes when I look at the piles on my desk. The Strength card, which shows a lamb and a lion nuzzling each other, has to be, hands down, the sweetest card Iíve ever seen. The gentleness is so powerfulÖand I think that is the point here.

Most of the cards are very faithful to the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition, including the composition. The 4 of Cups, for example, shows a bunny under a tree with three cups in the foreground and one being offered by a cloud with a hand (like in the Rider Waite version). But because of the expression on the bunny, this card has an entirely different meaning for me. It is not one of obstinate apathy or ennui. This bunny has her eyes closed and she seems very much at peace. To me, she is using creative visualization to manifest what she wantsómaybe more cups to add to her collection or maybe one that is slightly different than the ones already existing.

And here is a final reason to get your hands on this deck. For all of you who (like me) are often creeped out by the baby on the horse in The Sun card, youíll be happy with the The Sun in the Tarot of the Magical Forest. It shows a baby kangaroo in his motherís pouch in a field of sunflowers under a huge sun happily waving a little red flag. Nothing creepy about it, just innocent, blissful joy.

As for the little booklet, there are some interesting notes and observations about the images. Some, though, just donít work for me. Perhaps it is a translation issue. If you get the deck, read through it and take what works, but Iíd focus on the cards themselves. The Sacred Tree spread included, however, is quite good. Iíve used it several times and have been pleased with the results.

All in all, this quirky, whimsical, odd little deck surprises me every time I use it. It is refreshing to look at images that are so immediately evocative after working with some more complex, heavily layered decks. It has found a place in my "often used decks" pile.

As a kind of side note, I thought Iíd better address the issue of suitability for children. Sometimes people do ask about whether a deck is appropriate for children. This deck does not have nudity or sex, as such. They are animals, so if they arenít wearing clothes, itís not the same as naked people, right? As far as scary cards, the Death card, the Devil, the Tower, 10 of Swords, and the 3 of Swords are a bit unsettling, as youíd expect. Itís really not easy to make those cards pretty and pleasant, so if that is an issue, you may not want to give this (or any) deck to a child.

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