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The Robin Wood TarotóA Review
This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on April 30, 2008
Summary: A delightful delicacy in lively, stand-out color that modernizes the Rider-Waite-Smith deck in style while keeping most of the symbolism (including the medieval context) and making the charactersí personalities really apparent. This moves the characters from the gaudy but primitive (in artistic terms) style of Smith to a passionate and clearly identifiable focus. As a result of this added intensity, this deck makes learning the standard Tarot far easier than the RWS and allows for deeper insights. The blandness is gone! The positive focus and real knowledge of the artist makes this ideal for the tens of thousands of Neopagans, as well as medieval reconstructionists and anyone learning the Tarot. This has certainly helped to make The Robin Wood Tarot one of the most popular decks in the world.
Name of deck: The Robin Wood Tarot
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
Creator and Artist: Robin Wood
Brief biography of artist: Robin Wood's interest in art was evident from an early age-she literally teethed on Prismacolor pencils. A prolific artist, she has illustrated many book and magazine covers. She lives in the Midwest with her husband, Michael Short. On her website, www.robinwood.com, youíll find lessons on using 2-D and 3-D graphic software, items for the Second Life online virtual reality environment, and more.
Name of accompanying booklet: "The Robin Wood Tarot"
Number of pages of booklet: 56
Authors of booklet: Robin Wood and Michael Short
Magical Uses: A good deck to accompany any Paganóespecially Celtic-orientedómagic. Also good for meditation and guidance in astral projection.
Reading Uses: Perfect for learning to read the cards, all general purpose readings, romance, anything positive and not too "heavy" (the characters are too happy for that).
Ethnic Focus: Medieval Celtic, with one anachronism (7 of Pentacles appears very modern) and a few Northern European costumes.
Artistic Style: Modern realistic
Original Medium: Colored Pencil (?)
Theme: Follows RWS standard romanticized medieval imagery
Does it have extra cards? Yes. It has two extra cards. One gives a brief explanation of a 5-card spread, the other gives a brief explanation of a 15-card spread)
Notes on the Major Arcana: Although the Major Arcana follows the RWS standard, there are some subtle differences. The Fool looks straight ahead rather than up. This gives me less of the feeling that the Fool has his head in the clouds. Still, he is about to walk over a cliff. The Magician wears the headdress of a stag, showing this decks Pagan elements. The Empress is shown at a spinning wheel. The Emperor is far less grim than the RWS version. The two figures at the foot of the Hierophant are tonsured boys rather than men. The Lovers stand beautifully naked and proud. The rider in the Chariot plays a harp. It is the Wheel of Fortune, however, that seems to vary the most from the RWS model. It shows a a wheel with eight spokes. Within the spaces between the spokes are drawings of the same woman, each showing a different quality from extreme sadness at six oíclock to ecstatic bliss at 12:00. At the circumference of the wheel a ball is moving, as if this were a roulette wheel of emotional possibilities. Truly a unique interpretation of this card. Death walks rather than ride a horse, and his (?) face is hidden in deep crimson robes. Temperance appears to be a male figure juggling spheres rather than a female pouring liquid between two chalices. The Devil shows two naked figures striving to break free of their chains, but doesnít include Mr. Scratch. The figure in the Star pours water from bowls rather than pitchers. The image on Judgement also varies from the RWS, but it clearly shows the same meaning in a far more uplifting way. Rather than corpses being called by an angel to rise from the dead, It shows a proud, strong, naked woman rising from a flaming cauldron, with the image of a bright, golden phoenix behind her. Finally, the World eliminates the heads of the four creatures from Ezekiel (and Golden Dawn ritual), replacing them with images of the elements they represent. The focus of the image is the central figure who is amazingly and exuberantly dancing.
Notes on the Minor Arcana: The Minor Arcana generally follows the RWS standard with some notable changes. The faces of the characters have far more emotion than just about any deck around. There is also far more detail on each card of the deck rather than the large areas of flat colors used by Smith. The eight of Pentacles features a young boy carving pentacles and the seven has a person who looks more like he belongs at a modern renaissance fairóa fun but spurious anachronistic reproduction rather than the real thing. The figures on the court cards of Swords appear to be Northern European. I found this curious as it really doesnít appear to be carried through the rest of the suit or anywhere else in the deck. However, the colors of the court cards in all the suits clearly show the elemental symbolism of the suits, so perhaps that had something to do with her choice. My only disagreement with the design of the cards is that the names of the court cards really donít stand out and are difficult to notice or read on some of the cards. I would recommend that they have a white drop shadow added to future printings.
Review: I still remember the first time I saw the original "Star Wars" movie. The good guys win against impossible odds. The evil empire was defeated. And I felt happy and great.
Using The Robin Wood Tarot didnít help me overcome an evil empire, but it did have a similar result: I felt really good about just using this deck. Some Tarot decks are very neutral. But look at the Sun card. Thatís one happy baby! And when someone else smiles it encourages you to smile. Using this deck is simply a pleasurable experience.
If you have been using the Waite deck, or one that follows that so-called "standard," this deck is a pleasurable surprise. It follows the standard, but so many cards have slight but subtle differences that youíll wisely smile. "This is good," youíll think. Iíve mentioned some of the differences above. But look at the Ace of Wands. Hidden in the wand is a strand of DNA. The tip of the wand (as all of the Wands) has a crystal attached, bringing the imagery into a modern frame. And of course, the wands are a masculine symbol, so are the two sunflowers on the card (referencing the Sun card?) that flank the central wand a hint of that symbolism? Thatís clever. It makes me smile.
And there are so many of these things (in computer programs theyíd be called "Easter Eggs") that make me smile. So on this basis alone I would encourage anyone to get this deck just for the joy of discovery. Luckily, these Easter Eggs arenít merely changes for fun. Each adds to the meaning of the card and adds depth to interpretation both in readings and for meditation.
Earlier I described the change of the image on the Judgement card. But there is an aspect to this change that I didnít mention. The RWS version is distinctly Christian in nature. It shows the concept of the angel sounding the trumpet that will lead believers to resurrection. The image on the Wood deck presents the same conceptórebirthówithout the Christian overlay. Combine that with horned headdress on the Magician and thereís no doubt about itóthis is a Pagan deck. But unlike some decks (and some people!) it doesnít try to stuff Paganism at you from every corner and cranny. It simply is there in all its joyousness. That means although the Christianity isnít dripping through this deck, itís not going to offend any Christian or non-Pagan who comes to you for a reading. In a very real sense, The Robin Wood Tarot is spiritual without being overtly linked to any one religion. And thatís just remarkable.
Iíve already mentioned a bit about the art, and I want to expand upon it here. In most of the Tarot decks Iíve used the faces of people have fewer details and personality than the funny pages in the Sunday paper. For the Tarot, thatís not necessarily a bad thing. A certain blandness makes the characters blank pages you can use as a type of scrying tool, allowing you to bring more unconscious material to the conscious and allowing you to expand on the meaning of a card. Here, the characters and personalities are well wrought. Not only is the art some of the finest youíll find on any Tarot deck, but the characters literally pop out at you. You can feel their happiness, sadness, fear, and hope, grumpiness and curiosity, awe and exuberance, fury and joy.
Even when you canít see the face, you can experience the passion. Look at the 9 of Swords. The RWS deck shows a figure (man or woman?) in bed, burying his/her face in his/her hands while crying. Waite calls this a card that means "utter desolation." In the Wood deck, the figure grips the bed sheets with one hand, obviously showing rage. Therefore, this card moves the meaning beyond mere "desolation" and depression. It shows the next stage, anger and rage, that will move eventually to action and eventual victory. It marks not hopelessness, but the beginning of the end. Itís still not an indication of things being positive now, but shows that itís the end of desolation and the start of action. Itís a card that now can provide hope. And that makes me feel good.
And speaking of the art, you should be aware that on a few of the cards there is nudity. So if you donít want to see even illustrations of private parts, this deck may not be for you. Also, because this is a deck with a medieval, Celtic feel, you wonít find PC people of color and non-European ethnicities. Thatís certainly understandable. Although the failure to include people who are not perfectly Barbie/Ken beautiful may offend some, Tarot decks are symbolic and archetypal, so it doesnít really bother me. Most decks arenít that PC, either.
I have seen many people use this as their primary deck for giving readings. It is good for Tarot readers of all levelsóbeginner, intermediate, and advanced. Although it definitely has a Pagan flavor, itís not going to be offensive to people of any spiritual path who are willing to consult the Tarot. While the deck seems to be far more for readings than for meditation or magic, it could certainly enhance any Pagan ritual and could be used at Pagan fairs, medieval reconstructionist events, etc. The Robin Wood Tarot is definitely not the RWS deck but itís not so far from it that it wonít find a home with someone who is used to that deckís symbolism. If anything, itís an advancement on the RWS, taking it an evolutionary step forward, bringing in concepts that ring true for people of the early 21st century rather than the mindset of a century ago.
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