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Review of the Tarot of the Secret Forest

Enter a dark and mysterious world filled with hidden wonders. This double-sided deck promises a unique experience for those willing to let go of preconceived expectations. The rich, full color images on one side show one side of the Secret Forest and the stark black and white images reveal another, surprising, side. While not a traditional Tarot, the Tarot of the Secret Forest is an extraordinary Tarot and yields results that ordinary decks cannot.

In-Depth Review:

Have you ever walked into a forest or woods, far enough in that there is no visible path, certainly no road, no other people, and barely any sunlight? At first, all you see is the forest as a whole. You feel surrounded. The lack of boundaries, of direction, of knowing where to go can be, for some people, very disconcerting and even frightening. But if you stop, settle down, and really look, then you can see amazing things. Secrets and treasures and wonders that aren’t visible at a casual glance. That’s what using the Tarot of the Secret Forest feels like to me.

The artist, Lucia, writes about a type of Japanese wisdom that says that insects are born from the decomposition of the vegetation that ferments in the earth. Each insect lives when it should, a perfect alchemy of nature, its very being, even its sounds being in perfect harmony with their environment. She writes:

"My garden-forest isn’t cultivated, it’s not well-tended. I don’t have the courage to cut that tangle of brambles, I don’t want to change anything. There’s a special charm in the rebellious and extravagant vegetation…. I therefore often stare at that profound and twisted green pit that surrounds my house and I carve out single images, forms that can change with every breath of wind and animal."

This Japanese wisdom (which I am not sure I understand) and Lucia’s words remind me of a poem by Wordsworth, The Tables Turned. Here are a few lines:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things - -
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art,
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

When I first read this poem, decades ago, the "We murder to dissect" stuck with me. Ironic, really, as I am the very type who revels in dissection, analyzing, and looking for systems and patterns. Thereby I find my truth. But that line has reminded me over the years that there are other kinds of truth and other ways of finding that truth. It is these ways and these truths that I believe Lucia is talking about. It is these truths and these ways that this deck is meant for.

And so, how ironic is it that I’m to "review" this deck, to murder to dissect? Ironic or not, let’s see what we can say about the Tarot of the Secret Forest.

As I review a project, I try to understand the artist’s goal and then discuss to what extent he or she achieved that goal. The goal, I think we’ve made clear, is to create an experience based on a natural world that has been left to its own devices and not controlled or altered to suit the needs of humans. Within that space, we (the Tarot reader) can experience a different way of looking at the world, our lives in general, and the topic of the reading.

Lucia’s approach to achieving this goal was to create a double-sided deck. One side of the deck is all muted, textured, rich paintings, which others have remarked (and I agree) have a feel of Arthur Rackham or Brian Froud. The other side of the cards is black and white, like pen and ink or charcoal sketches. The two sides of each card show the same image but, as you can imagine, they are vastly different.

These two sides can be seen in different ways. First, the color side might be considered the scene as a whole while the black and white side can be the image that Lucia "carved out." Another way is to read the colored side as representing emotions and the black and white side as intellect. One could also think of one side as "light" and the other as "shadow," although which is which would depend on the individual user, as neither side as a whole are entirely light or dark.

In addition to being read differently, this double-sided deck can be used differently. You can keep all the cards oriented so that all the color cards are the "front." Shuffle and lay them out as usual. After interpreting the spread, turn all the cards over and interpret the reading using the black and white images. Another way to use them is to mix them up so that some cards have the color image facing up and the black and white image facing down. Lay the cards as usual and interpret them as they fall.

These cards are meant to be interpreted intuitively, based on the thoughts and feelings experienced when looking at them. Although the deck is structured traditionally, with the Major Arcana and four suits, you really must leave behind all your expectations. If you are used to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, you’re not likely to recognize any compositions or similarity in assigned meaning, save for the Major Arcana.

In addition to using this deck for readings, they are ideal for meditation. In the Little White Booklet, Riccardo provides a useful paragraph of instruction for entering a card in a meditative state.

How well does this deck achieve its goal? Very well, indeed. By creating a different type of image (two-sided), employing rich color and texture and stark black and white, and using an untended forest as the setting, Lucia does make a world that can only be entered by letting go of structure, logic, and traditional symbols.

How is this deck as a reading deck? Now that is a very individual thing even for the most mainstream of decks. For this one, it will vary from person to person. For me, it has been an abject failure even though I’ve tried every few months for the past year. Sadly, despite my best efforts, I am still one who "murders to dissect" and cannot seem to become one with the Secret Forest. It is, I fear, my loss and I envy those of you who can enter it and partake of the wonders that I know are there.

Deck Attributes
Name of deck: Tarot of the Secret Forest
Reviewer’s Byline: Barbara Moore
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN: 9789738707631
Creator’s names: ): Lucia Mattioli and Peitro Alligo
Artist’s name:): Lucia Mattioli
Name of accompanying booklet: Tarot of the Secret Forest
Number of pages of booklet: 63 (14 in English)
Author of booklet: Riccardo Minetti
Brief biography of author: Riccardo is an editor at Lo Scarabeo and creator of several decks including The Etruscan Tarot, the Gothic Tarot of Vampires, and the Fey Tarot.
Available in a boxed kit?: No
Magical Uses: Meditation.
Reading Uses: General
Artistic Style: Surreal
Theme: Dark Forest
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other: Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: In structure, yes.
Does it have extra cards? If yes, what are they?: No.
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits: No
Does it have alternate names for the Court Cards?: No
Why was deck created?: To explore the idea of a double-sided deck, having each side of the card represent a different experience of the same idea.
Book suggestions for Tarot beginners and this deck: 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card
Alternative decks you might like:
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Tarot of the Sweet Twilight
The Secret Tarot
Tarot of the Mermaids
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