The Greenwood Tarot – A Tarot Deck and Book Review

by Bella Lori Gagnon, 1999 Churchill, MB

The Greenwood Tarot
by Mark Ryan and Chesca Potter
Published by Harper Collins
ISBN 1-85538-384-5
Size: 3 3/8″ x 4 6/8″

I first saw The Fool from this deck in a book of “Fool Postcards” I bought in a used bookstore in Sarasota in March of 96. I fell in love with it and knew I really wanted to get this deck which I had never heard of. In the summer of 98 I finally found it listed at Magical Blend and promptly ordered it. Since the day it arrived in my mail box, it replaced my Voyager deck as my primary reading deck. I truly fell in love with it. The general feel of the deck to me is tribal, primitive, shamanistic, wild wood and forestry, which I believe were the creators intentions.

The artwork, by Chesca Potter was what attracted me to the deck first, I find it outstanding and full of energy. The Major Arcana and the Court/People cards are all lovely detailed drawings that look to be rendered in coloured pencil, with the softly glowing intensity of colour only this art medium can create. The 40 Minor Arcana are very different in style and tend to vary from card to card. Some look to me like they may have been produced using linoleum block printing while others remind me of a grade school art method where colour is laid down over a whole page, then black is laid over top. The image is then scratched out of the black, showing the colour from underneath. However, the artistic process is not described anywhere in the text, so one can only guess. When I first got the deck, I thought that this use of two very different art styles was it’s only flaw, wishing for the pencil crayon drawings through out the whole deck. After much use I no longer feel this way. As every card’s artwork is thoughtful and well executed, no matter it’s method, I have come to love them all. And I have also come to see the difference in style as a useful tool during readings. The backs of the cards show an image of a figure Chesca calls the Storyteller. This androgynous being wears a reindeer head dress decorated with bird feathers and green clothes of moss and woodpecker feathers. The Storytellers skin is tattooed and he or she holds a drum bearing a horse, sun and moon, symbols of the elements and intertwined serpents on it. I love the idea that the deck is the ultimate “Storyteller” just waiting to spin it’s many tales. This back has a definite top and bottom, making it known if the card is upright or reversed.

The Text
There is a small non-illustrated book that comes with the book deck set. It’s preface opens with this quote from Mark Ryan: The best advise I ever got about the Tarot was: “Read the book, meditate on the cards, then put the book away and do your own thing!” I love this statement and it is a fitting opening to reading about this unique deck. Chesca Potter has also published an illustrated book with additional text, complimenting the original book, a coloured Wheel of the Year and an animal Lovers card which shows two deer headed people. The expansion of the small original book is very welcome to me, as it expands on the symbolism picked for the cards, especially for the Minor Arcana and Court/People cards. The original book does a nice job of explaining the premise behind the deck and the matching of the cards to the Wheel of the Year. A black and white sheet of the Wheel of the Year with the card placements is included with the original book and deck set. There are also two new reading spreads at the back of the book, The Wheel and The Bow as well as a wonderful visualization called The Hermit’s Cave. I would personally buy the whole set just for the experience of this visualization.

This deck has 78 cards. 22 Major Arcana, 56 Minor Arcana arranged 10 cards in each of 4 suits and 14 Court/People cards, 4 for each suit.

The Major Arcana
Many of the Major Arcana have been renamed and the meaning subtly altered as well as reordered to cycle on the Wheel of the Year.
The Major Arcana are rearranged like this:
0 The Fool – 0 The Fool
1 The Ancestor – 5 The Hierophant
2 The Pole Star – 17 The Star
3 The Archer 7 – The Chariot
4 Justice – 8/11 Justice
5 The Lovers – 6 The Lovers
6 Balance 14 Temperance
7 Greenman – 5 The Emperor
8 Greenwoman – 3 The Empress
9 The Blasted Oak – 12/16 The Hanged Man/The Tower
10 Strength – 8/11 Strength
11 Reflection 12 The Hanged Man
12 The Wheel – 10 The Wheel of Fortune
14 Death – 13 Death
15 The Hermit – 9 The Hermit
16 Judgement – 20 Judgement
17 The Seer – 2 The High Priestess
18 The Moon – 18 The Moon
19 The Shaman – 1 The Magician
20 The Sun 19 The Sun
21 The World – Tree 21 The World

Non of the Major Arcana have numbers printed on the cards, which allows one to still use numerological associations in the regular manner they are used to. I like to figure out a person’s Tarot Constellation from Mary K. Greer’s method for every person I read for and I have no trouble applying the standard numbering system to this deck so I can do that. I use the decks own order when I am doing mediation work on the Wheel of the Year system that comes with it.

The Suits
The suits are called Wands, Cups, Arrows and Stones.

The “Court/People” Cards
The Court/People cards are called Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings, but instead of people, they each highlight an animal sacred to the Greenwood mythos. Animals were used instead of people because people were rarely depicted in pre-historic art. Pages are considered “Blessings”, Knights are “Wanderers”, Queens are “Holders” and Kings are “Empowerers. A new way of looking at these cards and one I found both refreshing and enjoyable.

The Court Cards are arranged as follows:


King of Wands – Adder
Queens of Wands – Hare
Knight of Wands – Fox
Page of Wands – Stoat


King of Arrows – Lynx
Queen of Arrows – White Hart
Knight of Arrows – Hawk
Page of Arrows – Woodpecker


King of Cups – Reindeer
Queen of Cups – Heron
Knight of Cups – Salmon
Page of Cups – Kingfisher


King of Earth – Horse
Queen of Earth – Bear
Knight of Earth – Wolf
Page of Earth – Wren

The Minor Arcana Pips
The Pips are in the different artistic style and run Ace through 10 as in most Tarot decks. Each card also has a key word on it describing the basic meaning of that card’s symbolism. Some of the key words seem very traditional to standard Tarot meanings I have learned and some are a departure, like the 7 of Cups, called Mourning. However, I don’t find this much different than any other deck that has printed the creators keywords on the cards.

While some would say this deck is more suited to meditation and shamanic journeying (which the creators intended as it major focus), I find this deck to read wonderfully. If a reader wants to use Golden Dawn or any other method of astrological and numerological associations, they will have to know them by heart, because none of these symbols are present in the deck. I do feel they could be easily applied if one wished. For myself, I am trying to learn the Wheel of the Year associations as I find this system more appealing. This is a matter of personal choice for each reader. The animal depiction’s on the “Court/People” cards have really added a new dimension for me, and can for anyone who wants to take the time to study the ones represented. A readers traditional way of handling these cards can still be used. Many die hard traditionalists will probably say this is not a deck for beginners, I disagree. I see no difference whether a novice Tarotist learn this system first and then some of the more traditional “Waite/Golden Dawn based methods or vice versa. I believe a beginner who found this deck appealing would do well with its rich artwork and symbolism, the addition of the animals and the key worded pips.

Additional Comments
Sadly, this deck is out of print. Chesca Potter has her own web site which has an on-line manual for the deck based on her illustrated guide and where you can order the illustrated guide, non gender Lovers card and the coloured Wheel of the Year diagram. Images from this deck are also available as art cards.

© copy right 2011 by Bella Lori Gagnon
all rights reserved

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