The Greenwood Tarot: Pre-Celtic Shamanism of the Mythic Forest
by Mark Ryan & Chesca Potter
Is there a tarot deck in history that has attained such mythic status in so short a time? How did this happen? Why? And does it live up to the hype?
Let me start by showing you some prices the Greenwood Tarot currently commands as of today, Saturday 30 August 2014, in case you are unfamiliar:
Amazon.co.uk £2,750 new - £985 used
Amazon.com $750 used
Ebay.co.uk starting bid £350 used, no box
ABE Books £4626.94 new - £815.81 used
When the Greenwood Tarot came out in 1996, I was 29 years old and a lifetime away from anything remotely related to tarot, shamanism, or pre-Celtic Britain, living as I did in the Bible Belt of Arkansas and married to the son of a fallen Baptist preacher (who years before had run off with the deacon's wife, but that's another story!) I never got the chance to get the Greenwood Tarot for its original retail cost. By the time I came to tarot, the Greenwood had already begun its climb into the dizzying heights of legend, at least in the rarified world of the tarot collector. I got my own copy earlier this year from a wonderful friend who actually knew the deck artist, Chesca Potter. This friend is a pagan priestess and not only did she sell it to me for a fraction of its current market price, she blessed and consecrated the deck to my personal use. That makes it invaluable to me and I would never dream of parting with it for anything, ever. It is priceless to me. But is it worth the kind of money it's going for now?
It is just a deck of 78 cards, with a book, packaged in a box, the same as any mass market tarot deck. Yes, I paid well beyond the original retail price of it, but some people are paying 10, 20, 40 times what I paid! And as appealing and powerful as this deck is, that's just crazy.
One reason this deck has become a legend is that it went out of print (OOP) relatively soon after its first release. From what I've heard, it didn't sell well. At Aeclectic Tarot, it received only a 3.5 star review. Even today, there aren't many reviews up on Amazon, considering how legendary it has become. So, there was no second edition. Then something happened (there are many rumours) and the deck artist became unavailable to grant permission for the deck to be reprinted. If she isn't able or willing to do that, then everyone's hands are tied. No more Greenwood Tarots, ever. Its legend and mystique has grown as its desirability increased. People became willing to pay more and more. And it continues!
But it is a lovely deck. I'm not saying it's the best deck over created. Just that it's lovely.
I feel that the artwork divides itself into two distinct styles, both of which are powerful and almost hallucinatory in quality. The first is a rather hard style, like block prints or cave etchings:
There are 40 cards in this style, and they are extremely shamanistic and lend themselves well to inducing a trance-like meditative state. These images are very powerful, as if the artist has seen and painted the pulsating energy of things.
The second style is softer, with glowing edges:
There are 38 of these cards, in which objects tend to be surrounded by a golden halo. These cards seem more like a depiction of auras than pulsations of energy. They are equally as powerful as the other style, but to me seem more soothing and gentle.
It's a powerful deck of images, but it bears little resemblance to a traditional tarot deck, and that might account for its initial lack of popularity. The majors have been renamed and are not numbered, and you might be hard-pressed to figure out what image is what major. The courts are all animals instead of people. The minors do not particularly correspond to traditional Golden Dawn meanings. But with this deck, that doesn't seem to matter. With all due respect to Mark Ryan and his book, the power of those images override all considerations. For myself, I cannot look at the deck and not be overwhelmed by them. Tarot structure goes out the window. The deck talks its own language, and it is a language of pure image and energy.
Maybe that's why this deck has become a legend. By the time people began to realise how special it is, it was out of print. It is not rarity alone that makes this deck so sought after, but the ineffable quality of the images themselves. It's a shame the cards are out of reach for so many.
All is not lost, however -- the deck is alive and available in digital form here:
Chesca Potter the online Greenwood Tarot handbook
Chesca's writings about the cards (look closely on the page for a link to a pdf of images)
The above website claims that the images and content are shared with 'Chesca's blessings'. I don't know about that, but if you are truly desperate for a set of these images, they are freely offered there for you to print for personal use. And that is very generous indeed.
If you would like a reading with this powerful deck, please click here and specify 'Greenwood Tarot' in your order.