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Saturday, 30 August 2014

When does a deck become a legend?

The Greenwood Tarot: Pre-Celtic Shamanism of the Mythic Forest 
by Mark Ryan & Chesca Potter 
(Thorsons 1996)

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?

Absolutely not.

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:

Greenwood information

Greenwood images

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. 


  1. Sensible and ephemeral all at once, I love your take on this deck, though the images have never appealed to me. Though, if it had been at a regular price, I would almost certainly have bought it, and might have become enamoured of it... :)

    1. The first Mark Ryan deck I saw was Wildwood Tarot, and I liked it until my friend showed me her Greenwood. It was like night and day. It was like the images in the Wildwood had sprung to a new kind of life, made of energy and light. It sounds crazy but after that I just couldn't deal with the Wildwood and traded it. A few years later, I got my Greenwood. Same copy. Same friend.

    2. Isn't it wonderful when Lady Luck shines on you! :)

    3. Thanks so much for the links to the images… I will have these wonderful cards in my collection one day...

    4. You're welcome, Nion. Keep sending your intention into the universe, and your chance at the deck will come. :)

    5. I bought this deck in 1998 from Chesca herself.I was at a weekend workshop in Bath, England (where I live) 'Walkers Between the Worlds' with John Matthews, and Chesca was there with John, helping to run the workshop. We drummed and journeyed, and I got to talk to Chesca a little. A beautiful soul, she had an ability to visit ancient sites and get very clear impressions of their past. A deep inner vision linked to ancestral memory. To me, this come through in the cards.I have the cards, book and map.I also have another booklet,'The Greenwood Tarot Handbook' which Chesca had printed. It's not the same book you got with the deck in the box, it was a limited edition of 500 and mine is signed by Chesca and numbered 8 of 500. I don't use the cards for readings, just to take out and meditate on.I remember my meeting with Chesca very clearly, and of course sometimes wonder what happened when she 'disappeared'. I feel she just wanted to retreat from the world, and that she is OK wherever she is. Her soul is in these cards, and mine will never be for sale.
      David A.

  2. Replies
    1. Have you been shopping for one? It's a good deck -- not the be all and end all, but a worthy addition to any collection.

  3. Thank you for another great post, Carla, and for those awesome links. I have (and love) the Wildwood Tarot, but this energy is something altogether different. The Greenwood sings! I loved reading Chesca Potter's own words, especially on a couple of the cards I have found tricky. Just a couple of sentences made all the difference. This has totally made my weekend :-)

    1. You're welcome! I'm so glad you are enjoying them. Guess what - at some point I apparently re-bought Wildwood Tarot, because I just found it on the shelf today. How silly is that? I really must do a deck inventory soon and update my spreadsheet. I can't keep track!

    2. carmen quinones22 May 2015 at 23:42

      I own The WildWood Tarot, blessed by my woods and Spirit and it speaks to me. Today I decided to research the out of print GreenWood Tarot and - bam- another calling. I set the intention for the best and highest interest to receive this older deck. Had two online readings that were accurate and moving.

  4. the deck routinely sells in the 300.00 dollar range on Ebay and AT, sometimes at that price people don't even bite.
    The publisher told my friend Gregory they had a print run of 10,000 decks. My theory is there are boxes of them somewhere moldering away!

    1. I've heard that, too. Ten thousand ought to be enough to go around to deck collectors, huh? There surely aren't that many of us. Good to know they're out there for $300, but that is very high for most people, and more than I paid myself. Hopefully they are not mouldering! :)

    2. When I checked US Ebay on Saturday, there were none listed.

  5. I just got this deck yesterday. I work at a used bookstore, and my boss found it in the donation bin. Original box with slight wear, some light highlighting in the book, everything else is perfect. Paid $5 for it and had NO idea it's worth money. But just in looking through the cards last night, I already feel a connection to it.

  6. I have one, but can't say I'm that keen on it. I probably ought to sell it - I could certainly do with the kind of money it commands, though I suspect that not many actually sell at the price you see on Amazon.

    1. Sell it. Someone will snap it up in a skinny minute.

  7. I am a book dealer, and I came across this set today at a local thrift store in Queens, NY. It was brand new, factory sealed, gem mint for selling for $1.48. I have never seen, nor have I ever heard of this deck. Tt was mixed in with old board games and caught my eye because it was sealed. My phone scanner alerted me of the Amazon price, and I didn't believe it, but picked it up because it was so cheap. I will be selling it on Amazon, as again, I am a book dealer, but I found this page while researching it and thought that it was pretty cool. I wonder how this item, in such pristine condition, landed in a thrift store (in a very poor neighborhood, to boot)? Anyway, great article, I learned a lot!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Gregg. This item will almost certainly bring you the highest profit of 2017! :D