A Review of the Wild Unknown Tarot

A friend recently told me, “You only buy decks you like, so all the reviews on your blog are adulatory.” That’s a fair point, and at some point in the indeterminate future I may try to add in reviews of decks that I don’t already expect to adore. However, today is not that day. My review of the Wild Unknown Tarot is going to be another game of Jack-sings-the-praises.

If you’re in the Tarot world and you don’t know about this deck, you’ve been living under an even larger rock than I. The Wild Unknown made a big splash, and is one of those rare decks that just about everyone (myself included) seems to love. The artwork in the deck is all done in black-and-white line drawings, with occasional accents of rainbow color. Human figures are completely absent, and the deck features either animals, landscapes, or pips.

Wild Unknown Major Arcana
The Tower, the Hanged Man, the Wheel of Fortune, the Hermit, the Hierophant, and the Magician. I adore that Hanged Man.

There’s something beautifully stark about this deck. I’m always a fan of black-and-white decks, and the sketchy hand-drawn style of the art is really beautiful. Plus, just look at that Hanged Man. Gorgeous.

I think the general idea behind this deck is to capture the archetypal meanings of the Tarot cards using images from nature (the “wild unknown”) rather than human life. In that, the Major Arcana definitely succeed, although personally I think the Minor Arcana fall a bit short. Nevertheless, all of the cards are breathtakingly beautiful, to the point that I found myself Googling “Wild Unknown Tarot poster print” after looking through the deck and taking pictures for the review.

Wild Unknown Pentacles
A sampling of Pentacles: Ten, Seven, Five, Three, Two.

I don’t think I was prepared for just how pippy this deck is. It’s not a bad thing–I love decks with pips in the Minor Arcana–but everything I had seen and heard about the deck marketed it as an animal-based Tarot. I was quite surprised when I opened it up and found a number of sparsely illustrated cards like the Ten and Seven of Pentacles above. Where animal symbolism is incorporated, as with the Eight of Swords below, it’s done beautifully, and to be honest, I would love to have seen a bit more of it.

Wild Unknown Swords
Swords: Nine, Eight, Three, Two.

The play with light and shadow in this deck is just spectacular. I’ll be honest: This is the exact reason that I love black-and-white decks as much as I do. The nature of the medium forces (or perhaps “encourages” is a gentler word) artists to use light in new and creative ways. This deck is a prime example of that. Just look at the Eight of Cups:

Wild Unknown Cups
Cups: Nine, Eight, Six, Four, Ace. I’m really intrigued by the fish-scale pattern on the Ace.

Some cards are more colorful than others, and I think that can say really interesting things in a reading. I’ve never been one to read much with color symbolism, but it’s such a readily available part of this deck that I think a reader would be foolish not to take advantage of it.

Wild Unknown Wands
Wands: Eight, Six, Five, Two, Ace.

The Court Cards have been renamed. Kings to Fathers, Queens to Mothers, Knights to Sons, and Pages to Daughters. Personally, I find this shift-over a little bit silly, especially because the concept of this kind of family structure is a distinctly human (i.e. non-wild) one. However, that’s mostly just my crabby traditionalism disapproving of any change to established Tarot convention. Truth be told, the change from the Court structure is largely inoffensive, and some people may even find it preferable (as, depending on your views on the modern family, “Father” and “Mother” may not imply that the former has hierarchical authority over the latter the way that “King” and “Queen” would).

Wild Unknown Court Cards
Mother of Wands, Father of Swords, Daughter of Cups, Son of Pentacles.

All in all, this deck just has such a strong personality behind it. I feel like it’s the Walden of Tarot decks. This is a simplified version of Tarot, the version that retreated to a cabin by a lake in the woods and went on nature walks and grew its own beans. There’s something so rugged about this deck–a quiet and, well, wild beauty that makes it a welcome addition to my Tarot collection.

5 thoughts on “A Review of the Wild Unknown Tarot

  1. This deck goes on and off my wish list. maybe because it made a big splash? I tend to favour the underdog. Thanks for making an effort to use and examine this deck. Is that unwarranted adulation? No, you made an effort to use it and liked it so much you wanted to talk about it.

    Here’s my take on reviews: I refuse to spend time and effort reviewing something I don’t like. I don’t want to be the Review Guru, I want to work with interesting things and do interesting things with interesting decks. It’s a VERY rare deck that I bother reviewing. I prefer to use them frequently and let the posts speak for the deck.

    I don’t care for 10-minute reviews of card stock and superficial blather about the box and the book or LWB. That’s not a review, it’s a barely-there overview of opening a purchased item.

    Many people buy decks and make no effort to use them before ranting about how awful it is. It’s laughable–a deck I am enjoying currently was slammed around, but I saw no effort to understand. One guy went blathering on about how if you shuffled it you’d never figure out what the cards were. Hmmm…Roman numerals on the Majors, numeric convention on the pips, and the Courts were people, one of them on a horse or other mount. Gee, could that be the Knight?


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoy your reviews and have even taken them into consideration when deciding to get some of my own decks. I have to be honest, though, I do not get the appeal of this one. The artwork looks pretty, I’ll admit, and I’m certainly not against nature-themed tarots. But everyone absolutely raves about this deck, and I just don’t agree. Sometimes I wonder how much of it is just hype. To each his own, though, I suppose.

    Also, the notion that a Tarot is “more pure” or whatever if it avoids depicting humans and human constructs is ridiculous to me, because the Tarot IS a human construct. I mean, if you want purely nature-based divination, you should be watching bird patterns or butchering oxen for your omens.

    Your review didn’t come off like that, but so many others’ do.

    And at any rate, this Tarot fails at not depicting human constructs anyway, because I don’t think animals typically use swords and cups, and seeing the pictures of these animals with them is a little jarring to me.

    Sorry for the ramble/rant. I really don’t have anything against these cards; I just don’t find them to be particularly better than anything else, and there are many others that are better than these. I did like your Thoreau analogy, though, and if any part of this review would make me reconsider my opinions, it would be that.


  3. My mother gae me my first deck but wasnt a fan of the pics or how they felt, small like playing cards but so happy she passed down her current deck. I JUST purchased this one earlier though I’m so excited they look gorgeous


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s