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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.