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The Robin Wood Tarot


✧ISBN: 0-87542-894-0 ✧Publisher and Year: Llewellyn Publications, 1991 ✧Author: Robin Wood ✧Available at: Amazon.com

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The Robin Wood Tarot

By Jewel


Originally published by Llewellyn Publications in 1991, The Robin Wood Tarot is a Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) based deck that became one of the primary alternatives to the RWS for those of us of that could not connect to the RWS imagery and/or had an interest in a deck with a Pagan slant in the 1990’s.  Reviewing this deck is nostalgic.  I remember so vividly deciding to learn Tarot and visiting Barnes & Noble.  Looking at the books and decks, knowing I should start with the RWS because that was the deck featured in the most Tarot books of the time.  As I grabbed my RWS, The Robin Wood Magician image on its box caught my eye and haunted me until I finally purchased that deck some three months later, after getting nowhere with the RWS.  This is the deck I learned Tarot with, and the true start of my Tarot journey in 1993.  To this day I have that deck and it is one I will never part with.  The Robin Wood Tarot is a deck that has stood the test of time and is still in print today.


The deck is drawn in inks and colored with Prismacolor colored pencils.  The deck was born out of Robin’s hunger to continue her Tarot and occult learning, when she was overseas on an Army base with her then husband in 1980-1982, with no access to resources to do so. Many of you reading this will wonder how she could not have access to resources or other decks, but this was a time before the internet and the plethora of free online resources and variety of Tarot decks we enjoy today.  There were no online Tarot communities, and not many choices of Tarot decks when or if you could find them.  It was a simpler time.  To continue her studies, she turned to her RWS deck and began studying and meditating with each card.  As she did, the patterns and symbols became more pronounced.  She noticed that much of the symbolism was Judeo-Christian, and she was not as satisfied as she would like to be with the art or colors.  She wanted something different, something that reflected her Pagan/Wiccan/Nature based spirituality.  And she knew she could draw, and she knew what she wanted on the cards.  A couple of years after she started the deck she moved back to the US and did freelance artwork, and through that gained connections with the Art Director at Llewellyn by working on art projects for them.  When Llewellyn decided to print a series of Tarot decks in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s Robin was looking for work and approached Llewellyn to see if they had any work she could do.  They told her about the Tarot decks, but all had already been assigned artists.  This is when she shared that she had been working on a deck and had the Major Arcana and Court Cards done in line drawing.  They asked for samples, and the rest is history.  A decade in design come to fruition.


The Robin Wood Tarot very closely follows the RWS with some modifications in symbolism to give the deck the Pagan bias, the natural symbolism she was wanting.  The Major Arcana cards retain the RWS naming and numbering.  Strength is at position 8 and Justice at position 11.  The suits retain the traditional suit naming and elemental associations:  Cups/Water, Wands/Fire, Swords/Air, and Pentacles/Earth.  The requisite number of suit icons are present in each card.  The Court cards are King, Queen, Knight, and Page.  The characters in Robin’s deck are less austere, more expressive, and more accessible in general.  One of the changes I really like in this deck is that the Wand and Sword Kings and Queens, as belonging to the active elements of Fire and Air respectively, are standing to show that they are action oriented.  I also like some the changes in imagery she made to the Major Arcana including the 15 The Devil which shows a man and a woman chained to a treasure chest pulling in opposite directions instead of a Devil figure with two chained humans.  This card implies our own responsibility and consequences for our choices.  The High Priestess is a nod to a Pagan High Priestess.   The Judgement card shows a woman emerging from the fire with the image of a Phoenix behind her as a symbol of death and rebirth, I also get a sense of Karma.  The skies in these cards really give the reader a nod to the tone of the card.  This is an excellent deck for a beginner that just does not connect with the imagery of the RWS or is struggling with the Court Cards.


The cards measure 2 ¾" X 4 ¾", have a light gloss, and are of good card stock, heavier than that of Llewellyn decks of today.  The images are framed by a thin black like and have a ¼” white border.  The name of card is placed in a white scroll with black lettering at the bottom of the image.  The card backs have a knotwork design in jade green, black and white and are reversible. The cards are packaged in a flip top box along with a 51-page little white book (LWB).  The LWB, written by Robin Wood and her second husband Michael Short, includes a short introduction to The Robin Wood Tarot followed by a paragraph about what the Major Arcana are, then goes into the Majors providing upright and reversed meanings.  Then you have three paragraphs on the Minor Arcana, and for each card you have a keyword, an upright and a reversed meaning.  Last but not least you have the Three Layouts section which includes:  The 15-Card Spread (by Barbara Johnson) that is read in 5 groups of 3 cards each; The 10-Card Spread is a variation of the Celtic Cross; and The 5-Card Spread (by Michael Short) to answer a specific question.   Several years after the release of the deck, and most likely due to its popularity, a separate companion book, titled The Robin Wood Tarot The Book, was released in 1998.  The book gives a history of Tarot and then a history of the Robin Wood Deck.  Chapter 5, Common Symbols, is what I liked most about this book, it talks about how symbols need to mean something to you, they need to fit your personal symbol set.  She then provides four pages of common symbols.  Both the Major and Minor Arcana sections are addressed in a more complete manner.  The 15-Card Spread is not offered in the book, and yet a different variation of the Celtic Cross is offered.  In addition, there is a 3-Card Yes/No spread.


I am the first to admit that I purchased the deck because the Magician card from this deck made me do it!  This deck was the gateway into Tarot I needed.  A deck I could relate to.  I have heard this deck called the “Ken and Barbie” deck because the characters look like Kens and Barbies from the 1980’s, but frankly I never thought of the deck in those terms.  The hairstyles, particularly on the women, are a dead giveaway to the time-period in which the art was rendered.  Today people will complain that the deck does not contain diversity, but neither does the RWS.  Please remember when this deck was created and the doors it opened for many of us when we did not have the choices we do today.  When I think back to when I purchased my copy in 1993 I think my only other choice of a Pagan deck was Tarot of the Old Path (there might have been more, but I honestly do not recall seeing others at that bookstore), so it was revolutionary in that it was one of the first Pagan themed decks to be readily available.  The deck is a solid Tarot deck and a piece of Tarot history. 


This deck is great for beginners, and readers of all levels.  I used this deck in conjunction with Tarot books illustrated with the RWS and had no problems.  It is suitable for any type of reading, so a great general deck or “workhorse” deck.  If you like a Pagan slant or collect Pagan themed decks you might want to check this one out.  The court cards are accessible to understand because their faces and stances are expressive, so if you are wanting to stick closely to the RWS but are struggling with court cards this is a good deck to get to know them with.  There is nudity on a few Major Arcana cards, including male frontal nudity on the Lovers card, but it is not designed to be sexual in nature.  It is more about us as natural beings.  But if you are offended by nudity, you might want to look up images of The Lovers, The Star, Judgement, and The World before purchasing the deck.  If racial diversity in a deck is important to you, this is not the deck you are looking for.  What does aunt Fifi think about this deck?  She says it gives solid readings and reminds her of when she had her lovely Farrah Fawcett hair and did not have dye it!  It makes her very nostalgic for the early 1980’s.

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