If you’re plugged in to the online tarot community in any way, even minimally, then you’ve been hearing buzz about this deck. It’s self-published and I’ve got to say, recently the self-published decks have been beating the traditional publishers. Hey traditional publishers: what are you people doing? Get with the program.
Even non-tarot people (many from the fashion world) have been getting into the Wild Unknown tarot deck. Imagery from the cards are just freakin’ everywhere. I remember first seeing an Instagram photo of someone’s tattoo and thinking, “That kind of looks like a tarot card” only to realize it was. What is going on?!
But the few glimpses of cards I saw here and there made me think that this deck would be one of those “its own unique system” decks where I’d have to do a lot of learning before I did any reading. And I’m getting to that age (sadly) where I don’t know if I want to learn any more “new tarot traditions.” So at first I thought I was going to pass.
And then the imagery. The card’s artwork kept drawing me in, beckoning. “You want me.” No I don’t! Go away. “You want me.”
Then a few weeks ago I set a goal for myself (unrelated to this deck, and totally unrelated to tarot) and said if I met that goal, I’d reward myself with the Wild Unknown tarot deck. I met the goal and the first chance I could, bolted for the computer and placed my order.
And wow. WOW. Best decision ever. The Wild Unknown is easily one of my favorite tarot decks now.
This is one of the highest quality decks I have come across in a long time in terms of the cardstock, the matte finish, and the box packaging. Kim Krans renders the images in hand-drawn black ink illustrations, with just a touch of color here and there so beautifully and intuitively done that they are sure to activate chakras while you read with this deck.
I’d categorize the Wild Unknown as a Marseille-based tarot deck. After all, Key 8 in the Wild Unknown is Justice and Key 11 is Strength (as opposed to the standard RWS, which is 8/Strength, 11/Justice). However, going through The Wild Unknown Tarot Guidebook that Krans graciously included when I purchased this deck, I see a lot of card interpretation crossover from both the Rider-Waite-Smith and Thoth. In that sense, the Wild Unknown would work very well as a beginner’s deck, though such a beginner would have some work to do if she were to later try to learn the traditional Tarot de Marseille, Rider-Waite-Smith, or Thoth. So in that sense, the tarot practitioners who are calling this deck its own interpretive system have a point.
The cards are 2.75″ x 4.75″, a pretty customary size for tarot decks, but because of the quality of cardstock, it’s thicker than most decks and for my hands at least, took a bit of getting used to for shuffling. I love the card backs–the design reminds me of the rings of an old oak tree, and convey a quality of time and wisdom. And because of it’s elegant matte finish, I love the sound of the cards as you shuffle. No, really. This deck makes a different sound when you shuffle it, and it’s pretty distinct from the commercial-publisher-grade-laminated decks.
Yes, the pips are inspired after the Marseille, but are not entirely abstract. There’s a blue butterfly on the Six of Wands, for example, horse on the Five of Cups, fox on the Seven of Swords (giving you the side eye), and a mountain on the Three of Pentacles. The pip illustrations do convey the cards’ essential meanings, so it’s not like you’d have to rely entirely on numerology or elemental dignities and affinities.
The artwork is stark and will evoke raw emotions out of you. I think because of that, some people are going to embrace this deck and some are going to run the other way. Like, I don’t see “Oh, I don’t work with the Death, Devil, or Tower cards” archangel oracle readers being that into this deck. Shrug. Just sayin’. Who knows maybe I’m wrong on that. There’s no sugarcoating the natural world and metaphysical phenomena with this deck. I love this tarot deck and run to it for personal readings, but before pulling it out for a professional reading, I would most definitely gauge the client’s comfort level before proceeding.
Among the courts, the page/knave is the daughter, the knight is the son, the queen is the mother, and the king is the father.
The court of Wands are illustrated by snakes, the court of Cups by swans, the court of Swords by owls (love that!), and the court of Pentacles by deer. And I find myself preferring Krans’s animal correspondences over the more traditional ones (i.e., lion or salamander for Wands, fish for Cups, eagle or owl for Swords, and bull for Pentacles).
Krans associated the snake with Fire (rather than Earth, which many Western esoteric traditions attribute) and I thought, wow, that’s kind of Asian. In Chinese astrology and feng shui, Fire governs the snake. On that note, there’s something inexplicably Taoist about the Wild Unknown deck. It’s probably the animals and nature theme that triggers the association, but it’s also the daughter, son, mother, and father attribution (kind of Confucius) instead of the ordinary court titles. It’s that profound balance between simplicity and complexity that is what truly distinguishes the Wild Unknown tarot deck. Is it a simple deck? Or is it complex? I’m really not sure at all.
The deck and guidebook are purchased separately. For the seasoned tarot practitioner, I would not recommend ordering the guidebook. You don’t really need it. However, the deck and guidebook as a set would be an incredible gift for a beginner.
The guidebook presumes no previous knowledge of tarot and does a great job building the foundation, keyed specifically to the Wild Unknown deck. I love the font (or is the whole thing handwritten?). Even the book itself is artistically rendered.
Instead of a little white booklet, the deck comes with a foldout sheet, which is quite nice to have included with the deck. I love the creative approach.
Much of the metaphor and imagery deviates from traditional decks and I love that. Kim Krans has contributed her own interpretive approach to tarot, based primarily on associations from nature and animal symbolism.
The High Priestess is a white tiger, which is often associated with the shadow self, sexuality, and hidden realms. For those who work with animal totems, this deck is going to resonate with you.
Immediately you’ll note that humans (and heck, human shaped forms) are missing from this deck. For me, one result of that is the overarching theme of messages I receive from my intuition. Readings with the Wild Unknown deck become more self-reflective, introspective, and delve into the spiritual aspects of the self, and the self in the context of the natural world.
I did a three-card reading with the deck and got the following:
The Sun, accompanied on both sides by passive Fours. Interesting. And it also kind of reminds me of the I Ching trigram for Water (yin, yang, and yin).
As a deck and guidebook set, the beginner will have no trouble at all reading with the Wild Unknown. The seasoned practitioner will see from the below guidebook references that the card interpretations stay true to traditional meanings but are more grounded in spiritual exploration and finding an affinity with nature.
Traditionally, for example, The Sun indicates glory, success, accomplishment, perhaps a marriage, what was lost will be found, and liberation. Here in the Wild Unknown guidebook, those keywords still resonate, but beyond them, the Wild Unknown version of The Sun is also about health. The part of the page that got cut off in the above paragraph notes going outdoors and enjoying the vitality of the natural life force.
The Four of Pentacles here follows common Tarot de Marseille attributions for the card. The guidebook designation approaches material gains and possessions spiritually, ending with the note, “Wealth is a concept.”
The Four of Cups depicts a rat, and I don’t know what the common Western symbolic attributions of the rat might be that would facilitate interpretation, but per the Chinese, the rat perfectly symbolizes the meaning of the Four of Cups that Krans has ascribed in the guidebook. The rat is often associated with appearing gregarious and having it all, but deep down, being quite the introvert and feeling great discontent or issues of insecurity.
Artist Kim Krans has contributed something remarkable to tarot. Her art pedigree hails from Cooper Union. Dang! She’s legit. For the artsy, that’s one of the hardest schools to get into.
I would say this is a great beginner’s deck to work with, so long as you get it with the Guidebook. However, there is a caveat with that. It’s a good beginner’s deck for the person who probably won’t devote further study to tarot, especially an artist friend or maybe a brooding teen with angst issues to work out. If it’s something you’re going to dabble with once every Jupiter retrograde or read casually for friends, then this deck would be a great one, especially if the artwork resonates with that person. (Some folks are better suited for pastel watercolors, the Easter bunny, and smiling puppies, in which case this deck might not be so suitable.) But for the beginner serious about tarot, I would still opt for starting with one of the three main traditions (*cough* RWS *cough*). At the other end of the spectrum, it’s a great deck for any tarot aficionado who is into collecting.
According to the website (as of today, 12/21), you can still order it express and have it shipped in time for Christmas. This would make a stunning gift that the recipient will remember and cherish for a lifetime and the best holiday gift I could have possibly gotten for myself. So happy.