The Robin Wood Tarot

For the longest time, I had just the yellow box 1971 Rider Waite deck by U.S. Games and the iconic green box Robin Wood Tarot by Llewellyn. The Robin Wood Tarot, first published in 1991, is — I’ll call it the first and the OG Pagan Otherworlds.

I’d describe this deck as being Celtic and pagan inspired with an undeniable 90s Wicca aesthetic. The version I’m showing here is from the 2011 Nineteenth Printing.

This isn’t going to be a full-on deck review. Instead, this is going to be a photographic walk-through of the cards, and not even in order, because my deck as-is, off the shelf, isn’t in order. However, what I have done for your benefit is put all the cards upright. =) My original as-is order had reversals.

The LWB that that deck comes with places relatively equal emphasis on both upright and reversed card meanings, and with a reversible cardback, that means I read reversals when using the Robin Wood.

The deck took the artist 10 years to complete. I remember how that used to be the norm– tarot deck projects would take the creator up to a decade to finish. These days artists manage to publish full-on deck projects in a matter of months. Nuts.

When the Robin Wood Tarot first came out, it felt like a way-improved version of the RWS, because the artwork in the Robin Wood is just beautiful. Anyone– even the total tarot beginner, someone who knows absolutely nothing about tarot cards– can pick up the Robin Wood deck and story-tell with these vibrant illustrations.

This was a deck you’d often see on the tabletops of tarot readers at Renaissance Fairs. Between the late 90s to early 2000s, whenever all the psychics and mediums in a county got together and booked a conference room at the local hotel for a psychic fair or witches’ market, you were going to see this deck, and the reader was going to be using the Celtic Cross. Or the 7-card Horseshoe.

The Queen of Swords in this deck remains one of my all-time favorite Queen of Swords. And yay for some positive meanings attributed to the Queen of Swords– she’s “a strong woman, confident, quick-witted, and intensely perceptive.” Oh, but reversed, the card indicates someone cruel, deceitful, narrow-minded, quarrelsome, and a gossip.

Though at the time that I was regularly working with the Robin Wood, I wasn’t looking at the Queen of Swords just yet. 😉 I still identified as the Page of Swords. =D

Love what the LWB says about the Major Arcana: “The Major Arcana are the cards of power and mystery. These cards touch on all the great powers in the universe. Their names alone conjure up rich images: Strength, Death, the Devil, Justice, the Sun,the Moon, etc.” The Minor Arcana, in turn, “deal with day-to-day concerns. These cards cover all aspects of life. It is nearly possible to do a complete reading using the Minor Arcana alone.”

The original ordering of the Minor suits were: Pentacles first, corresponding with the standard playing deck’s diamonds, and the element Earth and then the suit of Swords, for spades and Air, a suit “associated with those areas of life that are to be taken very seriously: trouble, strife, courage, authority, health.”

Next came the suit of Wands, for clubs in modern playing cards, and the element Fire. “Wands are associated with negotiations, cleverness with words, perhaps with travel. All aspects of the seeker’s life are covered by the Wands; business, personal, family, in all things the Wands can give counsel.”

Something I like about what the LWB says for the Ten of Wands, keyword “Overload”– “Too much success becomes oppressive.” High achievement is a burden.

And finally, the original ordering of the deck ends with the suit of Cups, equivalent to the suit of hearts. “Not surprisingly, the Cups as a suit are linked to matters of the heart and material comfort.”

The keyword for the Five of Swords– “Nyaa-nya-nya-nyaa-nya” Meaning failure, defeat, degradation, winning by unfair means, trickery, cowardice, and manipulation. “A loss decreed by the gods.”

This blog post is going up in 2021, 30 years after its first publication. So how did it hold up to the test of time? Did the Robin Wood Tarot age well?

Maybe it doesn’t have the cultural and racial diversity we would expect a tarot deck to have today. Also, I don’t know exactly when we all started expecting LWBs to contain meaty content, but now we do. Personally, I think this 56-page black and white stapled booklet packs in enough card meanings and introductory spreads to get you started, but sure, no one’s going to master the tarot by reading this LWB.

A fascinating point of self reflection: I distinctly remember seeing this deck of cards in high school and thinking how fresh the art style looked to me at that age. And now, looking at this art style, I love it dearly and it’s totally up my alley, and yet I can acknowledge that it feels like we’re opening up a time capsule. Doesn’t it? Compare it to, say, the Modern Witch Tarot or Light Seer’s Tarot.

Ultimately, this is still one of my classic favorites. The illustration style is action-packed and full of movement. I get out of breath just looking at some of these cards. If you’re an RWS reader, you’ll have no trouble at all with this deck. I think I’ve heard it described as (with love, lots of love) an “RWS clone.” But if you really look at some of the compositions, it’s not an RWS clone at all. The artist has added a lot of personal creativity, like in that Devil card, or the first-person perspective in the Six of Pentacles.

Is the Robin Wood Tarot part of your deck collection? Did you get it “back in the day” or is it a recent acquisition?

8 thoughts on “The Robin Wood Tarot

  1. Shad Schroeder

    One of my favorite decks. I’d add that, in addition to the LWB, Robin Wood wrote a much more in-depth book about the deck in which she talked about the process and her thoughts of developing the deck. Sadly, she pass last year but her legacy of the Robin Wood Tarot Deck will live forever.

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  2. h

    An absolute favourite. Although I have just concluded I must have never ever pulled the 6 of pentacles because I don’t recognise that card at all and just had to check if it was in my deck!

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  3. I’ve had this deck since it was first released. Got to hear Robin speak about the deck many years ago; I particularly liked the background story for the Devil, about the “monkey box”. I’m saddened to see in the other comments that she passed last year.

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  4. This is my favorite deck. I bought a spare because I was starting to wear out the first one. I love the bright colors–Robin Wood writes about pressing so heavily on her colored pencils that they keep breaking and the points flew across the room.
    I’ve got the book, and the color-your-own pages.

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  5. Even though I don’t own the Robin Wood anymore it still holds a special place in my heart. At the time when I got it, 2005, it wasn’t very easy to get a hold of Llewllyn decks! Times were so different and I couldn’t just go online and easily ordering anything I wanted from overseas. But my boyfriend at the time knew I wanted the deck so for my 18th b-day he managed to get it for me. 🙂 Very sweet of him (he had no interest in tarot lol). It was probably my most used deck, together with the yellow box RWS, during the years 2005 – 2009. As I look at it today I must say I find it a little bit dated though. That Wheel of Fortune is just way too 80’s style for me now hehe. 🙂 But the aces and the queens are stunning!

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  6. I love this deck. I rarely use it, but it was one of my first decks from “back in the day”. I appreciated the more explicit Pagan aesthetic. This is perhaps Robin Wood’s best known work, but she was also a writer and generous creator.

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