Created with the intention of being a shadow tarot deck, the Dark Wood Tarot by Sasha Graham and illustrated by Abigail Larson unveils the hidden aspects of your inner psyche. It is designed to guide you into uncharted territory, expressed as the forest deep.
Atmospheric, gothic-inspired, with a Legend of Sleepy Hollow vibe to it, and steeped in animal symbolism, this is a deliciously witchy deck– the Shadow Witch, to be exact. If you love animal symbolism, you are going to love this deck.
“The Shadow Witch experiences each card as a lesson,” writes Graham in the Introduction. “Every card contains a story. . . . Journey through the deck with the Shadow Witch like you would follow along with a character in a film or novel where the protagonist becomes an expression of you.”
In the Dark Wood, shadow meanings stand in place of reversals. This deck was intended to be read with reversals. When they appear, an aspect of the shadow self– the aspect of your personality you’ve disowned or hidden away– is calling for you to pay attention.
One of the shining features of the guidebook is its treatment of card reversals. A reversed Queen of Wands reveals the shadow self of this persona– intense desire has taken on a life of its own, causing one to inadvertently hurt others. A reversed Page of Pentacles is overlooking resources that can help you achieve your goals. The King of Swords, who is The Thinker, is cruel, cold, and emotionally unavailable when reversed.
The reversed Three of Cups, a card featuring the Weird Sisters as three black cats, is about sacrificing yourself just so you can feel like you belong and fit in with a group or in-crowd. Have you been enjoying inclusivity based on keeping others out?
When the Four of Cups appears in reverse, ask yourself, what is the darkest thing holding your focus? Where do you place negative energy and how does it distract you from unseen opportunities staring you right in the face? The key theme of this card is an unseen gift you’ve been endowed with.
This is a deck populated by witches, vampires, fae, knights, queens, and kings. Any one of their appearances is never arbitrary or aesthetic only, but deeply symbolic. In the Major Arcana, the guidebook connects each Key to a maxim:
- The Fool: “Each step brings you closer to your destiny.”
- The Magician: “All the magic of the world resides inside you.”
- The High Priestess: “You are the divine whisper of the universe.”
- The Empress: “Your passion is the blueprint to your magic.”
And yet each come bearing bitter pills for your self-awareness. The shadow side of The Fool is childishness and playing dumb on purpose to run from responsibility. The shadow side of The Magician is manic control and manipulation for a false sense of power; The High Priestess reversed warns of narcissism and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. While the productive side of The Empress is creative, nurturing energy, the shadow side is the destroying of another’s hopes and dreams.
Look at the storytelling in that Six of Swords! Per the guidebook, upright the key theme here is Journey, though it can indicate theft or escape. In its shadow aspect, what are you trying to run away from?
Or the fun play on Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in the Seven of Swords. The white dress represents purity while the red hood signifies her sexuality, passion, and fervor. The progressing chapter after the Six, the Seven here is about making a clean getaway. Upright, it is an omen to edit carefully. Reversed, what are you hiding from? This is avoidance of a person, place, or thing by feigning indifference.
Graham is one of our tarot community’s preeminent writers. You won’t go astray with this Dark Wood Tarot guidebook as your first orientation into tarot reading. The King of Wands is The Iconoclast. Here is one who is brave in the face of adversity, possessing exceptional leadership and organizational skills.
The shadow side of The Iconoclast, however, is one who can be unintentionally self-destructive. I love the advice here, when the King of Wands appears in reverse: “Let emotion pass. Take a breath. Phone a friend.”
As for Larson’s art, it’s folkloric, and reminiscent of Arthur Rackham or Edmund Dulac late 19th century illustration styles, enhanced by her own unique and seductive flair. Graham and Larson are the perfect pairing for the creation of a contemporary tarot deck. The compatibility of their styles is what makes Dark Wood Tarot what it is.
“We stand at the edge of a historic precipice,” writes Graham. “Technology and globalism connect and empower us while they simultaneously reflect the darkest crevices of the human condition. Racism and sexism heave a dying gasp as a new generation erodes gender barriers and champions inclusivity and human rights. . . . It is only with an honest appraisal of the seat of our souls that we can mend and repair ourselves individually and collectively.”
To heal the world, we need to first heal ourselves, and Dark Wood Tarot was crafted with that purpose in mind–to empower you to examine and explore your dark side while embracing the ethos of introspection.
FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received the deck from the publisher for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck and book.