A forest menagerie – the court of the Wildwood Tarot

I think my favourite thing about the Wildwood Tarot is the court. Like many people it seems, I’ve always struggled a bit with tarot’s court cardss…and it’s hard to say why. I’ve had my favourites – like friends, I feel I know them inside out – but when it’s come to readings, I’ve always found them a little tricky.

The Wildwood Tarot court sheds a completely different light on these sixteen cards. Instead of showing a man, woman or child, each ‘character’ is represented by a wild animal. This chips away at the traditional gendering of the cards, whilst at the same time bringing new ideas and characteristics to each one.

I pulled out each of the courts and laid them out on the table, spending time with each card, focusing on the animal itself, and figuring out which of the traditional court card characteristics I’d associate with that creature. As I scribbled notes and key ideas for each animal, I started to find myself putting them into pairs, then groups, then onto a kind of map. They seemed to belong in families (or not to belong to anything) in a way I’d never felt with the courts of my other decks. And as they shifted into groups and families, I found that they were creating a picture behind them – through the arrangement of the Vessels I could see where the river ran through the land; from the position of the King and Queen of Stones, I knew where the mountain loomed. The animals were forming a map:


I’m not sure I can write my way through the entire map now, or describe exactly why each creature ended up where they did, but I’ll try…

Starting with the huge stone mountain which sits high above the valley. This is the rocky chair of the King and Queen of Stones, the Wolf and the Bear. They are protectors – perfectly adapted to their hostile environment, generous with their resources, and guardians of the land and the creatures below, the Queen fierce and strong, the King steadfast and steady. Accompanying the Wolf is the Queen of Bows – the Hare. She lives in the meadow between the mountain and the river, companion and muse to both the Wolf and the King of Vessels – the Heron. She brings together Wolf’s earthy, practical skills with the integrity and intellect of the Heron. She’s warm and funny, a match for either, gently mocking their serious rigidity with her bounding energy, her peaceful support and big, understanding ears.

The King Heron, meanwhile, sits at the river’s edge, watchful, waiting, a serious statue of justice and integrity. He’s watching the Queen of Arrows, the Swan, glide by on the glassy water, observing her poise, her dignified silence. He can see her past pain, he understands her quiet wisdom. She is a symbol of change – of moving beyond, of ‘freedom after strife’. Upstream is her Arrow King – the Kingfisher. A bright flash of blue and burnt orange, he darts in and out of the flowing water – his perfect judgement telling him precisely when to dive into the clear stream. He competes with the Heron for his food, but their differing strengths – his speed and perfect intelligence, and the Heron’s poise and self-control – mean they both can find what they need. The Heron sits stiller than still, letting the river rush by, knowing he will not go short. Still, the Swan detects a note of envy – does he wish for the darting agility of the Kingfisher? And perched high above sits the Hawk – the Knight of Arrows. He has none of their dicipline, but all of the eyesight and mindsight of one freshly angered, fearless, energised by a competitive spirit. Who does he challenge? He doesn’t yet know – he has plenty to learn, including the need to tame or control impetuous spirit.

Across the river sits the Wren – the Page of Arrows, unnoticed by many of the woodland’s creatures. She studies the movements of her elders, chuckles at the Hawk’s violent swoops and pounces. On her studious journey, she sees everything, tucking the lessons of the forest under her wings for future reference. Beneath her coils the King of Bows – the Adder – the very essence of firey energy twisting and tangling, rising up like flames, dying down to ash, honest and real, aware of his muscular power, ready to strike the moment his firey is needed. 

Downstream, the river meets the lands end, gushing over a rocky crag and pounding the plunge pool below. Here the Queen of Vessels, the Salmon, makes her annual pilgrimage – a journey of which many will die in the making. Summoning all of her spirit – and within her she carries much – she throws herself into the torrent, then again, and again. It takes true passion and devotion to carry her up the waterfall, each writhe of her body like the Adder’s carrying her higher. She wants to lay her eggs – to birth her babies in the safe sanctuary of the gully where she herself was born.

The Page of Vessels watches, fascinated. She is the Otter – a dreamer, a visionary. She is loyal to her Queen, she watches her silently with care and love, understanding her struggle, dreaming of her own. When teh Salmon is gone, what will she do? She feels the glittering weight of her own potential, lets it settle on her silky fur, gazes into the river and imagines what she might achieve.

To the east of the mountain are wild, forest-covered plains. The Knight of Stones, the wild Horse, bucks and brays, gallops from the foot of the mountain to the river’s edge. The Hare watches him, amused. He is proud, strong, self-sufficient, yet yearning for a partner to share his energy, or even direct it. And hidden in the gnarled trees and mossy rocks that mottle the land are three mysterious characters, unknown to the rest. The Lynx, the Page of Stones, has been studying for years. He is full of potential too – his time has come. He watches the Horse leap and kick, wonders whether to join him, or to make his own way. The Knight of Bows – the Fox – emerges from her den beneath twisted roots of hawthorn. She feels a wind of change blowing across the plains; soon she will head into the wild woods, leaving behind her leash to start anew.

Nobody notices the Stoat. She is the Page of Bows – a messenger, a free spirit, a prophet. She has wise words to pass on to many of the forest’s animals. She has observed them move through the seasons, stealthily unobserved in snowy mink fur of winter, the rusty brown of dead leaves on the forsest floor as the land begins to warm. She has already whispered to the Eel who glides on down the river. He is the Knight of Vessels, charged with the mission of self-discovery. Every twist of his body in the silvery stream expresses passion and excitement – he cannot wait to discover his true self. The Stoat sits back and watches him pass, before stepping out into the shade of the rocky woods to deliver her secrets to another.


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One comment

  1. Chloe says:

    Hmm, the medieval landscape for the RWS courts sounds like it could be a lot of fun! If you wanted, I can imagine Genie putting something like that in the Ezine – they like some fun content beyond reviews etc. Just saying, as I’ve now had about 5 decks and a couple of books through reviewing, as well as some apps, so it’s a good thing for a tarot-aholic ;-DStill, I know what you mean about having a tough time letting go of the Wildwood…

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