Ah. Today I’m writing outdoors, which is a novel experience as it’s usually tough to see the laptop screen in the sun, or else the machine gets overly warm. It’s cool enough for me to sit outside wearing jeans and a t-shirt today, and the screen is a dim but visible enough. (Barely!)

It seems appropriate to sit outside and ponder the Greenwood Tarot.  I’ve been living with this deck for about a month now. For those who don’t know, the Greenwood Tarot went out of print after its publication in 1996. It was created by Chesca Potter (artist) and Mark Ryan (author), and aimed to deliver images aligned to a pre-Celtic British tradition. So there are plenty of visual references to deer, the Uffington (chalk) horse, labyrinths; and even a sheila-na-gig made its way in.

Style

The majors are illustrated in great detail, with what I think of as colored pencil, and look as if they are formed out of light. The court cards are all animals and similar in style. The minors, however, use a primitive style reminiscent of hand-color wood prints; but even these often evoke a feeling that they are composed of light. The Greenwood ditched kabbala and astrology and based itself on a self-referential wheel of the year, complete with modified trumps in a new, unnumbered sequence.

Artist and Copyright

The story goes that Chesca Potter herself vanished without a trace and disavowed her work, possibly due to changed religious beliefs. Back in 2010, this deck’s co-creator was also seeking anyone who could help him to contact Ms. Potter. The issue here is that Chesca Potter allegedly retained the copyright to her images; and if she can’t be found, or isn’t willing to have them reprinted, then the Greenwood Tarot cannot be commercially republished.

 

I say “allegedly retained” because that’s the common wisdom on the internet. However, I could not locate a registered copyright in the US, and found searching the UK IP website even more challenging. While an artist has rights on their work by default, it’s always possible that these were transferred to a publisher, and we wouldn’t know for sure without knowing what was in the contract — or in a registered copyright for the deck. If anyone knows more about this, please let me know in the comments or email!

The Wheel of the Year System

At any rate, the Greenwood has been out of print for some twenty years now. I don’t think it sold very well when new. It was probably very different, with it’s “mishmash” of the detailed and more primitive artwork, and a unique system in a market of decks based on the house that that Waite-and-Smith built. (Some things haven’t changed!)

I don’t know that there were any decks structured on the wheel of the year; although there is a Matthews Arthurian deck with a study course that follows the course of the year. But the Greenwood defines its card by relating its trumps to the wheel of the year, at both an inner/personal level and an outer/collective level. The number cards relate back to their associated trump as well as the season. It’s a very nice system, in my opinion.

My Lino Hare, inspired by 2 of Stones

A Slow Burner Takes Off

The deck was published in a kit with a book by Mark Ryan. The book is decent, but there is more detail and resonance to be found in the book that the author made available online, and sold from, her old website. It makes me wonder if there was a creative split or difference between the two, but that’s conjecture on my part. At any rate, the book was lacking for information on the minors that I feel was fleshed out in the artist’s book; and perhaps this information would have helped the deck be better understood, and therefore more approachable.

Whatever the case, the Greenwood Tarot was not a big hit and vanished off the market. Yet somehow its popularity slowly grew over time. The deck has become legendary in the tarot community, and has been referred to as the most sought-after deck. Nowadays, people routinely ask for $400USD and up on venues like eBay, and $300USD can seem like a bargain. There were allegedly 10,000 printed so you’d think there’s enough to go around, but apparently not. The rarity and status of this deck have driven it up on the collectible market, which is a shame because it puts it out of reach for folks who actually want to obtain and read with it.

Whither Wildwood?

Co-creator Mark Ryan wanted to reissue the Greenwood. But with ChescaPotter unable or unwilling to provide her artwork, his hands were tied. So the Greenwood was reinvented as the Wildwood Tarot, a popular deck, with new art and some tweaks to the system from Mark in conjunction with John Matthews (who was apparently behind-the-scenes for Greenwood). There is a two-part interview with Mark Ryan here and here.

To be continued….

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