Archives For The Wildwood Tarot

Divinations

Eric O. Scott —  May 9, 2014 — 9 Comments
The Hooded Man, from the Wildwood Tarot. Deck by Mark Ryan and John Matthews. Art by Wil Worthington.

The Hooded Man, from the Wildwood Tarot.
Deck by Mark Ryan and John Matthews.
Art by Wil Worthington.

“I feel like doing Tarot readings,” says Jeff.

It’s about 8:45 and on most nights we would be packing up to leave the Freebirds Burritos restaurant by now, but tonight Jeff decides he wants to run out to his car and grab his deck. There are only three of us – Jeff, Sielach, and me – at this week’s meeting of Hearthfires, a local Columbia Pagan Forum that I have been attending for a few months. I’m thinking about how much work I have to do before the end of the semester and how spending an hour here doing divination is an hour I can’t spend writing my seminar paper on Giambattista Vico and the completely arbitrary relationship I am drawing between his philology and the Icelandic Sagas.

But Jeff wants to do a reading, so we do a reading.

He sorts out the deck onto the wooden table. His deck is called The Wildwood Tarot; I have not seen it before. The artwork is full of nature imagery and fairy-tale settings; in the world of these cards, there is little evidence of human civilization at all, outside of a few human characters and the tools they carry. I search through Jeff’s deck and look at the major arcana. I don’t recognize the names of most of the cards. I only own three Tarot decks, and they all tend towards the traditional – Rider-Waite-Smith, Thoth, Tree of Life. (Tree of Life is my favorite, even though it has no illustrations except for diagrams of the relationship between the cards and the sephira. I am a sucker for diagrams.) I’m accustomed to the seventh card being the Chariot, for example; in this deck, it is the Archer. I don’t know its meaning.

I mention all this to Jeff, and he shrugs. He has looked at the Rider deck before, he says. “But I never got anything from those cards. There’s something in the rigidity of the artwork.”

Jeff begins to draw cards from the deck for me. I don’t mention any specific question for him to look into, in part because I’m interested to see what he pulls together and in part because I don’t have any questions that I want to voice aloud. I have two main concerns in my life right now – in a few weeks, I will be going to Iceland, and in a few months, I will be getting married. Sielach had given me a reading the week before about Iceland, so that seemed covered, and frankly, the wedding seems too distant and overwhelming to worry about now.

Jeff places nine cards down in a pattern – center, cross, left, below, right, above, and then four cards along the side. He describes this pattern to me: the card in the center represents me as I am now. The cross card can be thought of as either my obstacle or my guide. To the left is the recent past; to the right is the near future. The card above is the Sky, or an ideal outcome. The card below is the Root, or the source of my question. The cards along the side give a rough timeline of events, beginning at the bottom and proceeding into the future as we move to the top.

I watch Jeff with curiosity as he lays the cards out on the table. I have never taken to divination of any kind, despite being raised in a Pagan household where I had plenty of opportunity to study it. I’ve never done a Tarot reading for anyone, though I have, in the past few months, begun to do rune readings. I’ve always been more interested in looking at these tools in terms of systems than in terms of oracular use. After I read Alan Moore and JH Williams III’s Promethea, I spent a lot of time thinking about the connections between Tarot and Kabballah, but it never occurred to me to actually shuffle up the cards; I couldn’t get my mind past the inherent randomness of the process.

“I see a lot of Air in the center of the table,” he says as he looks over the tableau. The center card is a Knight of Arrows, or the Hawk. The cross is the Nine of Arrows, which is glossed as Dedication. In the traditional decks that I am familiar with, Air would be associated with the suit of Swords, but the Wildwood Tarot changed the suits. Here, Swords are Arrows, Cups are Vessels, Wands are Bows, and Pentacles are Stones.

Jeff goes through the rest of the cards: the Mother Bear is my Sky, my near future is Healing. (What would I need to heal?, I wonder.) He details a timeline that seems like it might correspond to my time in Iceland – The Pole Star, The Ancestor, The Wheel, The Great Bear – but I am barely paying attention. I am too busy being struck – terrified, actually – by the card in the Root position.

The card is marked number 9. Normally, I would know it as the Hermit; here, it is the Hooded Man. He says that here it has an association with death, which is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing; death can simply mean change. Jeff reads this card as being about living through the winter. But that is not the association I carry.

“I wish I had brought my book with me,” he says, referring to a handbook that provides a list of interpretations and correspondences for each card. “I feel like some of my interpretations are off tonight.”

I nod. “I know I feel differently about the Hooded Man,” I say. “I don’t think that’s about death at all. Especially not at the Root. I think that’s a different Hooded Man altogether.”

Sielach nods as she comes to understand what I mean. Jeff doesn’t, though. “Oh. So you’re dealing with some other hooded person?”

“Maybe not a person,” says Sielach. “A hooded personage.”

I have trouble expressing just how spooked this Tarot reading made me. I had a moment of strong cognitive dissonance. My rational mind pushed strongly against any kind of deep meaning to a particular reading; it’s a random deal of the deck, after all. Which card ends up in which place is just a matter of chance.

And yet I read everything about the tableau in relation to Iceland, and it fit. Including the Root. Especially the Root. The Hooded Man. Card number nine. (Nine. Another spooky coincidence.) Of course he would be at the heart of the question.

I remembered pacing back and forth in my advisor’s office two months ago. I had just found out that I had been accepted into a summer Icelandic program through the University of Minnesota, but I hadn’t been offered any money; it would have cost me thousands of dollars that I just didn’t have. We called every university we were in contact with, every Scandinavian educational association, even the Icelandic embassy, looking for grants. Nothing. Too late to apply. We accepted that I probably couldn’t afford to go this year; our best hope was to defer the admission until next summer, when perhaps I could get a better jump on the grants.

The next day I started a fundraising drive, just to see. Within 24 hours, people – mostly my friends and family, but some people I barely knew, and even some people who I can only assume just knew me through my work – had pledged two thousand dollars. The total climbed to over three thousand by the end of the two month drive. I was dumbfounded. I really had not expected it to work. But it did.

As Florence says, “This is a gift. It comes with a price.”

I leave for Minneapolis, and from there Reykjavik, in a little over two weeks. As that day approaches, I find myself thinking more and more about the bargains I have struck. I made a bargain with myself to quit my job and return to academia; now I have made a bargain with everyone who donated to make sure this endeavor is worthwhile.

And of course, I wrote here not that long ago about the bargain I struck with the Hooded Man himself. And there he is, card number nine, staring at me from the root of the world, exactly where I knew he would be when I began this journey last year.

I have been thinking a lot about divination since last night; what to make of it, how to approach it. How any of this applies to changes I have made in my life, and the changes yet to come. What I might believe about what goes into a Tarot reading.

I believe that the cards in any given tableau are random, arbitrary. I believe they have only the meanings we attach to them.

I believe the cards are fated, fixed. I believe each reading tells us exactly what we need to know at that moment in time.

I believe in all and none of these things.

Eric’s note: This post has been updated to feature the actual Hooded Man card from the Wildwood Tarot. Many thanks to the creators for letting us use the image.

Mark RyanWhen we left off yesterdayMark Ryan was discussing his experience creating the Greenwood Tarot.  This wildly popular deck was published in 1996 after five long years of work by himself and artist Chesca Potter. Eventually, Mark moved on to other projects. He made guest appearances on a number of American T.V. shows and movies such as: Frasier, AliasJ.A.G., and Charlie’s Angels (film).  He was hired as a sword coach for Richard Gere during the filming of First Night.  And, he toured with Eric Idle in a British comedy theatrical special entitled, “Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python.”  The list seems endless.

However, by 2002, the Greenwood deck was out-of-print. Over the next few years, unopened copies were being sold online for upwards of $2-3,000.  Would Mark re-publish the deck?  Or, was his Tarot journey over?

Part 2:  A Conversation with Mark Ryan, October 4, 2012

Heather: How did you go from The Greenwood to The Wildwood?

Wildwood TarotMark:  I [was] approached to re-publish the [Greenwood Tarot] by several people including the original publishers. Chesca, I believe, changed her spiritual belief path and decided her artwork was not viable. So, I said [to the publishers], “Well, I don’t even know where Chesca is and don’t know how we would sit down and think about it.”  John Matthews, later, approached me and said, “Have you thought about redoing [Greenwood]?”  And I said, “Yes, I’ve been approached. But Chesca’s artwork is in copyright and nobody knows where she is. So we’d have to get a new artist.”

If we could get an artist that was going to bring an extra dimension to this [project], it was definitely worth looking at. Because John had been involved in the development of Greenwood and has written over 100 books on mythological things and because we’d been friends for a long time, I said, “Let’s do it together.”

We got Will Worthington as an artist. As soon as I saw his stuff, I said, “This is going to be a different dimension.” Chesca’s artwork, while being very esoteric and primal, wasn’t easily accessible. I make no apologies for saying, “I like stuff to be accessible.” Once Will started turning out the artwork, I knew we had something quite special.

H: That’s true. The Wildwood Tarot has been just as popular.  It’s changing people’s lives.

M: That’s the point. When you talk about “celebrity,” [it’s] just a vehicle to pull out those ideas that affect people’s lives. If [I am] going to leave anything behind in this world, and we all will, then I want to leave something where people say, “That affected my life.” [Like] Robin of Sherwood, I’ve had more people around the world who have said, “That show changed my life.”

H:  It’s very impressive how you’ve managed to balance your career with such a diverse set of projects from authoring Tarot books, performing on stage and screen as well as being as a master swordsman. 

Nasir

Mark Ryan as Nasir

M: Yes, and, I was also in the Military. That’s the other side of all of this: finding the balance between the discipline and the spirituality of the sword, the relationship to that symbol and the concept of being a warrior. Then, bringing that into your psyche and applying it.

I’ve got my dog tags here. They’ve got Atheist on them because they didn’t want to put Pagan. If I had been caught anywhere, in a strange place, it would have been quite disastrous. I did try to explain quantum physics, human psychology and the concept of talking to mountain streams or the ocean. But soldiers don’t tend to have those conversations with their senior officers, so I just put Atheist on there.

H: Today, you don’t hide the fact that you Pagan. You talk about it publicly on L.A.’s Combat Radio. Do you every worry about being harassed by fans or industry people?

M: No. [laugh] This is California. L.A. stands for lunatic asylum. I fit in. I’m a member of the loony bin. [laugh] People are much more open and forgiving about any belief systems [here.] They have a go at me more about my interest in Unidentified Flying Objects than they do about the esoteric.

Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone that I know to have an alternative religious view be persecuted. When we did First Knight, Richard Gere used to chant every morning. And, he was very calm, very focused, very nice, and a very generous person.

Only once in my life, I can honestly say, have I actually had my interest in the esoteric used negatively. It was a family matter. It was brought up that I had been writing books about Tarot and that I had written something for DC comics. It was an attempt to blacken my character. Even the judge, who was a staunch Christian, threw the whole thing out and said, “This is crazy. We are talking about DC Comics. We are talking about Tarot cards. This is not devil worshiping lunacy. The guy is quite erudite about it and can explain the symbolism, the functionality and the science of it.” Desperate people do desperate things.

H:  It seems that your spiritual path has helped your career, integrating into your life’s journey.

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50th Anniversary Edition of The Green Arrow: The Black Alchemist

M: It’s about being able to articulate a belief system. I come at it from a scientific standpoint – sub-atomic particle physics. Every time they find something new, like the Higgs boson, it opens up a new area of spiritual discussion. I believe that we can, consciously and sub-consciously, communicate with that universe. We don’t need a person or a belief structure. We can do it directly – whether you see it as the “old guy in the sky with the beard” or the Goddess. Somehow we have an intrinsic and instinctive connection on a subatomic particle level to our reality. We can affect our reality by the way we think.

The real magic is in taking that elusive idea, that concept that comes out of the back of your head, and changing it into a material thing. That’s magic – manifesting that idea and turning it into reality.

And, [then there’s] synchronicity. I believe that the way you view the particle, changes the particle [Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.] I try, on a daily basis, to practice changing the particles around me by putting them the way that I want them to go; instead of feeling that I’m a victim being dragged along some path. I don’t believe in fate.

H: Is that what you attribute your success to? Not waiting around. You are changing the particles. 

H: That’s a great story. Very inspiring.  Was it pure luck or synchronicity?

M: I [sometimes] think to myself, “Well, you’ve been lucky.” Ray Winstone, a good friend of mine, said, “It’s not luck. You make your luck. You are willing to go that far on the journey to find it. Consider all the barriers that are in people’s way. We didn’t see the barriers, because we didn’t know they were there. So for us, the barriers didn’t exist.”

When I look back at my career and life, I think, “That’s true.” I don’t know whether the universe helps the ignorant. But I’ve never been afraid of the unknown, of saying, “let’s push it and see how far we can go with this.” I’m not a particularly talented person. But every bit of talent I’ve got, I’ve pushed as far as I can make it go.

Mark RyanH: That’s a very positive message – both a spiritual and philosophical one.

M: I believe if you walk forward positively and creatively, you attract positive, creative. If you’re negative, destructive, selfish, and closed, that’s what you get.

H: That sounds like magick to me. Before we end, would you like to leave the readers with any other message from your own journey? Something you might share in your Tarot workshops.

M: Yes. My father’s advice to me, when he wanted me to go into the construction business but knew I was destined for some theatrical career, was, “Son, I don’t care what you do as long as whatever you try, you give 110% effort. That way you’ll never lose.” You can’t fail even if something doesn’t work out. You can’t fail if you take something away that you can apply somewhere else.  So when I’ve done things that haven’t worked out, I take some experience from that and apply it to the next project. Yes, there are negative elements in life, of course. But you can’t get bogged down by them so you don’t evolve.

Life is a learning process.

H:  Thank you very much, Mark.

While there may not be many mainstream entertainment celebrities that we can definitively pinpoint as being practicing Pagans, they do, in fact, exist.  As for Mark Ryan, his journey still continues.  In November, Mark will be hosting two Wildwood Tarot Workshops with long-time friend John Matthews.  The first is in Atlanta and the second in Seattle.  Beyond that, Mark continues his work on the Transformers Movie franchise as the voice of “Bumblebee.”  And, he is currently in the process of writing several books. You can listen to Mark weekly on Combat Radio and or follow him on Twitter @markryan243.

[Note: This was Part 2 of a two part series. Part 1 can be found here.]

 

[The following is a guest interview with John Matthews, author of "The Sidhe: Wisdom from the Celtic Otherworld" and 90 other books, co-creator of The Wildwood Tarot.  Matthews and fellow Wildwood Tarot co-creator Mark Ryan, who played "Nasir" on Robin of Sherwood, will be appearing in Atlanta, Georgia this November to conduct a workshop. The interview was conducted by Virginia Chandler, with an introduction written by John Matthews.]

For many people today, the woodlands are the last vestiges of the mystical world in which we had our beginning. Such places are full of classic archetypes from Robin Hood to the shadowy figures of the Green Man and Woman. To walk in the wild wood is to take a journey back in time to a place where we, ourselves, are different; a place where deep ancestral wisdom still resides; a place where a partnership with the denizens of the wild wood is as natural as breathing.

Based on the seasonal rhythms and festivals of the ancient year, The Wildwood Tarot is filled with the rich mythology and shamanic mysteries of the ancient Celts. Deep within the Wildwood system lies the mystical archetypes of The Green Man, The Blasted Oak, the Archer and the Hooded Man and many others of forest lore.

The archetypal forces of the pack act as both guides and interpreters, taking the user on a spiritual, mystical and psychological journey deep into the labyrinth of primal Earth mysteries. Used as a meditation system, divinatory Oracle, or as a reference work for the seeker of profound knowledge, The Wildwood Tarot will draw you into the heart of the ancient forest and allow you to open up to its mysteries.

Will Worthington, Mark Ryan, and John Matthews

Will Worthington, Mark Ryan, and John Matthews (Wildwood Tarot launch party)

Virginia Chandler: What was your personal inspiration for creating The Wildwood Tarot?

John Matthews: I think the inspiration is really Mark Ryan, because he was the only begetter of The Greenwood Tarot, on which Wildwood is very firmly based. I came along 10 years later. I’d hoped that the original deck would be reprinted, but when it became evident that the original artist, Chesca Potter, was not around to do this, I suggested that Mark should look for another artist and redo it that way. As we talked about this I made a few suggestions of ways that the original concept seemed incomplete and Mark responded by suggesting that he and I collaborate on a new version. The result was The Wildwood Tarot, but I find Mark a very inspiring person to work with. We’ve been friends for 20 odd years and share a lot of interests in common. And of course we were fortunate to secure the services of one of the premier artists of our time, Will Worthington, who understands the nature of the Wildwood and the Robin Hood mythos which is part of it, better than almost anyone else I know of.

VC: What can we find within the Wildwood?

JM: All kinds of wildness and wonder. The medieval ideas of the “wild wood” was like a cupboard into which they stuffed everything they were afraid of – Wodwose, Green Men, demons, strange creatures – and of course the most fearful thing of all- wild women and their sexuality!

VC: As journeymen, what would be the one item that we must take with us into the Wildwood?

JM: Courage.

VC: Where should we seek the Wildwood?

JM: The wildwood is everywhere. It’s inside us. It’s outside us. And, of course, if you happen to be near any of the more ancient forests, not just in Europe; then, you are in touch with the source itself. But for me, it’s about journeying into an inner landscape that is deeply embedded within us. We have a wild nature that most of us have forgotten, but it’s there. And it’s both light and dark. There are ancient atavistic things that need to be approached with care. But even these, if faced up to, can bring blessings.

VC: What is the archetype that you most closely identity with from the Wildwood Tarot?

JM: I have to say I think it’s the Archer. There is something about this powerful image and the sense of direction, of one pointedness and determination. Although we portray the Archer as female in the pock, it can be of either gender.

VC: The Wildwood Tarot is in its third printing; why do you think that this deck resonates with so many people?

JM: Precisely because it touches into a very deep level to the primal energy that still drives us. We may think of ourselves as civilized, but there is always a wildness within.

VC: Why “Wildwood “? What’ so “wild” about it?

JM: I think it’s the freedom, the undisciplined energy that’s within us all – exactly what you feel when you enter the wild anywhere, or if you let your garden grow wild. Even if most of us don’t want to admit it, there’s a memory latent that grabs people in a profound way.

VC: What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

JM: (laugh) Twice what you think it is.

VC: Do you have a favorite card or piece of artwork from the deck?

JM: Either The Archer or The Great Bear. Both, it seems to me, really captures the energy of the Wildwood. But to be honest I love them all.

VC: Other than your upcoming visit to Atlanta in November, what other Wild events do you have planned for 2012?

JM: Well, we hope to continue circling the globe with as many workshops and seminars and book signings as possible – until our global empire is greater than any other and we can take over the world. At the moment, Caitlín and I are contemplating a special event here, in the UK, around Christmas next year at the amazing and legendary Hawkwood College. This will bring together all the many decks we have worked on over the years – one of which will, of course, be The Wildwood Tarot.

More Information on The Wild Wood Tarot.

More Information on the The Atlanta Wildwood Weekend and Signing.