The Greenwood Tarot

This is one of my favorite Tarot decks. It is filled with magic and symbolism, has beautiful art and very high energy. This deck is based on pre-Celtic religious symbols, such as images of animals, landmarks and gods and goddesses, including the Green Man, The White Horse.  (Pre-Celtic mean the time before the seventh century B.C.E.)

The author states: "The Greenwood Tarot aims to give a coherent European shamanic system..."

The feel of the deck is very unique and pagan/shamanic/magical/tribal in effect. Even though the Greenwood is a unique deck and varies from the traditional Tarot in many ways, it is definitely functional as a Tarot deck, with 22 Majors and 52 Minors. It is close enough to the traditional tarot decks so that it is immediately readable to Taroist familiar with the Rider-Waite or Thoth.  However, the Greenwood is profoundly different, and very rewarding to a deep study.

A few images will convey the over-all feel of the deck. Note the difference in styles between the Major Arcana, The Minor Arcana, and the Court Cards (the Courts use Animal Totems, in a very effect manner).

The Ancestor (corresponding to the traditional, The Hierophant) Three of Wands: Fulfillment Page of Cups: Kingfisher


The Fool The World Tree

This is one of the greatest Tarot decks ever created and is a great accomplishment. This Tarot is long out of print, and today is one of the most valued decks for collectors. The design and artwork is by Chesca Potter with design collaborator Mark Ryan. It was published by Harper Collins  ISBN 1-85538-384-5

This is a uniquely creative, spiritual and powerful Tarot. Chesca Potter's illustrations are striking and are full of hidden depths. The symbolic content of this deck is very rich, yet still very intuitive (though study will be rewarded with deeper insight).

 The illustrations are eye catching without being overly complicated. The Greenwood Tarot explores the archetypes from early pre-Celtic mythology. The variations from the traditional Rider-Waite are enough to require some reading about the deck to get it's full benefit. These cards are truly unique in symbolism, art and meaning. The deck promotes an egalitarian and ecological values. It is an excellent deck for NeoPagans with the revisions of the Hierophant, Judgment and The Devil emphasizing NeoPagan principles liberating them from the conservative religious view.

The major Arcana are renumbered to fit in an attributed order around the wheel of the year, and some are renamed.

The court cards are totem animals, which makes perfect sense for a neo-Shamanic deck.

The major Arcana and court cards are lushly illustrated with pictures largely dominated by greens and earth tones.

The four suits of the Minor Arcana are Wands, Cups, Arrows (Swords) and Stones (Pentacles), each aligning to a different season and element on the Wheel of the Year, around which the deck is based. The minor Arcana pip cards exhibit a much different illustrative style, with a more 'primitive' feel that is vaguely reminiscent of cave paintings.

It has a full pictorial minor Arcana and the court cards are birds and animals. The deck is based upon pre-Celtic European shamanism, and is utterly pagan in feel and content. The Greenwood Tarot clarifies understanding of the tarot as a system by linking it to the natural cycle of the wheel of the year. This gives profound insights into the subtle meanings and

The Major Arcana varies somewhat from the traditional, in that some cards have been changed from the standard representations and have been re-ordered. For instance, The Ancestor takes the place of the Hierophant, The Archer replaces the Chariot, Balance instead of Temperance, The Green woman instead of the Empress, The Green man as the Emperor, The Blasted Oak as the Tower (the reader has two options with this card, it is actually a combination of the Hanged Man and the Tower).  

There is a traditional Moon card, and also a section lunar card, "Reflection." (which I use in place of the "Hanged Man"). The Devil card has been replaced with "The Guardian," which is a bear skeleton at a cave entrance. It is a powerful statement about the relationship between fear and imagination and self limitation. The whole deck communicates in this manner of mystery, harmony and contradiction.

This deck was based on the reconstruction of pre-Celtic shamanism, traditions of the mythic forest, and the Wheel of the Year. It is subtitled the ‘pre-Celtic Shamanism of the Mythic Forest’. This means (from a quote by the artist):
"....I have traced the origins of the archetypal figures in the tarot back to their pre-historic roots; taking what is most ancient and updating it, so that it is relevant to the contemporary world. It took me four years to research and recreate the Greenwood Tarot; I lived it day and night. I was continually struck by the importance of the tarot as a unified system, a wonderful map, combining and explaining psychological states, deities, archetypes, and the natural world. The Greenwood Tarot is a form of eco-psychology, a modern shamanism. I believe in magic, in wonder, in the extraordinary that can occur when one’s heart is open to possibilities. All the cards are based on European images so that there is no need to steal imagery from other cultures."d life cycles.

The artwork, by Chesca Potter was what attracted me to the deck first, I find it outstanding and full of energy. The Major Arcana and the Court cards are all lovely detailed drawings that look to be rendered in colored pencil, with the softly glowing intensity of color only this art medium can create. The Minor Arcana cards are draw in a very different in style (which is a positive factor in my view) and varies to show the energy represented by each card, perhaps unmatched in this aspect of the deck (only the Stone Tarot and the Margarete Petersen have similar energies). Chesca does not describe her art method or process anywhere in the text, I would love to see the original paintings. Some people when first viewing the deck are unsettled by the two very different art styles (and some see that as it's only flaw). However, I'm of the strong opinion that the Major and Minor Arcanas are portraying very different things, different energies, different classes of meaning and that this should result in a separation, rather than blending of the artistic styles. (The Thoth deck has a similar philosophy). This is one deck, that I can gaze at any card with great artistic beauty and deep symbolic meaning. I cherish this deck and have safely packed away a couple of reserve sets as backup for the future.

Every card's artwork is thoughtful and well executed, no matter it's method, I have come to love them all. Most people will  come around to see that the difference is style as a useful tool during readings. The backs of the cards show an image of a figure Chesca calls the Storyteller. This androgynous being wears a reindeer headdress decorated with bird feathers and green clothes of moss and woodpecker feathers. The Storytellers skin is tattooed and he or she holds a drum bearing a horse, sun and moon, symbols of the elements and intertwined serpents on it. I love the idea that the deck is the ultimate "Storyteller" just waiting to spin it's many tales. This back has a definite top and bottom, making it known if the card is upright or reversed.

The Text
There is a small unillustrated book that comes with the book deck set. It's preface opens with this quote from Mark Ryan: The best advise I ever got about the Tarot was: "Read the book, meditate on the cards, then put the book away and do your own thing!" I love this statement and it is a fitting opening to reading about this unique deck. Chesca Potter has also published an illustrated book with additional text, complimenting the original book, a colored Wheel of the Year and a non gender Lovers card which shows two deer headed people ( a nice additional for readings for same sex couples). The expansion of the small original book is very welcome to me, as it expands on the symbolism picked for the cards, especially for the Minor Arcana and Court/People cards. The original book does a nice job of explaining the premise behind the deck and the matching of the cards to the Wheel of the Year. A black and white sheet of the Wheel of the Year with the card placements is included with the original book and deck set. There are also two new reading spreads at the back of the book, The Wheel and The Bow as well as a wonderful visualization called The Hermit's Cave. I would personally buy the whole set just for the experience of this visualization.

This deck has 78 cards. 22 Major Arcana, 56 Minor Arcana arranged 10 cards in each of 4 suits and 14 Court/People cards, 4 for each suit. The suits are called Wands, Cups, Arrows and Stones. The Court/People cards are called Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings, but instead of people, they each highlight an animal sacred to the Greenwood mythos. Many of the Major Arcana have been renamed and the meaning subtly altered as well as reordered to cycle on the Wheel of the Year.

The Major Arcana are rearranged like this:

0    The Fool 0    The Fool
1    The Ancestor 5    The Hierophant
2    The Pole Star 17    The Star
3    The Archer 7    The Chariot
4    Justice 8/11    Justice
5    The Lovers 6    The Lovers
6    Balance 14    Temperance
7    Green man 5    The Emperor
8    Green woman 3    The Empress
9    The Blasted Oak 12/16    The Hanged Man/The Tower
10    Strength 8/11    Strength
11    Reflection 12    The Hanged Man
12    The Wheel 10    The Wheel of Fortune
14    Death 13 Death
15    The Hermit 9    The Hermit
16    Judgment 20 Judgment
17    The Seer 2    The High Priestess
18    The Moon 18    The Moon
19    The Shaman 1    The Magician
20    The Sun 19    The Sun
21    The World Tree 21    The World

Non of the Major Arcana have numbers printed on the cards, which allows one to still use numerological associations in the regular manner they are used to. I like to figure out a person's Tarot Constellation from Mary K. Greer's method for every person I read for and I have no trouble applying the standard numbering system to this deck so I can do that. I use the decks own order when I am doing mediation work on the Wheel of the Year system that comes with it.

The "Court/People" Cards are arranged as follows:

King of Wands Adder
Queens of Wands Hare
Knight of Wands Fox
Page of Wands Stoat
King of Arrows Lynx
Queen of Arrows White Hart
Knight of Arrows Hawk
Page of Arrows Woodpecker
King of Cups Reindeer
Queen of Cups Heron
Knight of Cups Salmon
Page of Cups Kingfisher
King of Earth Horse
Queen of Earth Bear
Knight of Earth Wolf
Page of Earth Wren

Animals were used instead of people because people were rarely depicted in pre-historic art. Pages are considered "Blessings", Knights are "Wanderers", Queens are "Holders" and Kings are "Empowerers. A new way of looking at these cards and one I found both refreshing and enjoyable.

The Minor Arcana Pips

The Pips are in the different artistic style and run Ace through 10 as in most Tarot decks. Each card also has a key word on it describing the basic meaning of that card's symbolism. Some of the key words seem very traditional to standard Tarot meanings I have learned and some are a departure, like the 7 of Cups, called Mourning. However, I don't find this much different than any other deck that has printed the creators keywords on the cards.


While some would say this deck is more suited to meditation and shamanic journeying (which the creators intended as it major focus), I find this deck to read wonderfully. If a reader wants to use Golden Dawn or any other method of astrological and numerological associations, they will have to know them by heart, because none of these symbols are present in the deck. I do feel they could be easily applied if one wished. For myself, I am trying to learn the Wheel of the Year associations as I find this system more appealing. This is a matter of personal choice for each reader. The animal depictions on the "Court/People" cards have really added a new dimension for me, and can for anyone who wants to take the time to study the ones represented. A readers traditional way of handling these cards can still be used. Many die hard traditionalists will probably say this is not a deck for beginners, I disagree. I see no difference whether a novice Tarotist learn this system first and then some of the more traditional "Waite/Golden Dawn based methods or vice versa. I believe a beginner who found this deck appealing would do well with its rich artwork and symbolism, the addition of the animals and the key worded pips.

Additional Comments


Chesca Potter is subtitled: "Pre-Celtic Shamanism of the Mythic Forest."  That should give you a good idea of the type of symbolism used on the deck.  Then again, it may leave you wondering what the heck that means.

What it means in terms of art work is lush pastel images, most of which are straightforward, even simple, yet evocative.  For those acquainted with Celtic lore and myth, many images will be familiar.

The Major Arcana uses many titles similar to those of the Waite-Smith system, but the sequence differs significantly since it is based on the Celtic Wheel of the Year.  The Minor Arcana suits are Wands, Arrows (Swords), Cups and Stones (Pentacles).  The court cards are represented by various animals.  Some images are very similar to those of the Waite-Smith deck, others not at all, but all have a very definite Greenwood flavor.  It's fascinating stuff for those interested in Celtic and Pre-Celtic history and folklore, and the cards seem entirely comfortable in that context.

The author strongly encourages use of the cards for meditation and path working in addition to divination.  The rich imagery would work well for all of these, and Ryan's guided meditation "The Hermit's Cave" is a great starting point.  I highly recommend the use of this visualization "designed to help the reader greet the archetypes found within the pack on a personal level."  I think this is a great deck for anyone familiar with or interested in Celtic or Pre-Celtic mythos and culture.  Those not so interested should probably pass.

The Celts were an Iron Age culture (in general). So Pre-Celtic is before 700 BC


Wheel of the Year

The yearly cycle of the seasons, with the 8 festivals marking the turning points of the season's (points in the movement of the sun).





Approximate Date

Sun's Position

Samhain "End of Summer" , Magical time when the Veil between this and the spirit world is thinnest.

October 31

 15° Scorpio
Yule Alban Arthan, Midwinter, Winter Rite; Longest night of the year is the turn towards Spring.

Rebirth of the Oak King

December 21 (winter solstice)

 0° Capricorn
Imbolc Brigid's Day, Candlemas, Bride's Day, Brigantia; festival of the lactating sheep

Febuary 2

15° Aquarius
Ostara Alban Eilir, Lady Day, Festival of Trees

March 21 (spring  equinox)

0° Ares
Beltane May Day (Fire of Bel, the Sun God); Summer begins; A Magical time of celebration April 30th 15° Taurus
Midsummer Alban Hefin, Aerra Litha, Mother Night; Longest day of the year, the Sun God (won his Greenwood throne) June 21 (summer solstice) 0° Cancer
Lughnasadh Lammas, 1st Harvest, Bread Harvest, Festival of First Fruits; Autumn begins July 31 15° Leo


Alban Elfed, Harvest; The Green Man, God of the Forest

September 21 (autumn  equinox)

0° Libra



I have collected a large amount of research on the Greenwood, relating mostly to the symbols, the Wheel of the Year, and many of the references found in the deck. I will publish my "Introduction to the Meaning of the Greenwood here, at this website in the near future..

Chesca Potter's website has been closed.


 Return to Tarot Home