This deck is not unknown, despite its name. In fact, it is extremely popular in the tarot world. I won’t lie, this put me off. I wanted to know what the obsession with this deck was, if it was just fad because it was something a bit different, or if it had a little sumthin’ sumthin’ that I wasn’t seeing.
Created by Kim Krans and published in 2019 by Harper One, The Wild Unknown deck is based on the Rider-Waite system. It is a mostly black-and-white deck, though with splashes of color throughout. It appears to me that the medium is pen and ink as well as some watercolor (though I can’t tell if it’s water applied to marker in some parts).
I did a bit of research, while trying not to look too much at the images of the cards (half the fun of getting a new deck is discovering the portrayals of each card). I asked in the FB Group, Tarot Nerds, what people thought of it. I had quite a few people gush over it, telling me their love of it though without any indication as to why.
Then I had quite a few people tell me that they couldn’t connect to it, that it was difficult to read, and that the guide book was of little use to them, since it just had Rider-Waite basic definitions. They said that there was little indication as to why the artist chose the animals they chose for the cards.
This put me off for a while, but in the end I was still drawn to it, kind of curious, and thought I’d give it a go.
I wasn’t able to find any decks for sale that weren’t a part of the book/deck combo—at least, I didn’t find anything that I didn’t believe to be counterfeit. This was fine for me. I wanted to make sure I had the whole story of the cards, and wanted the book alongside.
While Indie decks are fantastic, and I think so much praise should go toward them, the nice thing about traditionally published decks—especially one so popular and widely dispersed—is that the price is pretty affordable. For both deck and book, I spent £19.99.
The deck arrive in a black box with a sleeve on it. As I pulled it all apart, I felt like I was delving into a locked tomb, with all the layers I had to go through.
There was the sleeve, the cover to the box (if you’ve ever bought any of the Game of Thrones DVDS, you might have come across something very similar), then the box which slid out. The box itself had a magnetic flap which opened to reveal the book first, The Wild Unknown Tarot Guidebook. The book is a firm paperback, with a cover delightfully reluctant to bend, and featuring the World card design for the cover.
Under the book was the box for the deck. The box is a two-piece, like a shoe box almost, the top of which slides off with ease and reveals the deck.
The deck arrived while I was on my way out, and though I had intended on waiting until I got home to open the package, I gave in and opened it while I was in the card and had an hour or two to kill.
As a result, the packaging, which might have been somewhat fun had I been in more comfortable circumstances, was quite annoying. I didn’t really have the space to be shedding layers to get to a deck of cards. However, that was circumstantial.
It did, however, give the impression of pulling away veils to get to something new, to get to a level of initiation, almost. Each veil gives the purchaser a small measure of accomplishment and brings them closer to the deck through which they can study a spiritual dimension—as all Tarot decks provide the opportunity for. In that regard, I thought the packaging somewhat clever, like a physical signal to put the mind into a spiritual and potentially receptive state.
Once I got to the deck, I found that I really liked the material of the card itself. I mean, of course it was card stock, but it wasn’t glossy, or even generally smooth. It was matt. Of course matt is smooth, but not as smooth as non-matt. There was a slight roughness of general paper that I found pleasing to the touch.
While the deck is the size of a standard Rider-Waite deck, which is slightly too big for my little hands, there was a suppleness to the deck which allowed it to willingly bend to meet the needs of my hands. By bending, I mean, preparation to shuffle.
And it does shuffle nicely. There is nothing like a good shuffling deck.
The paper/card that the deck is made from allows the cards to willingly shuffle, but not to stay in line as well. Some decks that are quite glossy, like the Trippin’ Waite, for example, are too slick, and thus when they shuffle, they try to slip away from you.
I’ve seen many of the images before I got the deck. Like I said, so many people are obsessed with this deck that I find it saturates Instagram and online Tarot communities. While I tried to avoid seeing too many of the cards, I’d seen the majority of them.
And I wasn’t impressed.
However, something about actually holding the deck in my hands and going through card by card, the images changed. Obviously they didn’t literally change, but the impression of them to me changed. I found them beautiful, stunning, and absorbing. I wrote a little about this in my post yesterday on Non-Traditional Tarot Cards, where you can read my complete thoughts on the matter.
One of the comments I’d read in the FB group was that these were a Rider-Waite-based deck, and I still don’t know that I agree with this comment. The comment itself made me question what it is that is RW vs Tarot. The only thing I could come up with was the differences in the Minor Arcana. Unlike the Tarot de Marseille styles, the RW system has pictures to accompany each card, rather than a representation of each suite and number.
By that definition, I agree that yes, The Wild Unknown is a RW-based deck. However, my belief in this doesn’t venture far beyond that. To me, a Rider-Waite-based deck is going to look at the portrayal of each card in the RW decks and do a similar version of these cards. The Wild Unknown Tarot does not do that.
There are some key features that occur in both systems, such as a light in the Hermit. In TWU, the Hermit features a turtle (or tortoise?) with a kerosene lantern on its back, with a flame. The lantern is the only similarity between the two decks. Strength features a lion on its own, in TWU with the infinity symbol on its brow. These two images are the only similarities with the RW decks.
Few cards share any resemblance. This is I think in part because it was designed to avoid human figures. Likewise, they were developed to be simplistic as well.
When you reach the Minor Arcana, there are few similarities at all. For example, the 8 of Pentacles is a spider in its web, with eight pentacles lining the left and right sides (divided four to each side). The 6 of Swords are six Swords on the ground in the dark with a rainbow toward the top of the card. The 6 of Cups is a tree with a large root system below ground, highlighted with rainbow coloring, and three cups on either side of the card. The 5 of Wands is five sticks.
The Court Cards differ entirely. Each suit has an assigned animal for the Court Card—the Owl for Swords, the Swan for Cups, the Snake for Wands, and the Deer for Pentacles. Likewise, the hierarchy of the Court Cards have been renamed (though not rearranged). The Pages are Daughters, the Knights are Sons, the Queens are Mothers, and the Kings and Fathers.
I actually quite like the family assignments for the Court Cards, as they take away some of the ‘being higher’ if you’re a male vibe that the standard Court Card system has.
There are some other differences that it took me a few times of going through them before I even realized where there. I suppose that by ‘some other differences’, I actually mean one difference:
Strength is numbered 11 while Justice is 8. Personally, I’ve always read about some decks doing this, but other than I think one Tarot de Marseille deck I had years and years ago, I haven’t come across a deck that’s done this. The book doesn’t mention anything about the swap.
Referring back to a comment I read that the Guidebook was basic, I absolutely disagree. I think that the book is beautiful, and gives—quick definitions, yes—but definitely not basic. It’s easy to see that the definitions are the artist’s, and while they of course share the same core as any tarot system, there is a different take on each card.
For example, the 2 of Pentacles reads:
‘The Two of Pentacles signifies inevitable change. Since the Pentacles suit relates to earthly possessions, this usually means a new job or financial situation or a move. Even if you fear this change, it needs to happen and might even be fun. Face it with the grace of a newly formed butterfly…a world of possibilities balanced upon your delicate wings’ (p. 137).
Personally, this is the first I’ve heard of the 2 of Pentacles being referred to as a time of change. I’ve always known it to be a balancing act between tasks in daily living and health.
For each card definition, there is a black-and-white image of the card on the left page and the definition and keywords on the right page.
One thing I do appreciate about this book is the organization. Too often do corresponding books start with the history of the Tarot, then the general description of the suits and Major Arcana before going into the definitions.
However, this book begins with the artist’s reflection on drawing the deck before moving on to brief descriptions/outlining of the purpose of the Major and Minor Arcana, the suits and the Court Cards, then provides spreads and different ways of using the cards.
I find this last part comes after the cards, and I think as a result can sometimes be ignored or forgotten. This deck, if it was read front to back, would give you the tools to start reading before you get into the meanings of the cards.
While this might not seem that interesting or too big of a deal, consider the implication of it. The organization implies to start reading and developing your own definitions before learning them from the book. This I believe is essential to Tarot reading.
Furthermore, if organization is to be any indicatory of it, the author or publishers seem to have similar ideas to me, that the Major Arcana should be learned after the Minor Arcana. I won’t get too much into it, but considering that the Minor Arcana are the details which lead to the higher lessons of the Major Arcana, then it is important to know these details in order to understand the Major Arcana.
Tangent aside, how did I get to that conclusion? Once the book begins to talk about card definitions, it begins with the Minor Arcana (Wands, Cups, Swords, then Pentacles) and ends with the Major Arcana.
Because this deck was so different, I thought I might conduct an interview with the deck. I’ve never done a deck interview before upon getting a new deck, so this was a new experience to me. I found the interview spread from Tarot Mama via YouTube (though she does have a very informative blog as well).
As I play around with this deck, I find more and more that I believe it’s wrong to use it outside of personal growth. I think that for the most part this deck is just for me, and that I can’t use traditional or mundane definitions with it. For example, I can’t look at the 3 of Cups and define it as a girl’s night out, or look at the Lovers and read it as a decision to be made.
So far, with each card I’ve drawn, I’ve had to spend time reading it, staring at it, and meditating on it, which is so far making a quick general reading nearly impossible, but very, very worth the time spending with the deck.
For me, this truly is a deck of development and healing. I would never conduct a predictive reading with it, or an online reading that didn’t involve video chat and have the element of counseling to it rather than simply reading a past, present, future. I would never take this deck to a part to read for people, or a hired gig that was open to the public.
This deck, if I read for anyone else with it, would be for those who want the deeper readings, want to book time with me in private, and spend an hour really getting to the root of their queries.
Despite the simplicity of the images, this deck begs you to delve into them, to spend time with each and every card. It’s not enough to do it at the beginning to get to know the deck, but must be done every time you turn a card. The wealth of the information is situational, and alters each time you read it as your questions change.
I thought this deck was just a fad in the tarot world, along with the combination of animal skulls and flowers, pink and white and gold décor, dreamcatchers (not the traditional ones, but the design that folks are getting tattooed), and fake-gold pyramid candle holders (seen in fashionable shops like Primark, New Look, Top Shop, etc.). Not that there is anything wrong with these (aside from appropriation regarding the dreamcatchers, there is something wrong with that), but rather, they are a fashionable thing at the moment, and probably won’t last.
However, the use and observation of this deck has shown me otherwise. There is a lot to learn from it, and I am so thrilled that I bit the bullet and got it.