Waking the Wild Spirit Tarot

I recently had the most wonderful thing arrive in the mail:  a tarot deck.  What is a tarot deck to me?  Seventy-two works of art.  A source of endless inspiration for storytelling.  A tool for tapping into my intuition and for finding new perspectives on life’s opportunities and challenges.  An object useful for tapping into magic?  No doubt, as not only do I believe that there is a sort of magic intrinsic in any evocative work of art, but I’m also confident that “there are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in [my] philosophy.”

I’ve seen many tarot decks that I like and admire, but so far only two have spoken to me immediately, and then also stood up to my pet peeves.  I was entranced as soon as I saw Poppy Palin‘s artwork.  The colors are vibrant and the sense of movement and flow in her cards is irresistible.  The artwork is detailed and evocative, and gratifies both my love of nature and my love of storytelling.

One of the first cards I look at when considering any tarot deck is the Fool card, and not just because it’s usually the top card in the deck.  The Waking the Wild Spirit Fool has been renamed the Wandering Minstrel, which suits my sense of story.  Most Fool cards that I’ve seen, following the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tradition, show the fool about to step blithely off a cliff, with a dog either nipping at his heels or trying to pull him back.  Poppy, though, has depicted her Wandering Minstrel – in harlequin-diamond pants, a jester’s cap, light but sturdy boots, and a patched purple cloak – leaping off a well-trodden footpath.  The sense of movement – up and to the right – is infectious, especially since the dog is leaping right along with him.  Will the Fool’s leap result in good or ill?  We can’t tell, since his momentum will soon take him right past the edge of the card, but the day is bright and the sun smiles down on him.  I’ve always felt somewhat ambivalent about the image of the Fool at the edge of a cliff, which seems bound to end badly, and I much prefer this interpretation.


The Waking the Wild Spirit deck uses Earth, Air, Water, and Fire as its suits instead of Disks/Pentacles, Swords, Cups, and Wands.  I was pleased to discover this, as the symbolism of the elements is more accessible to me than the symbolism of the objects.  One of the first cards I fell in love with, while still exploring decks on screen, was Poppy’s Ace of Earth, subtitled “Seed.”  In this card, a bean seed sends out shoots and roots, under the guidance of a green-skinned man with root-like fingers.  He waves his arms over the seed, mirroring the snaking up of the shoot with movements almost like a belly dancer’s ‘snake arms.’  (I know:  Technically, this is a static image, but Poppy’s artwork is so alive it feels like the figures really are moving.)

One of my pet peeves is that I don’t like decks where all of the characters pictured look like movie stars.  I’m especially bored by decks where all the characters pictured look like Caucasian movie stars.  Extra thumbs down for decks that also show nude women who have obviously had plastic surgery.  The Waking the Wild Spirit deck, on the other hand, features young and old men and women with all sorts of skin tones ranging from pale to brown to blue to green.  Poppy’s characters have interesting and often strong features.  One of my favorite cards is the Wisewoman (a.k.a. the High Priestess), which depicts a woman with long, blue-gray hair and beautiful smile lines and crinkles.  She looks about to turn to the viewer to give advice that we’d be wise to take.  Also, none of Poppy’s women look as though they have helium balloons in bits of their anatomy.

I also feel mildly peeved when the faces of characters look stiff and inaccessible.   This isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but I was still thrilled at how lively and expressive the faces of the Waking the Wild Spirit deck are.

The Knight of Fire, subtitled The Gypsy

One or two of the reviews I read before ordering this deck commented that it might be hard to use at first because Poppy has deviated from much of the traditional (read RWS-based) imagery and meanings.  I’m not a tarot scholar, and I don’t have a real attachment to the RWS system.  Also, while I respect those daddies and grandaddies of tarot – RWS, Thoth, Marsailles, Visconti, etc. – I don’t see any reason why tarot shouldn’t evolve and change.  To me, the Waking the Wild Spirit deck is the best of both worlds:  I get to work with major arcana that are familiar and with suits that recall the suits I’m used to, but I also get a deck that is more evocative to me, closer to nature, friendlier, and that has the potential to tell me different things.  I find Poppy’s progressions of meanings within the minor arcana if anything easier to remember than the RWS meanings.

The cards are also a pleasure to use as physical objects.  The backs are gorgeous:  As one reviewer at Aeclectic remarked, “with each shuffle comes a mini-waterfall of colour”.  The cards have a geometric border around the image and then a white border around that.  In the white border is written the name of the card (at the top), and a subtitle which indicates the meaning (at the bottom).  Usually, I don’t like for meanings to be written directly on the card, but these subtitles are metaphorical rather than literal meanings (e.g. “Seed” for “Ace of Earth”), so I find that they add rather than take away from the experience.

I’ve really just started exploring this deck, and I’m eager to continue to work with it.  While it’s true (and a wonderful thing) that there are almost endless variations on tarot out there and you can rarely tell from one person’s experience whether a deck will appeal to you, I love this deck and would certainly recommend it.  You can see more of the artwork for yourself over at Aeclectic Tarot and at Poppy’s own site, which also includes some meanings for the cards and tells where you can buy this deck, as well as the full-length book that goes with it.  Apparently Poppy has another deck in the works, which I very much look forward to.

All cards shown are (c)Poppy Palin, and are used with permission of the artist.