Oct 15, 2019

Oracle Deck Review: The Wild Unknown Archetypes Deck and Guidebook

The Wild Unknown Archetypes Deck and Guidebook is the newest deck and book set from Kim Krans, creator of popular decks The Wild Unknown Tarot and The Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck  (my review of that deck here). I was very happy to hear that this one was also being published by HarperOne because they do such a beautiful job on these sets.

The Box Set
There is a title sleeve that slides off to reveal the main box with a magnetic closure which houses the book and deck (which is itself housed in another circular box). A lot of deck/book sets fail in this area, but kudos to Harper One for attention to detail here. You have a book and deck that fit snugly in a sturdy box together, and then you have a sturdy inner box, should you wish to separate the deck and take it with you. Each of the boxes have a ribbon for easy removal of the contents. In fact, the main box's ribbon wraps under the deck box and then again under the book, so both of them are easily removed. I love that the inner box is round like the deck, and it fits the deck perfectly. Unfortunately, both the front and back book covers are creased already, with very minimal use and great care. But otherwise, the deck, book, and housing are all top quality.

The Cards
There are 78 cards in this gorgeous deck, which feels like a nod to the tarot, though the deck is an oracle. The cards are really large, measuring 4.5" in diameter. The cardstock is nice and thick, slightly flexible with a smooth matte finish. They are not easy to shuffle, being so large and round. The backs feature a diamond pattern. Her previous two decks have the same pattern on the backs, with different colors, and I would have loved to see that carry over to this deck, making them feel like more of a set.

The cards are numbered with Roman numerals which kinda sucks when you have 78 cards. I'd much rather see "48" than "XLVIII". It would make it so much easier to look up the card in the book if they were numbered normally. The Roman numerals do give the deck a more artistic feel I suppose.

The deck is based on archetypes chosen by the artist. She talks in the book about how hard it was to select 78 archetypes and the process she went through to cull them down (from about 250!). I can't even imagine how hard that must have been, but she did an amazing job with her selections!

There are four "suits" in the deck: The Selves (30 cards), The Places (20 cards), The Tools (20 cards), and The Initiations (8 cards). There is no indication on the cards themselves as to which suit they belong to. I'm glad they didn't add a suit indication to each card because it would add unnecessary clutter to the cards. Once you get to know the deck, it becomes pretty self-explanatory which suit each card belongs to.

There are a few sets of cards that have counterparts, which I always love: Mother/Father, Crone/Shaman, Maiden/Mother/Crone, Creator/Sustainer/Destroyer (though I found it odd that the order of the cards in the deck is Creator-Destroyer-Sustainer).

The cards feature a mixture of artwork and collage. Many of the collage images are crudely cut out, which I find an interesting choice. There are only a few cards (five, I think?) that are artwork alone, featuring no collage work. Since most of the cards include collage cut-outs, the deck differs from the artist's previous two decks but they still flow together very well. I have only used the three together once so far, but I could tell from that one reading that using the three decks together would make for really in-depth readings since they each bring something different to the table. They address such different aspects of life while remaining artistically cohesive.

There are some collage images that I can't quite make out, but it doesn't really bother me. I really like the combination of collage work with line drawing and watercolor. It's just beautiful. Many of the cards' colors are breathtaking. While there are some bright cards in the deck, on the whole it has a dark shadowy vibe to me, which I like.

Something that really stood out to me in the deck was the plethora of hand images. I just flipped through the cards really quickly and counted 30 cards with collaged hands.

My favorite card is The Queen. The colors are just so striking, it pulls me in every time. I also love The Bardo, with the skulls circling the artwork. Some other favorites are The Orphan (both the card's imagery and the archetype), The Poet, The Venom, The Siren and The Maiden. The deck is a delightful feast for the eyes, for sure!

There are a couple of cards (The Underworld and The Gem) that feature worms that I recognize from The Wild Unknown Tarot (5 & 9 of Swords). I loved this, it was like seeing an old friend!

My least favorite card in the deck is The Comic. It is really creepy which is ironic since it's meant to be a card of lightheartedness. (And I'm normally a big fan of creepy, but this is not creepy in a good way. It's a disturbing creepy.) It's a collage image of a cat with holes cut out of its eyes, revealing a set of uneven, disoriented, distorted human eyes beneath. And one eye cut-out is larger than the other, looking droopy. It is very disturbing. Yet the message of the card is one of laughter. This card completely missed the mark for me.

There are some cards where the imagery isn't directly symbolic of the archetype. There's a card called The Kiss which features holding hands, and I wonder why lips weren't chosen instead. I understand it's a metaphor, but with archetypes, you're looking for simple symbols that represent an idea, so I'd think lips here would be a more obvious symbolic choice. In The Castle card, there is no castle, no abode whatsoever. Instead, there's a closed eye and a rose in a pearl square. Made no sense to me. But reading the book passage allowed me to stretch my imagination and see the correlation between the images on the card and the archetype of a castle. So there are some cards that are not so obvious in their imagery and your mind has to make that leap. And there are some cards that I still don't quite get, but in those cases I just use the archetype title as my focus.

Another small thing I noticed was in The Initiations suit, the card orientation becomes confusing. You have to choose whether you read the number or the card name upright. I choose the card name, and that's also the way the cards are oriented in the book. But that makes the images in the Eros and Kairos cards sideways, which isn't ideal.

There is a card called Apocolypse, and I don't know if it is a typo or if it is spelled that way on purpose. There is no explanation. It is spelled that way on the card and in the book passage several times, with it being spelled "apocalypse" only once.

The imagery in the deck is quite striking and dark with just the right amount of colorful splash here and there. There are a lot of archetypes I didn't expect to find and those delighted me. For example, The Orphan, The Sustainer, The Siren, The Starborn, The Dead End, The Empty Room, The Bardo, The Riddle, The Venom, The Thread, and really all of The Initiations suit. The deck is jam packed with wonderful and creative archetypes. There is much to unpack here. I think that Krans did a spectacular job with the archetypes she chose for the deck. There were so many surprises for me and such a wide variety of people, places and things in the deck to work with and explore in one's life.

How it Reads
My first draw with this deck was paired with a card from each of the other TWU decks, giving me a lot to unpack in one reading. The Archetype card (one of The Selves suit) really underlined the core issue.

My second reading was a one-card pull and with this one I had decided to play around a little with the orientation of the card as it was drawn. The card (The Seed, from The Tools suit) was turned over at a right angle. I never read with reversals, but I thought I'd dabble a little with these. In my mind, I saw the cards as moons. Upright is the full moon, the card's full potential. Reversed - new moon energy: dark, shadow, lacking. And anywhere in between illustrative of waning and waxing energies, the degree dependent upon the angle of the card. The Seed was turned over exactly midway in waxing energy, gaining steady momentum, moving towards sprouting. Something was working its way towards sprouting. It needed to be nurtured and left to grow, not uprooted to check on its progress. Patience and faith were needed at that stage. And that was something I really needed to know.

The next day I drew two cards, The Vow and The Warrior. The message I received was: What promise have you made that requires fighting for now? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to uphold that vow, no matter how hard it's become? I believe promises should never be made lightly or flippantly.  But sometimes you aren't the same person you were when you first made a vow to someone and you have to be willing to let that person (you once were) and that vow go to honor who you are now. Only you know which vows are worth fighting for. And if they are worth fighting for, then give it everything you've got. This message came at just the right time for me.

The next reading I did was using a spread in the guidebook. The spread is called The Inner Quest and was the inspiration for the entire deck. You are meant to separate the deck into the four suits and draw a card from each. I wish I had known that before shuffling the deck. It took a long time to make sure the deck was properly shuffled, as the large round cards don't make for quick shuffling, so I wasn't about to separate them again. And I don't want to do so every time I want to use this spread. So I created a cheat instead. I shuffled, then drew until I turned over a card from each suit, simply setting aside duplicates from the same suit. It's amazing how spot-on the reading was for me. I had doubts when I turned over the last card, but reading the book's passage expanded my perception of the card's archetype and the reading fell in line.

This deck reads really deeply. It packs a punch. It doesn't feel like an ordinary oracle deck. It really delves into the nooks and crannies of your soul and gives you a lot to chew on.

The Book
The book is 223 pages, featuring black and white images of the cards. The font is handwritten like in Krans' other guidebooks. It opens with a Table of Contents with a listing of the cards, separated by suits. The book discusses the creator's process of creating the deck and a few sections on various elements of archetypes. Each of the four suits have a page describing their significance. The book touches briefly on card rotation and suggests that a card that is not exactly upright might be read as "off track" in some way.

There are five spreads in the book:

  • Follow the Image (One Card Reading)
  • Summon the DivineRoot, Heart, Crown. A simplified 3-card chakra reading.
  • The Inner Quest: Who, Where, With What, Why (a 4-card reading). This is the one I referenced above, using one card from each of the suits. (The card positions sound like the board game Clue... "It was The Judge in the Empty Room with The Sword!") Ha! But seriously, this reading was really a good one, giving such a well-rounded and all-encompassing answer to the inquiry.
  • The Axis Mundi (5 cards). This one is like a condensed Celtic Cross.
  • The Heroine's Journey (5 cards). Based on Joseph Campbell's story arc of the Hero's Journey.

Each card has a two-page spread in the book. On the left page is a black and white image of the card. On the right page is all the information on the card. On the top of the page is the card's name followed by a few keywords. There is then a paragraph of information on the archetype. On the bottom of the page are three tidbits: When Light, When Dark, and Go Deeper (examples of each below).

The Mother
When Light: glowing, generative, creative, nurturing
When Dark: dim, exhausted, controlling, limiting
Go Deeper: read "Tao Te Ching" (chapter 1), and imagine The Mother of Ten Thousand Things.

There are also snippets of information along the sides of the page where you have to turn the book first left then right to read them. While I appreciate the author using up as much space as possible, providing more content, it is annoying to have to turn the book to and fro to read it. I'd much rather read it normally, in vertical columns, or the main text could have expanded into those margins giving room for the extra text.

I have not read the entire book yet, but the passages I did read helped me understand the archetypes better. I love the added "Go Deeper" suggestions, as it leads you further and further down the rabbit hole. There are many ways to use this deck that will enable you to explore depths you hadn't thought of. I can't think of another deck that does this.

Final Thoughts
Aside from the obvious observation that this deck is really gorgeous, it is unlike any other oracle. It really does go where no other deck goes. It doesn't read like a predictive oracle, but rather a self-exploratory one. On its own, using a card from each suit, you can get a very deep reading from it. Used in conjunction with other decks, it would lend a valuable added layer to any reading. Obviously, my first choice would be to pair it with the other TWU decks. Even though I've only used this deck for a short time, and I love all three TWU decks, this one is now my favorite of the three for the depth it offers.

If you would like to see all the cards, I have a flip-through of all 78 cards on my IGTV on Instagram (@thebohemianess).

Deck: The Wild Unknown Archetypes Deck and Guidebook by Kim Krans, published by HarperOne.