Since the dawn of time, people have been intrigued by the idea of the future and its outcomes. The stars have always had a special and mystical significance to human history. The ancient Egyptians knew the stars as the 10 decans of the Zodiac, and the ancient Greeks marked the stars to predict the future. The Egyptians also created tarot cards that were used to predict the future.
As the saying goes, your past is your future. And the past is not always as it seems to be.
For example, look at the tarot cards of the Russian tarot deck. The Russian cards are as mysterious as they are mystical. They are full of fairy tale, adventure and mystery. And it is not easy to figure out the meaning of the cards, to give you a clear answer to all the questions.
Yury Shakov is the author of the book “Tarot of St. Petersburg”, which gives a deep insight into the mysteries of the Russian cards.
I can’t believe I had to wait until 2021 to share my thoughts on the Russian St. Petersburg Tarot. This deck was first published in 1992 and was part of my first and oldest tarot deck collection. I really liked this deck. It’s one of those decks that creates the perfect atmosphere when doing tarot discussions in public.
These are Russian Palekh miniatures by Yuri Shakov (July 15, 1937 – March 10, 1989). Palekh miniature paintings are a kind of national lacquer art made with tempera paint and varnish. Shakov specialized in this work and the illustration of the Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg was the last work he commissioned before his death. However, I have also read that he did not finish this series and that another artist continued where Shakov left off to complete these paintings.
Historical and cultural references can be found in the majors. The hierophant shows, for example, the holy prince Vladimir with a sceptre and the Russian Orthodox cross.
The death card shows a rotting head on a battlefield – an allusion to the head in Ruslan and Lyudmila by Aleksandr Pushkin. Princess Lyudmila has been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, and Ruslan, a brave knight, goes in search of her. During his quest, Ruslan encounters a giant talking head that turns out to be the brother of the same evil wizard.
Ruslan confronts the head (19th century) by Nikolai Nikolayevich Ge
The deck is from the Ryder-White-Smith deck, and I’ve always found it to be an easy read. I forgot to include pictures of the Little White Book (LWB), but I assure you that you won’t miss anything special. When we talk about additional value, it includes the values of the cards at the front and back positions. For example, the King of Cups indicates a learned, professional or religious person, such as a lawyer or scholar, although he may also be an artist. (The Queen of Cups is a courageous and honest person who has the gift of sight.
Every picture you see here is taken full size. That’s right. What you see on the tarot card when you hold it in your hands is exactly the size of the original image.
To practice this type of art, the artist must wear a corset around his arm so it does not get tired, work with a magnifying glass, and sometimes use a brush of one hair. This alone – the art of the game representing Russian Palekh miniatures – is worth having in your collection.
LWB provides an overview, albeit sparse, of cultural references. The image of the falling tower is an allegory of the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. The booklet explains that the jester’s card represents a Skomorok, a Slavic harlequin. The doll in the Skomorokh’s left hand is an effigy of himself, and he wears bells on his clothes so that people will know that he is approaching. He will also point out that the two-headed eagle on the empress’s shield in Key III symbolizes the Russian Empire. (You can see the Empress card below, in the image of the game with the High Priestess).
The pictures of the cards in this post are in random order, not in any particular order – or they are in the random order in which I last left the game, many, many years ago.
I love that the Luna map shows Charon, the ferryman of the dead, leading his boat across the dark river Styx. I always feel the underground vibration of the Moon card in the tarot, but you don’t always see this interpretation with other tarot readers.
The top corners of the cards indicate the color. The majors show blue flowers, and the four colors show the corresponding symbols: Crosses, cups, swords and coins. This increases the readability of the cards even more. The first thing I look at in a card layout is the number of majors, studs, cuts, etc and what the elemental composition says.
The card of the High Priestess represents the Holy Equivalent Olga of Kiev, the Grand Duchess of Kiev. The illustrations are well suited to casual or light reading. The four in the piece here, for example, corresponds to divination rather than esoteric interpretation, that is, it shows a hoarder or usurer, a person obsessed with materialism.
The Ten of Clubs indicates that you are under a lot of pressure at work right now, but rest assured that the problems will be resolved soon. There is another aspect of the Ten Rods interpretation that I like – this card can also mean using your power for selfless, altruistic, and good causes. I’m going to add it to my personal tarot card value journal for the ten of wands! =)
Saint Olga of Kiev (1892) by Mikhail Nesterov
Above is a comparison between the known version of the image of Saint Olga of Kiev and the way she is depicted in Key II : High Priestess.
You can click on these photos to see details on a larger scale. I don’t usually like card games with such a meandering frame where the tarot illustration is so small on the card, but this is perfect. I like the way it looks. I’m not at all afraid of wavy edges. In fact, it gives Palekh the style and character of the 18th and 19th centuries. The century.
This game uses Force for key 8 and Justice for key 11. The art in Minor is also an exact match for Pamela Coleman Smith’s compositions and Waite’s Tarot interpretations.
Some other nice details from LWB: The background of the star map is a Slavic countryside camp. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Russian history to understand their mention on the Zvezda map. The brochure also states that the main star in this illustration is Sirius.
The devil must have looked like Joseph Stalin, the two eyes on his chest represent the vigilance of the secret police. Evil chains bind the disenfranchised man and woman. At the same time, the Archangel Gabriel is depicted on the floor plan of the court. This comes from the Eden Gray school, who attribute key 20 (Mastering the Tarot, 1971) to Gabriel.
Finding these cards after so many years is nostalgic. They look great folded out on your reading table and add that touch of mystery that questioners love so much. As for the quality of the product, the copy of the issue I have is printed in Italy on cardboard with a density of about 350 g/m², which is stronger than normal mass market cardboard. The box itself is embossed with gold leaf, and I remember it being quite unique at the time.
When this set was part of my regular rotation of work-reading games, my only complaint about it was the non-reversible design of the backs of the cards, because I read with the reversals.
Does anyone else who played tarot in the 90s and early 2000s have this deck? Now that I think about it, I don’t understand why the Russian tarot of St. Petersburg wasn’t more popular. We won’t hear about it again.
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