A Review of the Slavic Tarot

There’s nothing else like this deck, and I am so very excited about it. The Slavic Tarot is a self-published deck from artist M.A.I. Murray, available through Etsy. It adapts the structure of a traditional Tarot deck to incorporate figures from Slavic mythology and folk tales.

Vasilisa the Beautiful, Perun, Yarilo and Morana, Sadko, Baba Yaga, and the Firebird.

The Major Arcana in this deck each depict a figure from Slavic lore. The figures are loosely assigned in accord with the traditional titles and meanings of the cards; e.g. Key IV (the Emperor) is the chief god Perun, and Key VI (the Lovers) depicts the spring god Jarilo and his wife/twin, the winter goddess Morena.* Other attributions are a little looser, such as the tale of Sadko and the Water Tsar for Key X (the Wheel of Fortune). The figures depicted in the Majors vary; some are deities, some are heroes from folk tales (like Sadko, Vasilisa, or Ilya Muromets), some are and some are mythical beasts (like the Firebird or Zmey Gorynych, the mountain dragon).

For anyone keeping track at home, the Slavic deities depicted in this deck are:

  • Mokosh
  • Perun
  • Svarog
  • Jarilo and Morena
  • Svetovid
  • The Zorya
  • Veles
  • Devana[!]
  • Dazhbog
  • The Sudenitsy[!]
  • Rod[!]

With a couple of other figures, like Baba Yaga and Koshchei the Deathless, whom some consider gods and others do not. (A note about the deities marked with an [!] later in this review.)

The Witch, Mokosh, Svarog, Ilya Muromets, the Rusalka, and the Zmei Gorynych.

This deck is definitely designed for people who already have at least a passing familiarity with Slavic lore. Its LWB does contain paragraph-long descriptions of each of the Major Arcana and their respective origins, but in order to use this deck effectively for divination, a reader would need to understand the stories fairly well already.

I’m thrilled that this deck is taking a relatively unknown corner of world mythology and making it more accessible to a wider audience. It’s particularly exciting for me as a Slavic polytheist, because the deck features depictions of deities I worship and whom I rarely see in Pagan art.

The Two, Five, and Eight of Wands.

The Minor Arcana have standard RWS imagery, and will be easy for anyone familiar with Tarot to connect to. Where the Majors place Slavic lore front and center—sometimes at the expense of a clear, recognizable set of Tarot cards—the Minors focus much more on the Tarot aspect of things, allowing the Slavic influence to play a supporting role. We see Murray’s Slavic inspiration mostly in costuming and some of the background imagery of the cards.**

The Four, Nine, and Ten of Coins.

Each suit in the Minors is associated with a season: Wands with spring, Coins with summer, Swords with fall, and Cups with winter. I don’t know how Murray decided on these associations—the LWB doesn’t say—but she does a wonderful job of portraying each season through background imagery in the cards. She also notes in the LWB that each suit is associated with a particular type of Slavic folk tale: Wands are skazki (fairy tales), Coins are rasskazy,*** Swords are byliny (heroic epics), and Cups are volshebnye skazki (a subset of skazki dealing with the fantastical).

The Ace, Three, and Seven of Swords.

Elementally, Murray associates Wands with Air and Swords with Fire. I have a personal beef about decks that make this choice, but it’s well done, with the elemental image integrated subtly into the Wands cards and quite boldly into the Swords. The Swords/Fire correspondence works particularly well with the seasonal attribution Murray has given the cards, and the whole suit of Swords is resplendent with hues of red and yellow.

The Two, Six, and Seven of Cups.

The Court Cards have been (aptly) renamed to the Tsar, Tsarina, Prince, and Princess. They have a wonderful amount of personality, along with a few little details that made me smile; all of the Tsarinas, for example, are holding eggs, a choice echoed by the jeweled egg we see on the Mokosh card.

The Tsar of Cups, Tsarina of Swords, Prince of Coins, and Princess of Wands.

Finally, a word on fakelore. When I listed the Slavic deities depicted in this deck, I flagged three of them: Devana, the Sudenitsy, and Rod.

Devana, Sudenitsy, and Rod.

These figures are, ah, controversial when it comes to discussions of Slavic mythology. There is little to no evidence that they were actually worshipped by pre-Christian Slavs. Some contemporary Slavic polytheists choose to worship them anyway, because there’s so little information available that there comes a point where we have to rely on modern invention. Others do not. Either way is fine, depending on personal preference, but for anyone who comes to this deck without prior familiarity with Slavic mythology, it’s worth noting that these figures are not universally acknowledged. They fit well in the deck, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them being included here, but you won’t see them discussed in a large part of the Slavic polytheist/mythology-enthusiast community.

I am so, so thrilled about this deck. It stands at an intersection of Tarot and Slavic myth that nothing else occupies. As for who should buy this deck, I’d recommend it if you’re familiar with at least one of those two things. For Tarot readers who are looking to learn more about Slavic folklore, the structure of the Minor Arcana will be familiar and welcoming, and learning to work with the Majors will be a good crash course in the Slavic mythos. Likewise, for people familiar with Slavic mythology who are looking to get into Tarot (or who are looking for a divination system that meshes well with the Slavic stuff), this will be a good introductory deck. The Majors are different enough that you’d have difficulty transitioning from this to other decks, but the Minor Arcana will give you a solid foundation in Tarot tradition.

And seriously, guys. There’s nothing like this. I’ll end the review on a personal note and say that for a long, long time I’ve been wanting a divination system that intersects well with my Slavic devotional practice.**** The Slavic Tarot fits that need, and I am deeply grateful.

_____________________________________________________
*Murray spells their names differently than I do. Transliteration can be done many ways.

**A propos of nothing, I find the art style in this deck reminiscent of the Anna K Tarot, which is one of my go-to decks when reading for others. The card stock on this deck is a little flimsy, which is to be expected with a self-published deck, but it’s workable.

***I’m not familiar with rasskazy, but Murray notes in the LWB that they are “rural anecdotes”.

****I did try favomancy for a while, but ultimately I wasn’t a fan.

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