The Tarot of the Golden Wheel is not actually a new deck;* it came out in 2019 from US Games, and it somehow managed to slip under my radar up until this point. It’s a charming, colorful RWS-style deck inspired by Russian culture. This deck is easy and accessible, and I think it would be a particularly good deck for beginners.
The thing that really makes this deck stand out, for me at least, is the costuming. Artist and deck creator Mila Losenko has dressed familiar Tarot figures in traditional Russian folk costumes, and the bright colors and intricate embroidery give this deck a distinct quality that I haven’t seen anywhere else. It makes the deck uniquely and unquestionably Russian, but it also adds a level of realism and familiarity. These are not fantasy figures from some imagined, ahistoric past; they are real people in real traditional clothing. They embody the archetypes of the Tarot in a grounded way that makes them feel alive and present, rather than ephemeral and imaginary.
The symbolism in the deck is straightforwardly RWS, although the suit of Pentacles has been renamed to Wheels. One thing Losenko does to great effect is to use the seasons of the Russian landscape to convey tone and meaning. The winter scene of the Five of Wheels, and the figures huddling close around a fire to keep away the cold, has much more impact in a Russian setting, given Russia’s infamously harsh winters. Likewise, agricultural themes of planting, growing, and harvesting are found all throughout the deck, and they provide a nice connection between Russian parochial culture and the themes that the Tarot cards represent.
I also really appreciate Losenko’s use of watercolor to provide a depth of color, especially in the backgrounds of the cards. Stormy skies, underwater scenes, or star-studded galaxies all come to life with a great deal of depth and complexity in this deck, and the backgrounds of the cards really serve to push forward the action of whatever’s happening in the foreground. Watercolor is a difficult medium and one we don’t see a ton of in Tarot art, because it can be difficult to get precise details out of it, but Losenko uses it to beautiful effect.
Normally, in deck reviews, I try to be at least a little bit critical—to point out things that I don’t 100% vibe with, or things that might give another reader pause. Honestly, though? I don’t have anything negative to say about this deck. It’s a 10 out of 10. The imagery is simple and traditional, and it’s not going to push the boundaries of Tarot for those who want something avant-garde, but the card images are clean and beautifully illustrated, and they’re easy as all hell to read. The Slavic detailing throughout the cards is also a lovely and unique touch, and it gives the deck a personality unlike any other I’ve found in the Tarot world.
Take a look at the Swords cards. Do you see what I mean about how winter is used to illustrate the starkness of some of the more difficult cards? There’s a cold, windswept beauty to these images, and the whole suit just takes my breath away. All of the cards in this deck serve to evoke a rich, colorful, beautiful world, and I could not be more pleased with this deck.
I suppose this isn’t much of a review, is it? “I love this deck. I have nothing critical to say about it. It is great and I like it.” But really and truly, that’s how I feel. The artwork is stunning, the symbolism is classic, and the Russian theme is perfectly executed. This deck knocks it out of the park. I am so, so glad that I stumbled across it and decided to add it to my collection; it would have been a great loss if I’d missed out on this one.
*Hey US Games, you should send me promotional copies of your decks for review. Just sayin’.