Every deck has a story to tell. And I’m not just talking about the mythology here, the symbolism of the cards or even the fool’s journey within such, but the actual story behind the deck – how it found its way into your hands.
With the Golden Tarot of the Tsar, I have very vivid memories of that story. It’s February 2004. I’m in Riga, Latvia, for a stag do I don’t want to be at with people I don’t really know. It’s freezing – and I mean freezing – actual ice and snow everywhere I look. I’m probably hungover, bored, done in just about every way you can imagine, and then suddenly I spot this tarot deck.
It’s in the weirdest of places, too. A bus station or train station newsagent, on some sort of information stand. And it’s just sitting there with all the papers and guides, nothing at all esoteric on sale apart from this tarot deck. It cost 20 latu, as I remember, which was buttons at the time, probably about £10. And it was beautiful, a veritable beacon of light within this cold, dark moment of time I found myself within. I just had to have it.
I don’t think I have ever used this deck. Some decks, I guess, are working decks and others we just collect because we like the aesthetics and this is very much the latter for me. Not that it isn’t useable – the imagery more or less follows the RWS deck, putting what appears to be a Russian Orthodox spin on things. For some, that will be a barrier, of course – the RWS deck has been criticised for being too Christian and this deck goes much further in that regard. The J-Man turns up a lot in these cards. In fact, they chart the main points of the Jesus myth, with his conception portrayed within the Empress card, his birth within The Star, his crucifixion rather dramatically laid out within the 10 of Swords and his resurrection within The Moon. If you are Christian, or reading for someone Christian, the imagery will be a good thing, I imagine, maybe even a gateway into tarot. There is a lot of iconography here, a slew of angels and saints I don’t recognise, but who will no doubt resonate with someone more versed in such things.
Quality-wise, I have to say, this is the most beautifully made deck I have ever come across. There’s an ornate feeling to it, a tactility I’ve never experienced with any other deck. The cards aren’t particularly thick but they’re sturdy, with a lovely, authentic matt finish to them. The artwork is exquisite, a traditional stained-glass vibe helped along by a layer of gold foil to bring out certain aspects of the cards’ imagery. Interacting with them feels sacred, holy. Which I’m sure is very much intended.
The Golden Tarot of The Tsar is not going to be for everyone. The overt Christian imagery, for one thing, is likely to be an immediate turnoff for those on other paths. Diversity-wise, the fact that the only person of colour in the deck is The Devil is a worry, for sure, and will prove a dealbreaker for many. For me, it’s a curiosity deck, a hark back to the bad old days whenever religion was something to be suffered rather than sought and a way for me to reclaim some of that.
Not to mention the only good thing I remember about a bad holiday.