The Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg by Cynthia Giles                    Review by Michele Jackson

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The name Cynthia Giles has come to be associated with well researched, and well written books on the subject of Tarot. This book is no exception. Giles begins by giving some background information on the deck and how it came to be created. The original artist passed away mid-way through creating the deck and the artwork was continued by another miniature artist, whose name is unknown. A fairly comprehensive history of the Russian people is provided (over 100 pages), in order to give you a background in the culture. Icons and Russian miniature work are discussed in detail, giving one further insight into how this deck came about. The Major Arcana descriptions provide some historical background and provide a contrast and comparison with historical Tarot styles. A short interpretation is given, but the discussion on each card is mainly intended to provide information on the card as rendered in this specific deck. The Minor Arcana are given a less comprehensive treatment consisting of a short description of the scene in the card and a very short interpretation. A short chapter on divination is provided with the Celtic Cross, and a new spread called "The Russian Icon".

This book does a superb job of describing the cards, and comparing them to more familiar decks such as the Waite-Smith and Marseilles. Giles' meticulous research is evident throughout the book. She describes costumes, background scenery, and significant details in the scenes quite well. On the other hand, Giles does not spend much time in the interpretations. She provides short, traditional (Golden Dawn based), interpretations. Experienced readers will probably not have a problem with this, but beginners who are using this as their first deck may be disappointed by the paucity of interpretive information. I would recommend this book as a must for anyone who uses this deck, though beginners may want to purchase a traditional beginners book as well.


Nine of Swords

Key: Despair

The image of the weeping woman on the Nine of Swords is perhaps the most poignant of all the Tarot cards. She is clearly inconsolable, the victim not of some passing sadness, but of true grief. Deep night reigns outside her window, and the candles burn down. The points of the nine swords curve around her body, almost touching her.

If anything this image is even more evocative of deep despair than the Waite image. In the Waite card, the figure is sitting up in bed, as if she has awakened from a nightmare. But in the Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg, she kneels on a stone ledge, almost in the fetal position. There is certainly no softening of this image, which reminds us that real pain and the dark night of the soul are inevitable parts of life.

The Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg, pg. 261

Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg
Author: Cynthia Giles
ISBN: 0-88079-196-9
Price: $12.00 Standard Paperback
Available from US Games Systems, 179 Ludlow St., Stamford CT, 06902, (800) 544-2637, Fax: 
(203) 353-8431

If you are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Copyright 1996/97 Michele Jackson