I have not really posted anything about Judeo-Christian tradition here, not due to any rejection of it; it simply isn’t my personal focus. My relationship with Christianity – more specifically (since that is very much how I have experienced it) Catholicism – is sketchy, and has been for a long time. I was raised in a Catholic family… My father’s maternal side is a large Italian-American family, very expressive of their Catholic faith, and my mother’s family is Polish, also demonstratively Catholic. Anyone who is Catholic (in the United States anyway), knows there tend to be assumptions about how Americans of different heritage practice this faith. Most of us are pretty aware of the stereotypes! So, you might be able to discern that, given my background, I was also raised in a fairly lax way, religiously speaking… These were religious, devout families, to be sure (everyone had a crucifix and a picture of the Pope, as well as usually a Catholic calendar, hanging in their house, and in many cases had a grotto in their yard). However, none in my family were particularly dogmatic. That is a long way of saying, I was given choices as a child in how I would discover, question, examine, receive, and practice religion. Which is another long way of saying, I would have a hard time considering myself even as much as a “lapsed Catholic.”

However, all of that being said, no matter how deeply involved I become in any other spiritual tradition, there always remains a subtle sense of identifying as Catholic. (This is not so uncommon. My husband was raised Jewish in his adoptive family, but although he no longer practices, he still identifies mostly as Jewish.) A prayer card to the Madonna – Maria SS Della Neve, Our Lady of Snows – that my grandmother brought back from our ancestral village of Civitella Licinio in Italy, sits on a shelf in my bedroom, among what is otherwise a more Pagan kind of altar. That shelf also holds a number of items that had been my mother’s – worry stones, seashells, perfume bottles, and a small brass bell she had used when terminally ill. My point is, although I am quite removed from the religion of my childhood, certain elements of it still impact me in an emotional and spiritual way, and I continue to recognize wisdom in some Judeo-Christian teachings. Thus it is with this deck, Golden Tarot of the Tsar

Golden Tarot of the Tsar

Icons of faith, for meditating and finding inspiration
by Atanas A. Atanassov; introduction and booklet by Giordano Berti

Icons traditionally are not considered a mundane art form, nor are they considered the expression of any individual artist. Their intention is religious, or more aptly, spiritual, in that they seek to provide the viewer with access to another world – that of the divine. They are created using specific techniques put in place long ago, and much of their actual design is based on deep symbolism. For example, colors are significant, as they tend to reflect a spiritual nature that is not physically visible. Divine light is an important element in the subjects of icons, and this is reflected through the use of much gold, and sometimes white. The images are devoid of shadow, an intentional choice as it has been considered that the Kingdom of God is simply full of light, or fully radiant. Because icons are far more than mere “pictures,” they can effectively create a strong religious or spiritual experience within the individual viewing them.

I believe there is something to this. I have always had among my favorite artists Picasso, Chagall, Rothko, Giacometti, and Van Gogh, all of whom are modern and in some cases, considered somewhat abstract … yet have also always felt a strong appreciation for icons. They draw me inexplicably, even though I generally do not enjoy looking at art that is flat or too literal. As I feel the presence, truth, or reality, of the divine through icons, I feel these same qualities through the Golden Tarot of the Tsar. This is a beautiful deck that offers us a dialogue with the divine, through a distinctly Christian and historic language.

The Golden Tarot of the Tsar is a collection of icons, created as a tarot, and generally based on traditional tarot meanings. Saints, prophets, significant women and wives, and of course Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, are all portrayed in the cards. Often, images seem to have the Rider-Waite-Smith as their basis, but many do not. Giordano Berti, in his introduction to the set, effectively explains, “…Atanassov did not reinterpret the Tarot or modify the icons but rather adapted the Tarot to the icons by associating the traditional meaning of each card to a biblical subject or the portrait of a saint. From this unavoidable choice, which radically transforms the traditional Tarot figures, come new interpretive possibilities.” The pip or number cards portray small scenes and are decorated profusely with gold. All of the cards are surrounded by a rich red border, red often symbolizing passion, life, or love, in the creation of icons.

Because many of the images on the cards are of somewhat obscure events in Biblical history, it might not be so easy to pick up this tarot and interpret every card immediately. As I did my first readings with the deck, I kept beside me some books on Christian saints and legends, and with their help was able to understand the cards more completely. I will say this was sort of fun – I love history, and I also enjoy Biblical history specifically. And also, it is quite interesting that many of the cards were strikingly effective in their choice of story or event. In the Four of Chalices, for example, we see the prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb. He leans on his elbow, turned away from a Heavenly hand reaching down into the scene, offering him a chalice. The basic gist of the story is that while on Mount Horeb, Elijah was sustained by an angel, who fed him under a juniper tree. The image on the card clearly reflects this, as it reflects the Four of Cups image most of us are familiar with. In my reading I took this card in the position of the past, to (accurately) reflect that I had been turning away from such spiritual assistance or truth. In the Ten of Wands we see Saint Simon of Cyrene, carrying the cross of Jesus, burdened by its weight (physically and spiritually). The Four of Pentacles shows the Dives, which refers to the hoarding of wealth and resulting spiritual suffering from such greed. Even in these small pip scenes, we can through the understanding of Biblical history, interpret the cards effectively.

The small booklet that comes with the deck includes a concise and insightful introduction, very brief but usually clear interpretations, as well as a short explanation of divining with the cards and an interesting card spread called the “Orthodox Cross.” As with most decks that only include these small booklets, an accompanying book on tarot or a familiarity with the cards is helpful; and as I’ve already mentioned, a general study of Biblical history and the Christian saints makes this deck more comprehensive, and also a true joy to use.

For more photos and information, please see my full review at Illumination Tarot.

Or, purchase the Golden Tarot of the Tsar at Amazon.

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And, btw (since Passover and Holy Week both begin this weekend), for anyone celebrating – have a wonderful Pesach, and Happy Easter as well!