|Perun, The Thunder God by|
Thus far I have settled on the individuals that I feel best represent (or provide a unique and meaningful alternative to) the Major Arcana. Some of the archetypes in a traditional tarot deck, based on the Rider-Waite Smith version, do not have appropriate equivalents in the magic and myths of the Slavs. Thus, in some cases—such as the high priestess—the archetype wears a much darker face. Eastern Europe, especially the areas now known as Russia, was and is a harsh place to eke out a living. Their mythology—and thus, this tarot deck I am now imagining—reflect that harshness. Without further ado, I shall run down my summary of the Major Arcana of my Slavic Tarot.
0. The Fool: Ivan-Durak (Иван-дурак) - The youngest of three peasant brothers, Ivan-Durak is simple, straightforward, and friendly. His joviality often leads others to misjudge him as a fool, but his guileless and likeable nature assists him on all of his journeys. The unlikely hero, Ivan-Durak always overcomes his humble roots to achieve great rewards (and often marry a princess).
I. The Magician: Vasilisa the Beautiful (Василиса Прекрасная) - Vasilisa the Beautiful is the dutiful daughter of a peasant, whose evil stepmother and stepsisters drive her from their cottage in search of fire to re-light their hearth. Along the way she enters the hut of Baba-Yaga, who gives her a list of impossible tasks to complete by sunset. Vasilisa, aided by her magical doll, accomplishes all of the tasks. In return, Baba-Yaga bestows upon her the gift of a flaming skull atop a wooden torch. When Vasilisa takes the torch home, the skulls eyes glow and burn her evil stepmother and stepsisters to ashes. Vasilisa marries a prince and lives happily ever after.
II. The High Priestess: Vedma (Ведьма) - Vedma was the figure from whom all modern witch stereotypes stem, to include the riding upon a broomstick and cackling at the moon. She was always depicted as an old woman with great knowledge and power, and she was feared by all and respected by other magical practitioners. Neither innately good nor evil, the original lore of the Vedma is difficult to trace, as the medieval witch hunts came to Eastern Europe and tainted the stories with human victims accused of cavorting with the devil. However, as a powerful, independent and knowledgeable female figure, the Vedma is an appropriate representation of the dark and twilit magic of the Slavic realms.
III. The Emperor: Perun (Перун) - Perun is the supreme sky-god of thunder and lightning in most Slavic pantheons, with comparisons to both Zeus and Thor. He is most often depicted as an imposing figure of masculinity with a copper-colored beard and wielding a giant axe (or, in some cases, hammer). Those who displease him meet an untimely end as he hurls the axe at their heads, and he is feared by all the evil spirits who plague the land. The axe, once thrown, always returns to him. He is the consort of Mokosh, and he rules from the top branches of the World Tree.
IV. The Empress: Mokosh (Мокошь) - Mokosh is the supreme mother goddess of traditional women’s things, activities, and destinies; she watches over spinning, weaving, sewing, embroidery, and other such things. She is the consort of Perun as well as one of the handmaidens of Mother Moist Earth. She lives with Perun at the top of the World Tree, overlooking the realm of the mortals. She is wise and ageless, and often depicted with a spindle in hand, and traces her lineage back to the mother aspect in the Paleolithic goddess triad (where she was depicted with lozenges, spirals and horses, sometimes even antlers).
V. The Heirophant: Svarog (Сварог) - The god of fire, blacksmithing and other crafts, Svarog is the forger of divine weapons, a skilled god, and the father of Dazbog (the sun). His name means a place of brightness or fire, such as a forge. He is often compared to Hephaestus or Vulcan, but his associations with the bright open sky also earn him comparisons to Perun; as such, some argue that Svarog was the supreme deity in the Slavic pantheon instead.
VI. The Lovers: Jarilo and Morena (Ярило и Марена) - A tale of the seasons, full of life, love and death. Jarilo and Morena are the children of Perun and Mokosh. The twins were both born on the night of the new year; however, Jarilo was immediately snatched away by Veles and raised in the underworld. In the spring, Jarilo returned full grown to the land of the living to be reunited with Morena, and the two quickly fell in love. The beginning of summer marked their wedding, bringing peace between the land of the living and the dead and ensuring an abundant harvest. However, come autumn, Jarilo’s attentions wandered, and Morena slew him in swift revenge. In mourning over her dead husband, Morena transformed into a cold and frozen hag; as goes her nature, so goes the natural world into winter. By the end of the new year, Morena also died, and the two siblings could finally be reborn to begin their cycle anew with the coming year.
VII. Chariot: Sventovit (Святовит) - As the god of war and divination, Sventovit is often depicted riding a white horse into battle. Sventovit is said to have four faces that could look simultaneously in each of the cardinal directions, as well as the past, present and future (much like the Roman Janus). Like Svarog, Sventovit’s many faces and associations also earn him a chance to compete with Perun for the position of supreme Slavic deity.
VIII. Strength: Ilya Muromets (Илья́ Му́ромец) - Ilya Muromets was one of the old heroes from Kieven Rus, who suffered a serious illness in his youth that left him paralyzed until age 33, when he was miraculously healed by two wandering pilgrims. Shortly thereafter, a dying knight named Svyatogor gifted Ilya with superhuman strength. Ilya then set off to liberate the besieged city of Kiev and served Prince Vladimir Krasnoye Solnyshko. In his travels, Ilya Muromets singlehandedly defeated the nomads invading the city of Chernigov, earned a knighthood from a local ruler, killed the monster Nightingale the Robber (he was a douche—murdered travelers with a whistle—so don’t be fooled by the pretty name), and earned himself the right to be called the embodiment of all strength.
IX. Hermit: Koschei the Deathless (Коще́й Бессме́ртный) - Koshei the Deathless is not immortal, but rather very difficult to kill. He keeps his soul—or his death—inside a needle, which is hidden in an egg, which is inside a duck, which is inside a hare, which is locked inside an iron chest that was buried inside a giant green oak tree, which grew on the island of Buyan in the middle of the ocean. With his soul separate from his body, he is unkillable by conventional means. Known to live mostly alone and possibly a relative of the famously fearsome Baba-Yaga, Koshei occasionally kidnaps the wives, girlfriends and princesses of Slavic heroes in a vain attempt to assuage his own loneliness, and thus he often presents as a villain in the Skazki (Fairy Tales). But just think of all the knowledge he’s learned over all those years of deathlessness!
X. Wheel of Fortune: Sadko (Садко) - Sadko, a poor gusli-player, struck a deal with the Sea Tsar and became the richest merchant in all of Novgorod; however, he never paid his debt to the sea. Thus, one day as his ship was sailing over the sea, the Sea Tsar called him down below the depths. Sadko journeyed to the oceanic otherworld and settled an argument between the Sea Tsar and his wife. In return the Sea Tsar promised him the hand of the most beautiful mermaid in all of the oceans, and paraded each one before him. Sadko chose the last maiden in the line, a scrawny, nervous thing, as his bride, but did not consummate the marriage; rather, Sadko simply went to sleep. When he awoke, he found himself on the shoreline, with his human wife waiting for him, and his merchant ship returned to him from across the sea, laden with even greater riches than ever before.
XI. Justice: Leshy (Ле́ший) - Leshy are guardian spirits of the forest and protectors of all therein. They have long green beards and hair made of living vines, bright green eyes, blue blood, and pale white skin. They can teach magic to those who befriend them, or punish those who desecrate the forest. They steal the axes of woodcutters and cause other mischief to the unwary. The Leshy, if angered, can also tickle their victims to death. If a Leshy crosses a wanderer’s path in the forest, the wanderer will become hopelessly lost. To protect oneself from their wrath, wear clothing backwards and inside out, and wear shoes on the wrong feet.
And that is all the time I have right now; I will continue the list on another day, probably not until after my unit returns from the field. In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview of the rest of the Major Arcana you have to look forward to!
XII. The Hanged Man: Rusalka (Русалка)
XIII. Death: Baba Yaga (Баба-Яга)
XIV. Temperance: The Zarya (Заря)
XV. The Devil: Veles (Велес)
XVI. The Tower: Zmey Gorynych (Змей Горыныч)
XVII. The Star: The Firebird (Жар-птица)
XVIII. The Moon: Werewolf (Волколак)
XIX. The Sun: Dazbog (Дажьбог)
XX. Judgment: Vila (Вила)
XXI. The World: Mother Moist Earth (Мать Сыра Земля)