|Firebird, by yours truly. If you really|
like it, you can buy it from here!
Anywho, following my last post concerning my latest long-term project of developing my very own tarot deck devoted to Slavic Mythology, I have been quite the busy beaver. I spent two weeks in the field with my old unit, outprocessed, started a fantastic new job with a new unit, celebrated the return of my fiancé Orion from his deployment, and started training for a marathon. My new job keeps me significantly busier than did my old job—I am now the happy Executive Officer of a wonderful Company—and furthermore, marathon training has monopolized my weekends. Luckily, the marathon is now only a few weeks away, and so you should be hearing more from me in the ensuing months than in the previous, well, three.
And now I shall, in keeping with the theme of my previous post, continue with a follow up detailing the rest of my my dreamed-up Major Arcana for the eventual Slavic Tarot production! Hope you enjoy my summaries.
XII. The Hanged Man: Rusalka (Русалка) - The Rusalki (singular: Rusalka) have sometimes been compared to the Sirens of Greco-Roman myth, and tales of such creatures as the Rusalki indeed populate every mythology I have yet come across (the fox-women of Japan and the seal-people of the Celtic islands, for yet more examples). In Slavic myth, a Rusalka is a beautiful female spirit who haunts a particular body of water, usually a pond, river or waterfall. She is sometimes said to be the vengeful ghost of a drowned maiden, generally one who was unhappy in life, was cheated on by her lover, killed herself via water like Ophelia, or was even murdered. Tales of the Rusalki frequently depict them luring men—particularly young, pretty ones—to watery deaths in an attempt to assuage their own loneliness. For more information, you can see one of my previous posts dedicated to these ghostly femme fatales here.
XIII. Death: Baba Yaga (Баба-Яга) - Oh boy, where do I begin with this one? One of my favorite scary-Cthonic-demigods of all time, I wrote an entire thesis paper in college about this particular hag. Twenty-five pages. In Russian, mind you. Pretty much the most difficult thing I have ever done, and I’m not exactly the kind of person who shies away from challenges. Thus, all I will do here is link you to some of the previous posts I have written concerning this most delightfully complex figure from the Slavic Pantheon: here and here.
XIV. Temperance: The Zarya (Заря) - Now, you may be wondering why I have chosen to use the Zarya—which represent the Morning and Evening Stars—to represent the Temperance card instead of, well, the Star. I made this choice because of the qualities the Zarya, also sometimes called the Zorya, the Svezda or any other number of names, represent. The Zarya are guardian goddesses who personify not only the two stars that flank either end of the nighttime, but also the dawn and the auroras. They guard the doomsday hound, known as Simargl, who is chained to the star Polaris (you can find this star located in the constellation Ursa Minor). Should the chain holding Simargl break, he will eat the constellation and the entire universe as we know it will come to an end. The Zarya serve the sun god Dazbog, and are sometimes even said to be his daughters. Zarya Utrennyaya opens the gates of his palace each morning and Zarya Vechernyaya closes the gates each night. Supposedly these two maidens dwell on an oceanic island paradise along with the Sun and his attendants: the North, West and East winds. Not sure whatever happened to the South wind. Maybe he wasn’t invited.
XV. The Devil: Veles (Велес) - Veles is the mischievous god of the damp underworld, and he was also associated with agriculture and cattle. He is the opposite and enemy of Perun, and their battles were known to wreck havoc on the world and accounted for multiple natural disasters. Bringer of storms and slayer of oath-breakers, Veles’ wrath is swift and final. He would upon occasion send the spirits of the dead to the living realms as his heralds and messengers, which I imagine would be a rather spooky experience for the recipients of said messages. He ruled from the roots of the World Tree.
XVI. The Tower: Zmey Gorynych (Змей Горыныч) - Zmey Gorynych was a giant, green, three-headed dragon who breathed fire and reigned down utter destruction on all who fell into his path. Slavic myth contains many tales of dragons and wyrms and other such wonderous and scary beasts, but Zmey Gornych was probably one of the most infamous. He was supposedly slain by Dobynyna Nikitich (literally, “Good/nice/sweet Nikitich”), which I bet was a pretty difficult feat to accomplish considering that the Zmey’s heads will regrow if all three of them are not severed simultaneously.
XVII. The Star: The Firebird (Жар-птица) - Ah, the Firebird. Another of my mythological obsessions—I even incorporated a firebird feather into the tattoo on my foot—the firebird is said to sing with a woman’s voice and sometimes wear a woman’s face, leading unwary wanderers (usually male, and usually heroes) on endless journeys through the deep woods of Eastern Europe with nothing but her beauty and her song. These poor, sad heroes fall in love with the sadness and beauty of her music, and are thus doomed to follow her until they can follow no more and simply waste away. She is a symbol of freedom, independence and femininity, and no matter how many times she is sought and even temporarily caught, no cage can contain her for long.
XVIII. The Moon: Werewolf (Волколак) - The origins of the werewolf mythology are frequently traced back to Eastern Europe, so I felt that there was no more appropriate legend to depict the mysterious cycles of the moon than the lycans whose transformations are ruled by that same cycle. Dangerous, deadly and often misunderstood in popular culture like so many other figures whose origins trace back to the land of the Slavs, the werewolf continues to be a source of fascination and fear. I’m really looking forward to paining this one; I think my depiction may just surprise you.
XIX. The Sun: Dazbog (Дажьбог) - Several other summaries have included references to Dazbog, god of the sun. He is the master and sometime father of the Zarya, who open and close the gates to his palace each morning and night so that he can ride in his chariot across the heavens. Like Svarog, Dazbog is sometimes compared to Vulcan or Haephestus. Some sources even state the Dazbog is the son of Svarog, which would make sense considering both deity’s associations with fire, the sun and sky; however, it is generally Dazbog who is said to literally embody the sun and heavenly fires, whereas Svarog is generally the embodiment of the forge and earthly fires. Mythology is complicated. If you’ve read my blog or any other blog or hell, any book about any mythology at all, this concept should not be particularly mind-boggling.
XX. Judgment: Vila (Вила) - Popularized by a cameo in Harry Potter—Fleur ring a bell?—the Vili (singular: Vila) are related to the Rusalki, although they are seldom traced as the spirits of drowned woman. Both Rusalki and Vili could be described as beautiful and terrible female spirits who sing, but there the similarities end. The Vili can form large gusts of wind that lift houses into the air, and are said to be fierce warriors who cause the earth to shake with their battles, earning them comparisons to the Norse Valkyries. However, they also have healing abilities as well as the gifts of prophecy, and have been known to help worthy humans (but you don’t want to piss them off; they’ve also been known to lure young men to dance with them, which can be either very good or very, very bood for said young man). As keepers of judgment and punishers of oath-breakers, they slaughter those who merit their wrath.
XXI. The World: Mother Moist Earth (Мать Сыра Земля) - Mother Moist Earth is the personification of the natural world in Slavic myth. She is the field and the forest, providing a home to all who dwell upon her. In the Skazki when a hero would be instructed to kiss his mother, the correct response was for him to fall to his knees and kiss the ground beneath his feet. This demonstrates to me the level of respect and veneration ancient Slavs felt for their Mother Moist Earth, who—as the mother of Mokosh, who also served as one of her handmaidens—would be like the Titan Rhea/Gaia and the mother of all the gods and goddess. Thus, she seemed a very obvious and clear choice for me to represent the culmination of the Major Arcana that is the World card. More on Mother Moist Earth here.
This concludes my summary of the Major Arcana in my Slavic Tarot dreams. I am still deciding on what Slavic symbols I want to use specifically for each suit of the Minor Arcana—right now, the only thing I’ve settled on is using kukri, which were the curved blades used by Cossacks and other Slavic warrior tribes, in place of the traditional western swords—and so there will likely be a few more posts concerning this latest project of mine. Eventually. I still have lots of nuptial preparations to finish before I can really throw myself into making the paintings for each and every card, writing up more thorough and professional-sounding summaries, and then getting all those paintings shrunk down into nice, tarot-sized cards. Should be fun! Should take me a while.
Thus, until next time, fare thee well and blessed be!