It’s always hard to review a deck that has both great plus sides as well as huge downsides. The Russian/Ukranian Agni Roerich Tarot is such a deck and in order to know if this is truly a Tarot you want to put on your wish list, you better read all the plusses and minuses.
Russia is known for its great writers and painters. Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) definitely belongs on that list. The Russian painter, inspired by Shambhala (a mythical Buddhist kingdom situated in the Himalayans), traveled around and used both of these inspirations in his artwork. There are several museums dedicated to his artwork, but the best known is in New York. Roerich is often seen as a ‘Symbolist’, so it wasn’t that surprising a Ukranian publisher – name not mentioned anywhere, other than the author Svetlana Traskovskaya – ended up creating a tarot deck from his work.
Designers of Oracles make frequent use of existing paintings and pictures. They add a theme or thought to it and with a bit of luck you have an excellent divination tool. I think in as many occasions that it works, it fails too. And for a tarot deck this practice is rare and seems more difficult. So, does the Agni Roerich actually make a decent reading tool?
I think for me it was love at first sight. As soon as I opened the box I was enthusiastic. It was just your ordinary typical tuck box and thin carton at that. After having used it for a few weeks, taking the cards out and putting them back in, the box is almost ready to be discarded and replaced by one of those pretty Arcana cases I wrote about earlier. That is a shame, but it is the perfect bridge to put you on hold for the whole “love at first sight story” and introduce you to the downsides of the Agni Roerich Tarot.
The quality of the stock is utter c***. There, I’ve said it. This is truly the worst card-stock I have ever laid my hands & eyes on and to put insult to injury, the cards have super ugly, big and completely unnecessary blue borders, while the cards are already contoured with a black & white line. It makes the art quite tiny and if you are going to use original work from a famous painter who also includes a lot of details, why do this?
I know some people hate the carton-type stock because those will always have a crease once a corner bends and you can’t riffle shuffle with them. However: if you shuffle those overhand they will last you a lifetime and bending *is* rare. These cards…I hope they will make it to the end of the year. While the finish is okay, not too glossy or too mat, I can completely bend them by just using a minimum amount of pressure from my pinky finger and then they’ll sort of stay that way. I did one riffle shuffle in the very beginning because with thin cards that’s easier, but ended up with several bent and out of shape cards.
Original Agni Roerich Kit
I truly don’t understand why anyone would choose paper like this. Granted, this is the ‘regular’ mass market edition of the Agni Roerich Tarot. A standard sized deck (think Lo Scarabeo size). I know there is also an original kit, which is larger, limited edition, has a companion and nice bag (although the book is completely in Russian). I’ve read good things about that stock, but unfortunately it is HTF (I have provided a link below) and on the pricey side. The regular version isn’t widely available either, so I already bought a second set, knowing the quality might cut the life of my first deck rather short.
Which brings me back to the love. You don’t buy a second set after just having two weeks of reading if you don’t have a little crush on the Agni Roerich Tarot. If I purely look at the art and the way it reads, this deck is a welcome addition to my collection. On some forums people expressed the opinion this ‘isn’t a reading deck’ and I am very surprised about that. Connecting with a deck instantly isn’t common -we’ve all been there, hearing the ‘weh, weh, weh’ in our heads when a much coveted tarot doesn’t click. I had absolutely no problem with this one.
The art is beautiful, symbolic, a little melancholic at times (I feel that is typical Russian by the way). It’s figurative and the landscapes are derived from the Himalayan mountains. In the clothing, coloring and figures I could sometimes detect a little Mongolia, Asia and the Russian Orthodox roots of Nicolas Roerich.
Despite being original art without the artist ever having had the thought ( I assume) of making a tarot deck the Agni Roerich Tarot works great as a divination/counseling tool. For me it obviously follows the Waite-Smith tradition, including the scenics. Here and there some suit symbols have been added, but in such a way that you feel they just belong there. And on a lot of cards you don’t see suits and don’t even realize it until later. I have done a few readings with it for myself – in total three weeks of COTD’s for example – and a few readings for others (clients who specifically booked a reading with a review deck). 9 out of 10 times I didn’t feel the need to dive into the little white book.
Symbolism & atmosphere
I could have done completely without, because next to a Russian title the deck offers its English translation. However, when I saw a card that seemed a little less ‘logic’ for me, I did use the little booklet that came with it. Most of the time I could make use of the symbolism and atmosphere in the card, giving me clear insight. And that feeling turned out to be close to what Svetlana Traskovskaya wrote down. That means that if you are a – what I call – language-reader*, the Agni Roerich requires just a tiny bit of studying and testing. Although this is with just a minimum amount of cards. The surprises were, for example, the Pages who seem to have been given somewhat of a meditative/contemplative state in this deck.
The little white booklet is in Russian and (roughly) translated English. It is however useful to browse every now and then and read about the original thoughts the makers of the Agni Roerich Tarot had when using Roerichs paintings. Some are close to ‘standard’ Waite-Smith (RWS), as much as the paintings are. Others offer something extra for your tarocabulary.
I think some beginners, who use tarot to tell a story and who aren’t interested in working with multiple decks or studying the RWS system, could use this deck as ‘their first’. The scenics are obvious enough. The most accurate rating however would be ‘intermediate’. This because the scenes – while still very recognizable – are different in some cases and suit symbols can be lacking. In some cases the names of the Major Arcana have been changed too. The Fool is the Path to Kailas, The Devil is The Demon and so on. Justice is named Justice but does not have a scale, blindfold, sword or anything.
If you don’t mind the bad card-stock and have your scissors ready for a borderectomy the Agni Roerich Tarot deck is definitely worth your money (because it isn’t expensive for a HTF). Yes, buy a second one if you like it; probably it won’t withstand heavy use. I am happy to have it, but if I can ever lay my hands on the original limited edition kit (and use Google Translate for the book)when I have some budget left, I will!
*For me tarot is both an art and a language. Two things that evolve over time, but that even between two different people from the same country can have significant differences. So, even though two decks can uphold a similar system, like the Waite-Smith, their designers might still have a different set of meanings in mind when making it and that is also visible in the art. Therefore a reading with three cards from deck A can give you a different answer compared to the same three from deck B. This is why I consider myself a ‘language reader’ and I love implementing the extra element of the original thought in my readings.
|Author or artist||Publisher||Publication|
|Nicholas Roerich & Svetlana Traskovskaya||Ukraine||2015|