I wanted to discuss reading with the Russian Lubok Tarot without going into a full review of the deck. However, it is so unique that I don’t know how to describe my experience without giving a little sneak peak review along the way.
The deck is based on the Rider Waite Smith system, but its images are not just worn-out, rehashed, redrawn RWS cards in the Lubok style. Rather, each card image is either based on historic Lubok art, or drawn as imagined Lubok scenes with a tarot twist using the traditional elements of Russian folklore.
The Lubok Tarot shipped directly from Russia. When I received the deck, I spent weeks just flipping through the cards. Each scene is fascinating. There is a subtle humor in most of the cards. There are a few words and phrases in the upper left of each card as well, and since I don’t read Russian, was intrigued by what may be written on them.
I met my colleague, Eugene, for lunch and we spent several hours looking at the cards and discussing some of the imagery and text. He was able to show me details within the artwork that I would NEVER have discovered on my own. He explained that many of the characters are shown in dress that indicates social status. Eugene also explained the cultural history of depicted artifacts such as furnaces, tea pots, and ornamentation. Sadly he did not teach me how to read Russian, but I had another plan for that.
Google Translate to the Rescue
The Translate app is a nifty utility that does a lot of work in a small package. I used the photo scan feature to attempt a translation of the card text, but didn’t get very far. The card text has a stylized Russian font that doesn’t agree with Google Translate. After a lot of trial and error I learned to write the Russian alphabet and use the handwriting feature to draw the text directly into the app where it would translate better than scanning. In time I wrangled much of the text into something coherent.
Fortunately the font in the accompanying informational booklet was more compatible with Google Translate. I was able to scan a good portion of the booklet into the app and translate it in bulk. But I still had to edit it afterwards to make it play nice.
Since the Lubok deck is standard Tarot, it can be read without learning a new reading system. However I wanted to learn the ‘backstory’ to each Lubok scene because the images add an additional layer of symbolism and story. In some cases the story represented by the Lubok image is directly related to a popular Tarot narrative. In others, the card scene only hints at familiar themes.
Of all my decks, I felt the greatest hesitancy to start reading with the Russian Lubok Tarot. I enjoyed spending a lot of time studying each card and researching the history of the images without ever attempting a reading. Here is what I was concerned about:
- Concern #1 – I would not be able to connect the cards together as a story or open reading
- Concern #2 – The Lubok images would overpower the root card meaning
- Concern #3 – I would get caught up in the fascinating images and not read the tarot message
I sat with my querent who graciously allowed me to post his reading here. His question was: ”What do I need to work on in my career?”
See above photo for the reading
As soon as the cards were drawn I knew I had a splendid deck on my hands. The message arrived faster than a knife fight in a phone booth.
“There is someone in your workplace, possibly a superior or a colleague with experience, that you should be looking to for professional collaboration or even mentorship. This person is likely to be a superior with decision-making responsibilities. I suspect that you have generally been unaware of this person’s influence up to now, but you know instinctively who it may be (has there been conflict with them?). The 8 of Cups is explaining there is fulfilling work and greater things for you within your career, but there is no guarantee that it exists in the place you are now. You are to search deep and ask yourself, can this workplace provide the things that give you the desired feelings of purpose? And if the answer is yes, what do you need to do, and can you realistically work with the people over you to achieve these goals/needs? If the answer is no, what do you need to do to work with your superiors and connect with them in a way that helps you? It seems as though you have missed some clues about your career path. Regardless of your choice, you will be faced with ‘picking up the pieces’ and making the best with what you have. This is the risk of the 5 of Swords.”
This maiden voyage with the Lubok Tarot was smooth sailing. Not one of my concerns was founded; in fact the concerns I had prior to reading turned out to be the strengths of deck:
- Strength #1 – The cards naturally wove a story
- Strength #2 – The Lubok images strengthened the cards’ root meaning
- Strength #3 – The fascinating Lubok images allowed me to see deeper into the language of Tarot and deliver a relevant and nuanced message.
I do not believe this deck is simply a collector’s item to be displayed or admired. It offers a great deal more than that. Lubok stings with a potent moral message. Combining the cultural wisdom of Lubok with the esoteric wisdom of Tarot is something I will be exploring for a while.
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