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I don't think I've talked about any books at all on this blog, except maybe only in passing. Well!

I've owned a copy of the Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg deck for years now—possibly since 2008? The art is certainly striking, especially against the black background.



But it always felt like much of the art and symbolism that was beyond me. I didn't realize until a couple of years ago that there was a companion book; I didn't get around to acquiring a copy until this year.

The reason for my hesitance was partially my generally uninspiring previous experience with "companion books." They felt more like diet versions of a generic Tarot book then an in-depth exploration of a particular deck's art or history (the obvious exclusion being Crowley's Book of Thoth). Moreover, it seemed for a long time that the standalone book was unavailable; it only occurred in a package deals with the deck, which made it unnecessarily expensive and wasteful. Finally, as a Christmas gift to myself, when I found a used standalone copy available, I cashed in some Visa reward points and got Cynthia Giles's Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg for eventually free. It arrived a few days ago and I've just finished reading it now.

This is probably the best Tarot deck companion book I've encountered yet. Giles goes beyond telling you about the deck; she also delves into Russian history, culture, and folklore, much of which turn up in the actual cards. The casual user will no doubt recognize Josef Stalin as the figure in The Devil; if they page through the accompanying LWB, they'll also learn that Princess Olga of Kiev is pictured as the High Priestess, or that the Hierophant resembles Saint Vladimir. But without the background knowledge Giles collects in this volume, they would be much harder pressed to recognize other personages, like Ivan the Great, Grand Princess Sofia, or Ivan the Terrible. (Unless they were hardcore Russian history buffs, I suppose!) She also provides more details and context for the figures only briefly alluded to in the LWB. There is less detail when it comes to the specific court cards and pips, but that is largely due to the fact that there is an abundance of background information elsewhere. The amount of research and work that Giles put into this volume is staggering; she also makes numerous suggestions for further reading and includes her complete bibliography at the end.

I love this deck, and while I've read (relatively) successfully without Giles's companion book, after finally getting my hands on it I can conclude that the information and context provided in the book is, if not 100% essential for working with the deck, it's 100% important. If you've seen me mention this deck and have been thinking about getting one yourself, I would recommend saving up to get the deck and companion book package deal. Absolutely worth it.

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