Review by Sheri Harshberger
Recently, I purchased the Russian Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards box set by Svetlana Alexandrovna Touchkoff. The set comes with a book and a box of 25 cards in a very sturdy and attractive slipcase. The book that comes with the set isn't a "little white book" (LWB), but a nicely bound hardcover book of 182 pages.
This oracle deck has 25 cards and they are the most unique cards I have ever seen. This deck is breathtakingly beautiful. The cards are square and each is quartered on the diagonals. Within each resultant triangle there is one half of a square illustration. When I initially saw these cards, they reminded me of quilt blocks. The colors are vibrant and the illustrations are very detailed (viewing them as scanned images doesn't do them justice). The one flaw I would have to say this deck has is that the card stock seems very thin and this may limit the useful life of the deck.
Although there are only 25 cards, there are a total of 50 illustrations depicted in the quarters of the cards. The backs of the cards are black with a gold design. The cards are intended to be used in four different positions so reversals are used with this deck. I will explain more about this later in this review. What makes this deck particularly unique is the fact that the cards are separate from the pictures - a reader doesn't work with the "cards" other than to lay them out - they work with the pictures created by combining the cards together through rotation of the card in its place. This makes for an interesting abstract-like detachment between the cards and the pictures. The illustrations remind me of the smaller, 36-card Titania or Mystical Lenormands. They are not like Tarot in any way, but as a Tarot reader, I have found the illustrations to be deep in meaning and easy to interpret despite their relative simplicity.
The book that comes with the set is very special. It is the means by which the author shares her family traditions and history with the reader as well as how to use the deck. The book is split into 3 sections. The first section covers how to use the cards and the book. This section includes chapters on the origins of the cards and the cultural tradition of gypsy fortune telling. The author also includes a chapter on her family history. The second section of the book contains all 50 illustrations and their meanings. There are 4 meanings to an illustration, ranging from most positive to least positive. The cards are designed so that pictures can be made in any one of four directions (in order from most to least positive):
- toward the reader,
- to the right of the reader,
- to the left of the reader and
- away from the reader.
Each meaning is relative to the direction the picture is facing during a reading. Along with the meanings of the pictures for each position, the general meaning of the illustration is given. A "period of influence" for the illustration is also included so putting a reading within a time context is possible. The third section is devoted to sample readings.
The instructions provided in the first section regarding how to do a reading are very concise. I got the distinct impression I was taking part in a traditional card reading method that has been handed down for generations. There are interesting do's and don'ts for readings such as "don't charge for readings," "don't do readings on Sunday," and "only perform one reading per person per day." Much of the content of the book has a distinct gypsy flavor and respect for the power of the cards, which adds to its charm.
There is only one reading method described in the book. The spread involves all the cards, which are laid out in a 5 by 5 grid after the shuffling method is followed. The steps for precise shuffling and laying out the cards are outlined in the book. Once the cards are laid out, the reader goes through the spread turning the cards in place to make pictures. Only "whole" pictures will count in the reading. It doesn't matter what direction cards are turned to make the picture, but the resultant direction the illustration is facing is important in the reading. This technique leaves the number of cards in a reading determined only at the time of the reading. If no pictures are made, the answer to the querent is that they don't need a reading! If there are pictures made, the reader goes through the spread from top left to bottom right, reading the meanings of the cards based on their orientation. As mentioned before, each card has four meanings. There are small arrows on the sides of the pictures to help the reader orient the picture. Position 1 is the best or most positive reading. It is oriented so the arrows point toward the reader. Position 2 is weaker. The arrows for position 2 point to the reader's right. Position 3 is equivalent to a weak negative (worse than position 2 but better than position 4). The arrows for position 3 are pointed to the reader's left. The worst position for the card is position 4 which is similar to a reversal card in Tarot. The arrows in position 4 are pointed in the opposite direction of the reader or away from them.
The book suggests that children can play with the deck by laying out the cards using the same layout as the reading spread, find the pictures, then construct stories using the pictures they find.
I think it would be interesting to experiment with different ways to read the cards, such as a one card pull or card of the day, which would consist of pulling one of the cards and using the four partial pictures to form a reading.
The more I work with this deck, the more fascinated I am by it. The pictures are different, the technique is different, even the type of reading is different. I really felt like I was fortune telling (and working a fun puzzle!) when using this deck. The pictures lend themselves to interpretation easily, so readers can choose not to use the book if they wish. I would definitely recommend this deck to anyone who loves unique and stunningly colorful artwork, gypsy fortune telling history, or just want to try their skills with something that is very different from Tarot.