THE  IMPURE  FORCE
in EAST SLAVONIC mythology

by  Aleksej Orleanski

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The article, in this form, couldn't have been written without the assistance of Pauline Groot, a friend of us, who has done a great job in translating most part of the descriptions from Russian to Dutch. They give an insight into the way in which the artist has read these tales and what the depicted characters, animals or objects mean within this context.

She has also translated part of the following review of the deck in an article  "Netsjistaja sila on playing cards", that was writen by Ju. B. Demidenko from St. Petersburg in 1995.
"You may believe in them or not, phantoms, spirits, wood-ghosts; you may see them as agents from another world or as dumm superstition of our ancestors. But one thing is sure, a whole layer of national culture is connected with the evil spirits and un-humans. The impure force is the deepest layer of the Slavonic mythology from pre-christian, heathen times. In some cases the believe in those forces has been kept alive until today.
The arts and literature became the willful sources of the artist Aleksej Orleanski, who had taken it upon him to make the most multi-farious  evil spirits the heroes of his deck of cards. The use of the Explanatory Dictionary of V.I. Dal and of the Russian Folktales by A.N. Afanasjev turned out to be very important to him. Here he found the most important and interesting knowledge about evil spirits, that he merely had to transfer into clear images of card figures, that will stick in your memory."

We know little to nothing about Aleksej Orleanski as an artist, but his drawings for this deck are subtle, both in lines as in colouring, and full of symbols from the East Slavonic mythology. It is clear that he has studied the subject carefully before he started the work on this deck.

Baba Jaga is the old woman from the forest, a sorceress. Greatly spoken of among witches, an evil, repulsive sorceress.
She looks ugly and scary.

Lesji / a Forest-ghost. Hostile towards mankind, ruler of the forest. Looks like a man, but beneath the waist he has the body of a goat. He has a pointed head, horns and a beard

Bjes / the Devil is an evil creature without a body, enemy of the human race. Revengeful, cunning and sly, he's the personification of evil.

 

According to the box this deck has been published in 1998 by Format from Rybinsk, Russia.
But the date of the above review, together with the copyright date of the designs (1994), puts a small questionmark to 1998 as the first publication date, that is given on the WWWPCM site. How can one review a deck, if it isn't even printed yet? But maybe the artist had made the final drawings for the cards and were those reviewed, before a deck was actually published.

 

Kasjstjsej or Kosjun is an evil spirit, god of the gloomy creatures that live under the ground, a heathen demon, who symbolises the stiffening and petrification during winter.

Volkodlak
We can't tell you much about this character here. The text on the postcards is based on the second edition, that has a different image on the Jack.

Licho / the Bad is a demonic creature, symbolising a bad fate personification of misfortune, poverty and grief. She has the shape of a long thin woman with only one eye. 

An encounter with her leads to trouble: at the best an accident, a loss of possessions, illness, the loss of a hand, arm, leg or foot, in the worst case to the downfall of a man.

 

Years after the first publication of the deck, a set of postcards was released by the artist himself in 2003, showing all the cards from the deck, in pairs or threesomes. On the back of the postcards short descriptions were given in Russian. The text of the review above can be found on the backside of one of the postcards too.
The second edition shows a different character on the Jack of Clubs (see insert). It's described as being a vampire, a bloodsucking dead person, that rises from the grave at night.

 

 

Kikimora, a ghost, is the evil feminine spirit, a she-devil. She looks like an old humpbacked woman, with a long nose and dressed in rags. She likes to spin, but usually plays tricks with the spindles and spun.

Domovoj - the House-ghost, a bad mind, guardian and insulter of the house. Sometimes benevolent and of cosy and witty character. He rules over all the rooms in the house.

Polevik - the Field-ghost, an evil ghost, a far relative of the house ghost. He looks like a short, deformed old man, but his looks change, depending of the place that he is in. 

The Field-ghost is also refered to as a formless figure that reminds more of a haystack, a confluence with crops and grass in the field.

 

The publication of the postcards was a personal entreprise by the artist, just like the second edition of the deck in 2004, in limited number of 1053 decks.

Vodjanoj - the Water-sprite is an evil spirit, ruler of the waters. He lives in pools, ponds, lakes and in the whirlpools of rivers, preferably in black water.

Bannik - the Bath-ghost is an evil spirit, a special house-ghost, that lurks in the bath. He is lord and guardian of the bath. 

Rusalka Mermaid is a harmful female creature, an evil spirit. Women who have drowned, self-inflicted or by someone else, and unbaptised dead children become mermaids.

The black rooster in the drawing of Bannik, the Jack of Diamonds, refers to an old ritual that may still be in use in some parts of Slavonia: to suit the Bath-ghost people bring bread and salt to a new bathroom and burry a black chicken under the brink.

The Aces, jokers, extra card and box can be seen at page 2.


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ARTHOME or ARCHIVES