Review by Solandia
The Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot sounds like the epitome of twee. Cats in fancy ornate costumes? Cats don’t have thumbs or elbows – how are they holding things? How are they walking upright or sitting on chairs? How can that be a credible Tarot deck?
It can. Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov from baba studio have managed to follow their first creation, the Tarot of Prague, with a work of more fun but equal quality. In these cards, cats of all breeds, colours, shapes and sizes are fully and gloriously attired, set in luxurious surroundings matched to the hue of their eyes and fur. Suspension of belief is necessary to use these cards, but thanks to the skill and attention to detail, both on the part of the costume designer and the artists who blended the images of cats, costumes and attractive landscapes together into a cohesive and opulent whole, this isn’t hard to achieve.
At first glance the cards have a rather feminine feel of dressed cats, floral borders, rich decadence and florid excess - but this is in keeping with the theme; Baroque being very much a gilded and fantastic style, as it coincided with the 17th and some of the 18th centuries in Europe. As well having their eye colour matched to the costumes, cat expressions have been modelled after the card archetype. In majors, the calmness of the figures translates to a posed and richly-dressed formality, reminding me of earlier historical decks. The minors have more of an energy and wider range of cat facial expressions. Only a handful of cards -including the Aces, Judgement and the Tower - have pictures of ‘real’ cats. And, lest anyone worry, we are told on the back of the box that these cats were dressed entirely digitally, and were not harmed or affected in any way. (Which would be why the cats can look so calm and collected: if in actuality they were dressed, the only expression would be resigned boredom or an I’m-going-to-remember-this-on-a-dark-night-at-3am evil stare.)
Symbolically, the cards are based on the Rider-Waite and each element has been chosen for its suitability to the card archetype. A great deal of thought that has gone into the usability of the deck: for example, the majors of the deck are un-numbered and can be arranged in any sequence desired in order to resolve the Strength/Justice arrangement dilemma.
I had a hard time choosing my favourite cards from this deck. There is the Hierophant with his lynx like figure and steady gaze. The calm and even suave Hanged Man. The Wheel of Fortune, with its well dressed Russian Blue looking into a mirror and a sleepy, raggedly-dressed puss looking out. The composition, colouring and expression in the King of Wands. The match of costume and hue in the Two of Swords and Justice. The Three of Wands, with its opera-singing cat in full voice on stage. I am also fond of the Magician, a commanding fellow in blue and gold, but he’s so similarly patterned to the background that he doesn’t stand out (though perhaps this is another element of the trickster). I did find this to be the case with a few cards, other cards, while lovely, they are so busy and full of detail that it’s hard to pick out the most important elements until the images are very familiar.
The full Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot set includes the 78 card deck, plus a title card and a 79th card titled Hermes, and a 208 page book, packaged together in a slipcase. (The packaging is much more compact than the Tarot of Prague packaging -- a definite improvement.) In the hand, the cards area slightly larger size than usual, the better for showing off the card details. The cardstock is quite matte rather than glossy, and they are easy to shuffle and use. The backs of the decks are not quite reversible but a busy relief or frieze of flowers, fruits, faces and vines has been cleverly designed to appear so from the usual reading distance. (The words Baroque Bohemian Cats is laid down the centre, linked by the middle S, and to the left and right are the authors’ last names, in very small and unobtrusive print.)
The companion book, "The Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot", is a slim volume that yet manages to hold 208 pages of useful, down-to-earth information on the card meanings and background, as well as a complete introduction to learning and reading Tarot. It begins with a little history on the tradition of cats in clothes – proving that yes, other people have done this before – a little tarot history and history of cats in Tarot. The bulk of the book contains the card explanations, with keywords, upright and reversed meanings, and notes on the cards, cats and locations. The back of the book provides info on reading with the cards, keeping a tarot journal, related Tarot spreads and finally two sample readings. For beginners, the book-and-deck set is a perfect and compact introduction to the world of Tarot. Collectors and experienced Tarot readers wouldn’t necessarily need the book, but it may be enjoyed for the explanation of the chosen card symbolism and selected cats.
The Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot is a perfect introductory deck for the cat-lover who thought Tarot was a bit too stuffy and uninteresting. The feline fantasy world could also appeal to doll or costume collectors as well as deck collectors -– and the cards are still very useable for readings.
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The "Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot" takes one straight into the Baroque world - the Baroque feline world! This is one of the finest decks featuring cats that I have come across, one that I will treasure not only because the ever present feline "catattude" has been so lovingly expressed, but because of the stunning world that was created for them. One may wonder why I felt the need to give credit to the costume designer for this deck - the reason is simple - she did an outstanding job of dressing these adorable creatures in intricate Baroque style costumes that to me express exactly what this world means to the felines that inhabit it.
The "Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot", as the author states, follows in a long line of work where cats (as well as other animals) were shown wearing cloths. The book that accompanies this deck (at 5 3/4" by 7 7/8" and 207 pages, not to be confused with a LWB) shows several examples of such work: a Victorian dressed gentleman cat, an illustration of two feline "suitors" by Louis Wain and an Alfred Mainzer Dressed Cats postcard (artwork by a gentleman by the name of Herr Hartung) showing a properly dressed Cat drawing room. There is an absolutely adorable headshot of a gentleman cat wearing a very dashing hat done by V. Konashevich of the Soviet Union, as well as a well dressed lady cat by the same artist. Makes me wonder where I have been all this time!
This deck follows the traditional (i.e. Rider-Waite) line of interpretation for the cards, making use of the imagery within each card for potential interpretations. The accompanying book includes a short section on Tarot history, a presentation of each card that includes a description of the card, the cat's own interpretation of the card, keywords for the upright and reversed positions, and a discussion of the card, followed by notes on the sources for the artwork within the card.
These are Karen's own words on the inclusion of the Cat's Interpretation:
"One last point to mention is that you may wonder why there is also a small section for each card called Cat's Interpretation. This began as something simply to add some humor and whimsy to the descriptions. However, as I wrote more of these pieces I realized that they are often surprisingly useful at giving a fresh and sometimes thought-provoking point of view on the more conventional meanings. Several times I found that they opened up my own attitude and approach to interpreting a card. So please don't always just gloss over these, I offer them as worthy of a little reflection, as well as being fun. Sometimes the world seen according to a cat;s viewpoint and behavior can be an oddly revealing place."
As a cat lover my entire life, someone who regards my cats as my "children", someone who personifies them and talks to them (and yes, even listens to them), I found it astounding to think that anyone would not take the Cat's Interpretation seriously! So, I add my words to Karen's - give these adorable fur people a chance - they have a valid point of view, and may just be able to expand yours too!
At the end of the book Karen suggests keeping a Tarot journal. If you take the time to read this short section, you will see that she also suggests that as the world of this deck is a Baroque fantasy world, that in working with the cards you may wish to view them as an illustration from a story about this world. I think this is a wonderful suggestion, and intend to do just that!
In the spread section, Karen presents a three card spread, a five card spread, the five card Prague "threshold" spread (created specifically for use with the Prague Tarot, also from Baba Studio), as well as a seven card spread called the Cat's Tale. I often see spreads as one of the gifts that come with a deck, and these spreads certainly fall into that category. I am quite sure that my cats (Sara and Maxwell) want to get in on the Cat's Tale with their wonderfully personal points of view!
The cards are 3" by 5", which are a tad large for smaller hand to work with. (However - I will not allow this to stop me from using this deck! ) The backs show a black and white pattern, with the outline of an eye in the middle, dissected with a line carrying the title of the deck. It would not be possible to tell if the card had been drawn upright or reversed.
The face of the card shows a gentle border, surrounding the central picture, which shows felines dressed in Baroque costume, in a realistic setting. The court cards show the first initial of the card in the lower left hand corner, with the suit symbol in the lower right hand corner. The pips show the card number in the lower left hand corner, with the suit in the lower right hand corner. The Major Arcana are deliberately not numbered, honoring the fact that different Tarot systems number the Major Arcana in different manners. The title of the card is written across the bottom of each Major Arcana card.
The style of art uses Baroque backgrounds a costuming, combining photographs of real cats with wonderful custom made miniature costumes. Backgrounds have been added from the Baroque period that include locations in Prague and the Renaissance town of Cesky Krumlov.
The Fool is one of my favorite cards in any deck, and certainly remains so here. What a jaunty little person we see here - about to step off the roof and enter into a wonderful adventure! Behind him we see a weather vane of an angel carrying a large quill pen watches over him.
The Emperor, seated in his study, is the very picture of studiousness and seriousness - ready to make a decision and take whatever action is necessary to protect his domain, and those in it.
The oh so elegant Lady Justice, dressed in vivid orange and standing between her towers, brings a sense of calm and balance to the proceedings.
This worker, with his burden in hand, certainly bears out the "burden of responsibility" that the 10 of Wands traditionally carries. The beautiful fall colors of the background, and the fallen leaves, indicate a time of slowing down and making centered, balanced decisions. How sad that with all of his burdens, this cat cannot take the time to enjoy the beauty surrounding him.
The Ace of Cups certainly shows a card with potential. Behind the cat portrayed here we see an archway, with the emblem of a Swan on it.
This 2 of Swords Lady, in her bright orange ball gown, shows the very feisty nature of the feline. As noted int he book - we don't know whether this is defiance or defense - or a mixture of both! Put a Calico in this picture, and you have my Sara!
This deck has one extra card, entitled Hermes, placed in the deck for "luck". For those who use significators, that would also be a good placement for this card. If one really wanted to test the Fates, one could leave the card in the deck while shuffling, and see where it felt the need to pop up!
I am going to give an example of a card presentation from the book, so that you can see what a wonderful job has been done here. As the Hermit is probably my favorite card in all decks, we will take a look at him. From the book:
"IX The Hermit"
An elderly gray cat makes his way alone an empty street in the evening twilight. He is heavily hooded and holds up a lantern and a staff with the head of a wolf; or could it be Anubis, the jackal-headed Egyptian god who could foretell the time of death? To one side is an incredible gnarled tree, showing the beauty that often comes with age.
A Cat's Interpretation:
vIt isn't uncommon for a cat to decide to withdraw from society and live on its own. This may be for many reasons - perhaps this animal has had a bad experience with humans it has lived with, or it is simply old and tired of the noise and bustle of others. However in a true cat fashion even the most solitary and anti-social cat will not deliberately lead a life of physical self-denial. Alone perhaps, but uncomfortable? Never!
Keywords and phrases:
Introspection * mental or spiritual quest * Meditation * A deliberate withdrawal from the world*Thinking deeply and carefully * The passing of time - and the wisdom that comes with it.
Keywords and phrases for reversed cards:
Coming back to the world after time away * Being unwilling to look deeply into matters * Resisting the natural aging process * A depressed or neurotic withdrawal, rather than a calm and considered one.
Unlike many of the Major Arcana cards, The Hermit has a more normal interpretation, and a less common one. Usually it represents a withdrawal from everyday concerns of life in order to gain insights into deeper matters. This withdrawal may be actual - a literal need to be solitary - or it may be more symbolic, perhaps a psychological withdrawal or disengagement from the everyday. It may also take the form of a journey or quest undertaken alone, and for spiritual, rat her than practical reasons. This brings to mind all the lone sages of mythology and also, it should be said, the isolated witches and wizards of ancient fairy tales.
The less common interpretation of this card is about the passing of time. The card actually used to be entitled "Father Time" and this gives quite a different nuance to the elderly figure. In many world myths about Hermits they are believed to live to an incredible age, while existing in a style in which time simply passes them by. In one sense the years never touch them. Just as a candle burning down is an old symbol of the shortness of our lives, so the lantern traditionally held by the Hermit may have originally have symbolized this, rather than, or in addition to, enlightenment.
These two meanings - deep meditation and the passing of time - can be reconciled very easily if you consider that it's the knowledge that life is short that often motivates us to look inside ourselves and begin to think about the meaning of our existence.
The presence of Anubis, the Egyptian god who could foretell the time of death, and who also guided souls into the afterlife, is one visual reminder of the way in which this card may remind us that life is short and that we sometimes need to think deeply about its purpose and focus. As we grow older, the desire to make some spiritual sense of life often becomes stronger. But surrounded by everyday duties and tasks we can endlessly put off any search for deeper truths or enlightenment. The Hermit counsels us to step aside, even for a short while, and cut ourselves off from the bustle in order to be able to think, contemplate and meditate in peace.
Notes on the source material:
The cat is a very elderly Russian Blue female who was probably nearing the end of her life. When we met her she was surrounded by young cats and kittens, but in fact she had separated herself both physically, and, it seemed, mentally from all of them. The head of the staff is made from a remarkable door handle that we found at Prague Castle.
"Of all animals, he alone attains to the Contemplative Life." - Andrew Long
"When the moon gets up and night comes, he is the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to him." - The Cat That Walked By Himself - Rudyard Kipling"
I find this deck to be eye catching, fun to work with and a deck that I would definitely include as a choice for Seekers that I read for in person. (I am saying that I would not use it for personal or other readings - I work for a 900 line, and would not hesitate to use it for my clients here.) It is also a deck with depth to it, and could easily be used for ceremonial, ritual and meditative purposes.
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.