The Cat's Eye Tarot is by a feline veterinarian, a person very familiar with cats, their habits and personalities. These cats are very natural and real, and yet have been beautifully adapted to Tarot cards. The deck is now completed and published by US Games.
So many tarot lovers are also cat lovers. I must admit I am the exception. Yes, I have loved a few kitties over the years, but I am not what you would call a “cat person.” Therefore, I would likely never meet the artist of the new Cat’s Eye Tarot in her day job as a veterinarian. I love it when smart people go public as tarotists. I admire someone who is multi-talented enough to make it through veterinary school, keep a medical practice, read tarot, be an artist and create a tarot deck.
The marriage of cats and tarot has created some interesting offspring. We have Tarot of the Cat People, Medieval Cat Tarot, Tarot of the Pagan Cats, and Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot, to name only a few. One might ask if the world needed yet another cat tarot. Given the number of tarot-reading cat-lovers, there can probably never be enough, and Cat’s Eye Tarot differentiates itself from the rest of the litter quite nicely.
The cats drawn by Debra M. Given are extremely realistic housecats. Any of them could be a patient at her felines-only veterinary hospital in Portland, Maine. One of my favorite aspects of Cat’s Eye Tarot is that these cats, unlike most tarot cats, don’t wear clothes, ride horses, mix potions or brandish swords. They do cat things. The cat things they do are enough akin to Rider Waite Smith symbolism that many of the images are immediately understandable.
Dr. Givin has taken care, in many cases, to identify the type of cat in each card within the Little White Book. Happily, the multi-talented Debra M. Givin is a decent writer, and the LWB is detailed and informative.
The deck follows RWS symbolism, structure and interpretation, so it will be easy for RWS-schooled readers to make the transition to this deck. New readers, especially if they are cat-lovers, will find the interpretations logical and appropriate for the images.
The cards are standard size, glossy with white borders, and of the quality we expect from US Games. Packaged in the classic simple box, the deck is affordable and ecologically sensitive. The card back features a close-up of a cat’s face with green eyes. The back is not reversible, and the LWB gives no reversed meanings. One of the two title cards features a “Nine Lives Spread,” designed specifically for the deck.
The art is colorful watercolor, and very reminiscent of Maine. Non-feline creatures in this deck include prey (mice, lizards, snakes), companions (humans, dogs), enemies (also dogs), and temptations (birds, fish). In the LWB, and the deck’s website, we are encouraged to use Cat’s Eye Tarot to read for our cats. That’s not as crazy as it might sound. I spend a great deal of my professional life reading for clients’ pets, both living and deceased. Tarot is an effective tool for animal communication, and spirit communication. I would imagine such a realistic cat tarot would be even more effective for communicating with, and about, cats. Cats themselves have an affinity for tarot. When I give tarot readings at a party, every feline in the house will spend the entire evening at my feet, under my tarot table. Some of the less well-behaved cats will choose to be on top of the tarot table as well.
The thing I love most about Cat’s Eye Tarot is also the thing I like least. That is its realism. I love the Empress kitty, sitting on the staircase with her kittens. I love the Hierophant kitty, prowling the desktop amongst the keys and books. The Ten of Wands kitty carrying the huge snake up the stairs – yuk! It must be good art, because it produces in me a visceral response. The final straw for me is the excrement in the Suit of Swords. A cat spraying the wall illustrates the Seven of Swords. It’s clever, but gross. The Ten of Swords shows a messy kitchen filled with uncared-for cats. The litter box is overflowing. It’s a smart interpretation of the Ten of Swords from a cat’s eye view. The reason I don’t keep cats in my house is the same reason I won’t use Cat’s Eye Tarot – I don’t want to deal with cat urine and feces.
But for the many, many people who love their cats unconditionally, Cat’s Eye Tarot is the best cat tarot ever. Cat’s Eye Tarot is clever, pretty, playful, intuitive, and cute– just like a kitty!
In her introduction, Given posits that it is possible that cats are our spiritual guides. Anyone who has even been owned by a cat will agree with that! Given has portrayed the cats in this deck as thinking and acting as cats. Again, anyone who has ever been owned by a cat will look at the imagery and situations in this deck, nod, and smile. They will have seen these same situations many times over in their own experiences with their pets.
Given notes that cats are experts at reading body language, as they rely upon visual signaling to communicate at a distance, and to avoid conflict with other cats. People can also learn to read their cat's body language. Does anyone out there not know what ears laid back flat means? It is mot definitely not an invitation to pet them!
The imagery in this deck is, as the author states, clean and uncluttered. As in, this deck is minimalist as far as esoteric symbols are concerned. What you see are the cats, in their everyday environment, doing everyday things. Given has followed the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition as interpreted by author Joan Bunning in her book “Learning the Tarot”. The Major Arcana carry the traditional titles (with the exception of the Hanged Man, which becomes the Hanged Kitty, with Strength at VIII and Justice at XI. The suit titles are Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles, and the Court Card titles are King, Queen, Knight, and Page. Continuity in this deck is established through the use of color: the Major Arcana are purple, Wands are orange, Cups are red, Swords are blue, and Pentacles are green and brown.
The suit of Wands shows Red Tabbies, the suit of Cups Black and White Tabbies, the suit of Swords Siamese, and the suit of Pentacles Brown Tabbies. The suit symbols have also been replaced: Wands are represented by reptiles, the suit of Cups by fish, the suit of Swords by birds, and the suit of Pentacles by mice.
The LWB (Little White Book) presents the cards in text only, with keywords, a short paragraph on the card's energy, and how the card appears in a reading. At the end of the LWB is a unique spread called the “Nine Lives Spread”. (This spread is also presented as an extra card with this deck.) Nine cards are drawn – three for youth, three for mid-life, and three for maturity. At the end of the book are blank pages for notes.
The cards are 2 3/4” by 4 3/4”, of good quality, glossy card stock. The backs have a 1/4” white border, surrounding the image of the face of a cat with green eyes. The image is done landscape style, and does not lend itself to reversals. This is the only thing that I did not like about this deck – the card backs could have been done in a different format.
The card faces show the same 1/4” white border, with a color coded border at the bottom of the card fot the card title. The Major Arcana carry the card number in Roman numerals and the card title. Th Pips (numbered cards) show the card number in text and the suit. The Court Cards show the card title and suit.
One of my favorite cards in this deck is the Ten of Swords (I never thought that I would be saying that!) Here we see a Siamese cat walking very gingerly on a cluttered kitchen counter. Another Siamese is using the kitty litter box (yes, in the kitchen!), while a young mother guards her kittens in the cabinet under the counter.
The Fool shows a young cat, balanced on a porch railing as he goes after a bumble bee. The Page of Pentacles shows a brown tabby barn kitten slowly approaching a mouse, who is hiding in the hay. The Four of Swords shows a Siamese cat on the top tier of a cat perch, looking out the window. On a limb outside the window we see a sparrow gazing up at the cat.
The Empress is one of those “Awwwwwwweee” cards, showing a mother cat sitting on the bottom step of a staircase, with her two kittens sitting between her front paws. The Emperor is really cute – here we see a black smoke Persian seated on a chair in front of a lit fireplace. Struggling to make his way up into the chair is a young orange kitten.
The Hanged Kitty shows a gorgeous Maine Coon on his back in front of a lit fireplace. He knows that he is safe, and that he does not need to be ready to fight, or to flee. Temperance shows a pure black male cat and a pure white female cat, curled together in the yin/yang position, balanced on a balustrade above a rugged coastline.
The Two of Wands is a “laugh out loud” card, showing a young orange tabby precariously draped over a tree limb, reaching out for a small, green lizard. The Ten of Wands shows a scenario that has actually happened to me: we see an orange tabby about to go up the steps to his house with a snake in his mouth. It is hard for the little fur balls to drag a snake around, but they can do it! I have had to rescue more than one snake from my living room!
Last, but not least, the Ace of Cups. Here we see a brightly colored fish in a bowl, fascinated by the friendly cat paw that is on the outside of the bowl. In my personal experience, the paw is usually over the top of the fish tank, trying to drag the fish out!
This is a beautifully done, “believable” deck. Not just for cat lovers, and an excellent choice for clients that may be a bit nervous getting a Tarot reading.
© Bonnie Cehovet
The Cat's Eye Tarot is a fully illustrated 78 card tarot deck by Debra M. Given, DVM, published by U.S. Games Systems. The cards measure approximately 2.75 inches by 4.75 inches. The image on the backs is a closeup of a cat's face, and it can be considered reversible if you don't look too hard at the intricate details. The deck is glossy with durable lamination, like many newer U.S. Games Systems decks.
As one would imagine, the theme of this deck is cats, and Givin portrays them behaving in a realistic manner – there are no anthropomorphic felines in this deck. The artwork shows a great deal of technical skill and is not photo realistic. The deck feels quite cheerful and is painterly in style.
While there may not be as much symbolism in each card as there is in a deck like the Rider Waite, each image is carefully thought out. Deliberate and meaningful choices are made about the breed of cat and the activity representing the theme of the card. For example, each suit is represented by a breed/type of cat with a fitting demeanor. This attention to detail makes the deck appealing for readers and animal lovers alike. An understanding of feline behavior makes the poses and expressions more evocative and enhances concepts being illustrated. If you are someone who does not wish to rely on some of the more esoteric symbols that appear in many decks, the alternative representations of card themes in this deck are overall very expressive and cohesive.
The companion booklet with this deck covers a lot of ground in a small space. It features a “Nine Lives Spread” and an introduction from Givin about the creation of the deck. The card meanings have keywords and lengthier descriptions that are often explained in a narrative fashion. Possible interpretations for the card in a reading are also included. Here is the entry for the five of cups:
Five of Cups
Keywords: Loss; bereavement; regret
A dejected black and white cat watches as a young woman carries off her two kittens. She has no way of knowing where they might be headed or why. All she knows is that her kittens are gone and she can do nothing.
In a reading: The Five of Cups is rarely welcome, but there is no way of avoiding the pain of loss. Every relationship and every choice we make involves some risk. Any change can bring a feeling of loss. Do not wallow in grief. Work your way through it” (p32).
The descriptions for other entries explain feline behavior and relate it to the card's meaning. Here is an example:
Keywords: Education; belief systems; conformity; group identification
When this cat wishes to be heard, he steps up and speaks. His status is respected by everyone in the household, cat and man alike. Cats do not form rigid social orders, but they do have complex social relationships with codes of acceptable behavior. Feline etiquette must be learned. Kittens raised alone do not receive a proper education from other cats and are often inept at forming social relationships later in life.
In a reading: when this card appears, some aspect of group identification or your role within the community needs to be considered. The Hierophant can represent the body of information that guides appropriate behavior within society” (p 10).
The booklet is excellent for illuminating some of the alternative symbols that Givin utilizes, especially if you are not a cat owner. There are also blank pages at the end of the booklet for jotting down notes if you wish.
Now that I’ve given you the details, here is my overall opinion of the deck:
I think the art in this deck is beautifully done, utilizes a variety of colors, and has a charming quality to it. Some images have a lot of beautiful details, though others have plainer backgrounds and less context. If you collect decks for the artwork, I definitely think this is a great deck to have. The theme makes a great addition to any collection, and the imagery is pleasant and fun. However, if you are a reader, the images that have less detail and context may be more challenging to work with.
The cardstock is very durable and the glossy lamination creates some serious armor (this is a slippery deck). I give it a 4 instead of a 5 only because the little tuckboxes that the U.S. Games Systems cards come in wear out pretty fast, especially since they open at both ends.
As I've said before, this deck is extremely thoughtful and purposeful. Givin departs from many traditional symbols and lets the cats and their behaviors work as alternative symbols – a translation that is no simple task – and overall I think she is very successful. I give this deck 4 stars because some of the cards, while attractive, are also simplistic in terms of background detail, which is something I think is important to a tarot deck, whether those details are esoteric or mundane. Some of the court cards in particular feel a little empty, and if you are a reader you may have to rely more on traditional card meanings than what is present in the image alone.
Extra Materials: *****
The booklet is pudgy in spite of being one of those little tuckbox books and it really adds a lot to the deck. I think of it as the cliff notes of a companion book from a deck and book set. The booklet speaks to what's going on in the image and how it relates to traditional card meanings. The brief narrative style description coupled with possible interpretations in a reading give a very well rounded approach to each card. I loved that this wasn't a generic “tarot deck” booklet that gets stuffed in the tuckbox with any tarot. It really shows how much care and thought is behind the deck, and it delivered interesting nuggets of information as well, which I think is essential for getting the most out of a themed deck like this one.
My Overall Score: 4.25 out of 5