the White Cats by Severino Baraldi; test by Sofia di Vincenzo
Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
I admit to being a cat fancier (since my orange angel is featured on the "Back" icon on almost every page of this site, I'd be a fool to try and deny it). This feline fandom makes it difficult for me to cast an ill-tempered glance upon any cat-themed deck. However, I have been known to swat a paw at a deck that is less than worthy of its subject, and I was a bit apprehensive that I'd have to take aim at this one...until I got it in the mail and fell in like.
Tarot of the White Cats is a Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) variant featuring cats of all colors, though white ones do predominate. It is cleverly and charmingly done, and pretty much any cat lover will be delighted with it, as its very easy to read with and is chock-full of felines.
The Fool is a dog about to walk blithely off a cliff as a tabby attempts to prevent his fall. The Hierophant is more like the Godfather than Benedict XVI--one is reminded of the scene in which a man begs Don Corleone to off his daughter's attacker, while an orange catsigliere stands by, observing and protecting his mentor. The Lovers (at top) replicates the RWS Garden of Eden scene, with the dual Trees of Life and Knowledge and an angel backed by the sun's rays consecrating the ceremony. The difference is that the Angel is an imperious long-hair (with the requisite wings) overseeing an orange male who clearly sees himself as a stud linking his fate to a winsome, but considerably less confident, white puss.
The driver of The Chariot is also a white cat, but the sphinxes have been replaced by solid and intrepid felines. Justice, numbered VIII, is a smug and snooty--and yes, white--cat dressed in royal red robes, but Strength, numbered XI, depicts another white cat who is attired more simply. Her pink suit allows for movement, which is a good thing, since she finds herself holding open the jaw of a much larger saber-toothed tiger.
The Wheel is particularly cunning; the image is of a patient cat turning a wheel that has mice clinging somewhat desperately to its rim. The Death cat is cloaked--all we can see of the poor fellow (or female) is a skeletal paw that grips its sharp scythe. However, the paw is distinctly different from a human hand, and a careful eye for detail will note the tail that thrusts underneath the black cape.
The Devil card tugs at my heartstrings because the cats who are tugging at their chains are orange ones, while the overseeing Satan has a feral cat face but a human body. Weirdly, a Star of Solomon gleams in the night sky overlooking the scene.
The Moon card is a bit too playful for my tastes, but the Sun wears a cat face that shines upon a triumphant white feline on a black rocking horse, conveying a perfectly appropriate openness and joy. Judgement's Gabriel is an orange cat who stands on the ground tootling his horn as a covey of white cats ascend to the heavens.
The Minor Arcana are also RWS-based in many ways. The Aces are not--there are no divine hands emerging from clouds, and they look much like the other Minors, which takes away a bit from their elemental intensity. The Ace of Wands' spotted kitty scratches at a tree stump, the Ace of Swords depicts an Arthurian cat being knighted for something greater, and the cat on the Ace of Pentacles does gymnastics on the edge of a coin. My favorite is the Ace of Cups, which shows a cat lying on his back in a goblet-shaped birdbath, reaching for a dove as the water overflows over the edge of the vessel.
Because so many of the cats depicted are clothed, it takes away from the natural aspect of the feline world. Hence, the Five of Wands catfight is less-than-authentic, but what it loses in intensity, it gains in endearing whimsicality. The Seven of Wands' cat-against-many wears a bloodthirsty, gleeful look that I have seen on my own puss's face when he's about to attack my hand or a snaky piece of yarn. That "into the breach go I" essence of the card is vividly evoked.
The Eight of Wands differs from the RWS version because a cat is incorporated into the image of the flying rods, but the Nine of Wands deviates from the RWS rendition because of the cat depicted seems unambiguously triumphant, with no possibility of his blood being shed. While the Minors are modeled on the RWS, some are more effective than others, for similar reasons.
The cards I hold in the highest esteem, obviously, are the ones that express the familiar archetype, but add some extra nuance to the card. An example of this is the Two of Chalices, which reminds me of a cat version of Ralph and Alice Kramden from The Honeymooners. His stern look is countered by the "What is it, Ralph?" look on her feline face.
Other cards, such as the Five of Pentacles, don't necessarily add insights, but demonstrate how clever this deck is. In the Five of Pentacles, the stained glass window is bedecked with cat faces, and the snow that falls outside the quaint old church, combined with the huddling and damaged kitties, makes one feel nostalgic and touched by the poignant illustration.
The Court Cards are winsome, but not particularly expressive. The Queen of Wands' obligatory sunflower seems gratuitous and out-of-place; the Knight of Chalices has an air of ennui that I find odd; the corpulent King of Swords does not look particularly intelligent.
The little white booklet (LWB) that comes with the deck offers cat lore (I especially appreciated the factoid that "In Egypt, those who killed a cat risked being sentenced to death"--would that Bill Frist were in ancient Egypt instead of the Senate!). The divinatory meanings are sprightly and, for a change, specific to the image. A six card "Cat's Eye" spread meant to "provide an answer to...doubts" is not only introduced, but a sample reading with the spread is included, too.
The quality of the card stock is excellent and the card backs are, as is Lo Scarabeo's practice, an image from one of the cards doubled back on itself, so that the backs are reversible. In the case of this deck, the image is taken from the Ace of Cups, but newly positioned in front of a deep blue background. Since the cards themselves tend toward pastels and lighter shades, this makes the backs seem special, forming a demarcation between the cards themselves and the card backs.
Within the past year or so, three decks have been published with clothes-wearing cats: the Baroque Bohemian Cat Tarot, the Medieval Cat Tarot, and now, The Tarot of the White Cats. Of the three, the first rates the highest place in my personal pantheon, but this new deck by Lo Scarabeo is leagues above the Medieval Cat deck, both in charm and accessibility.
|Strength VIII, Justice XI||X|
|Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana||X|
|Traditional (RWS) Suits (Wands, Chalices, Swords, Pentacles)||X|
|Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions Rods--Air; Swords--Fire||X|
|Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")||X|
|Smaller than standard||X|
|Larger than standard||X|
If you would like to see a sample reading with this deck, click here.
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
Images © 2005 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page © 2005 Diane Wilkes