Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot by Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov; Companion Book by Karen Mahony
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click here.

The truth is that I have never been keen on the idea of putting dogs and cats in cute little outfits. I know if I attempted to put my cat Benigni in clothes, the results would likely include him wearing a chunk of my skin in his teeth, and I figured most other furry creatures would be inclined to respond in (un)kind, even if they were better behaved or less feral than Benigni.

But the creators of the Tarot of Prague could create a deck on almost any theme and I would look forward to it, based on the quality of their initial creation. My trust isn't given lightly, but once earned, it's fervent and long-lasting.

The Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot--and Baba of Prague Studios--have not let me down. I even understand and respect the artists' affection for the time-honored aesthetic of clothed cats, even if I don't ordinarily share it, after reading Mahony's chapter on the tradition. And no one could fail to be impressed by the painstaking efforts that must have been put into this deck, when you look at the expressive outfits in which the felines have been clothed. Each is a genuine work of art. Add the fascinating foreign backgrounds (Prague and Český Krumlov) and unique aesthetic symbols and you have another sumptuous and evocative tarot deck.

The cards are often so detailed that I sometimes long for larger images. It is my understanding that the artists are planning to release a larger-sized version of the deck sometime in the future, which is not only smart, but shows their sensitivity to the needs and desires of the tarot community. It also shows a willingness to trust that the tarot community will support their efforts--a leap of faith, if you will.

Cats also often take leaps of faith, so The Fool, caught in the act of meandering off the rooftop, is truly in his element. The Hierophant, with his lavish vestments, is all pomp and circumstance, signifying plenty. The Lovers not only look well-matched, each one has a distinctive personality that is reflected not only in his/her attire, but facial expression and stance.

The Wheel of Fortune is particularly thought-provoking and offers a different image than the traditional Wheel. A cat in expensive garb stars in the mirror and sees a poorer version of himself reflected therein. The round clock nestled beneath the mirror symbolizes the inexorable movement of the wheel, and the only question is whether the reflected image speaks of the past...or the future.

I am particularly entranced that the Temperance (at top) cat is a calico--a blending of colors that signifies the vital alchemical blend that is Trump XIV. Other favorite cards are the Star which exudes tranquility and The Moon, which emits a more layered and surreal ambiance. 

An extra Major Arcana card, titled Hermes, accompanies the deck but is unaddressed in any way in the book. As the artists don't number the deck (allowing us to place Strength and Justice wherever we choose), one doesn't really understand the meaning or message of the Hermes card, which depicts a statue of that god in the center, as a cat in a blue ice gown looks at him, perhaps asking for his blessing on skill and speed, two gifts cats share with that deity.

The Minor Arcana are at least as evocative and effective as the Majors. The Bohemian Cats deck is based on the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) iconography, so anyone familiar with that deck will have no trouble using it. The Aces don't depict the hand emerging from the cloud, but convey the element of the suit brilliantly.  I am particularly fond of the Ace of Wands, which shows an orange tabby astride a statue of a crowned lion.  The look on the orange cat's face is priceless, and the statue is pure Bert Lahr as the King of the Forest in The Wizard Of Oz. The Eight of the same suit is also slightly different from the RWS, in that it shows seven wands hurtling from the sky towards a perplexed-looking feline.  Perhaps he's wondering about the missing wand.

The cat in the Four of Cups is so blasé that he ignores the plump pigeon within paw's reach, whereas the cat in the Seven of the same suit reaches to the heavens as he makes a choice. The Nine of Cups shows a cat so content he is literally licking his lips!

The RWS Three of Swords has been updated in this version to show a cat holding a statue of an angel which holds a satin heart pincushion pierced by three swords. It's as complex as this air card depicting heartbreak should be. While the Four of Swords shows a cat in repose, the bright colors and general busy-ness of the card send a different message.

Users of the Robin Wood will be glad to note that the Three of Pentacles depicts the accomplished artist, as opposed to the Eight, which offers apprentice/craftsperson imagery. The Eight, like Death and the King of Swords, shows marionette theatre imagery.  There is a wonderful mother cat protectiveness to the Five of Pentacles. "Alleys don't scare me!" could be its tough-love motto.

The Court Cards are rich, varied, and emotionally resonant. And, of course, having cats adds a different nuance. For instance, the Page of Cups gives new meaning to the expression "Fish my wish," since he is likely to chow down on the contents of his vessel. I am delighted that the Queen of Swords, in addition to looking like a tough cattie, has a touch of humor to her, as well. The Queen of Pentacles is the picture of cozy domesticity, a portrait from fifty years ago that wouldn't be out of place on a family's wall--if the main cat was replaced with a person.

Even though the deck follows the RWS iconography, that doesn't mean the book isn't a necessity. Okay, it's not a necessity, but it's one of those luxuries you will regret not indulging in forever if you care anything for felines or tarot, because Karen Mahony's book is truly delightful. 

I love many of Mahony's observations about the cards (her comment that the Temperance/Angel and Devil sit on our shoulders brought Animal House to mind for me, and made me see those two cards connected in that way for life, I think). Her approach to reversals is often innovative and unusual. The book is also sprinkled with great quotes and stories. One of my favorites is on page 43 by Robert Stearns: "Since each of us is blessed with only one life, why not live it with a cat?"

Mahony also offers us interesting cat facts. The cat's innate inability to overdose on any food is illustrative of the Temperance card. One of the books in her bibliography is Dr. John Bradshaw's The True Nature of the Cat and in addition to using several quotations from that book, she clearly has absorbed the knowledge of cat behavior from it and personal observation. That knowledge enriches the cards, even as it illuminates the book. Even a cat-lover who knows nothing about tarot would find this book of interest, I think. For someone like me, who loves both, it is a true treasure.

The book's structure is as follows:

About the Authors
Acknowledgements
The Tradition of Cats in Clothes
A Short History of Tarot
Cats and Tarot
Major Arcana
Minor Arcana
Reading With the Cards
Keeping a Tarot Journal
Spreads
Bibliography

Some of these are self-explanatory, so I will only add the following:

          *  card description
          *  "A Cat's Interpretation" -- usually offers the cat qualities that apply, but occasionally speaks from the
              cat's point of view
          *  keywords and phrases
          *  keywords and phrases for reversed cards
          *  a more lengthy interpretation
          *  notes on the source material -- gives information on backgrounds and symbols, as well as the
              individual felines pictured
          *  often but not always, a cat-related quote (or quotes) end the interpretation
          *  the Major Arcana interpretations are lengthier than the Minors
          *  Mahony introduces each of the Minor Arcana with a description of the suit and offers a short "Fool's
              Journey" through each suit, cards 1-10; she also discusses each court card in that section, as well as
              addressing them more fully later

Much as I love the book, I must admit that there are a lot of typos and editorial errors. This is the downside of a self-published book--you don't have an editor to proofread and make suggestions. There is nothing else I can criticize, however, about the quality of this product. The card stock is flexible and lightly-coated--it's not impermeable, but should hold up to continued use. There are no rough edges and the quality of the images is superb. The cards themselves have a cheerful flower border and the suits of the Minor Arcana are demarcated by a small symbol in the bottom right hand of the card. At first the Wands and Swords symbols look a bit too similar, but one adapts quickly. The card backs are reversible and elegant--kind of like cats! The deck comes in a sturdy box; the set is packaged in a bookshelf-sized box that fits the book and deck, but if you plan to tote this deck around, you'll need a bag for it.

One thing I hadn't considered until a male tarot friend pointed it out is that it's a feminine deck. In fact, he said it was where he drew his line in the sand: he'd use the Enchanted, but the Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot was just too girly, even for him. I heard from him the other day and he told me he had broken down and gotten it--the charms of this deck (like cats) just proved too much for him. I never even tried to resist, and if you like cats, you shouldn't either. (If you love cats and are reading my site, you have probably already ordered it!)

The price is incredibly reasonable for an independently published deck of this quality. I can't commend Baba of Prague Studio enough and can't wait for their next release. I recommend this deck to all tarot enthusiasts and collectors, with the exception of those who are afraid of cats. (I know quite a few people who are--and this deck wouldn't be very palatable to them.) And please--buy the set...the book is SO worth the money.

If you would like to see a sample reading with this deck, click here.

If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click here.

If you would like to see more images from this deck and order the deck and/or book from the artists, click here.

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI                                     N/A    
Color Images X  
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana X  
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Disks/Coins) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions X  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/8" X 2 3/8")                     X
Smaller than standard                                    X
Slightly Larger than standard (3" x 5")                  X  

Images © 2004 Baba of Prague Studios
Review and page © 2004 Diane Wilkes