Chat du Marseille by Elaine Moertl
Review by Diane Wilkes

This black-and-white Majors-Only deck is too adorable--and I mean that in the best possible way. It's not a deck you'd use for readings, but if you need a smile on a dank day, the Chat du Marseille by Elaine Moertl, whose last deck was the charming Ferret Tarot, is just the ticket.

The title of the deck is self-explanatory; Moertl has used the Conver Marseille as a template, but replaced people with cats (or, in the case of Strength (La Force), a lion with a dog). The resulting deck is custom-made for most tarot-lovers, since many tarot enthusiasts are also cat-fanciers.

While the artist will never be confused with Michelangelo or even Lesley Anne Ivory (who I am not all that crazy about myself), Moertl's cats often are quite expressive. The Magician (Le Bateleur) has a look of blasé assurance, The Hierophant (Le Pape) a world-weary wisdom.

The composition of the Marseilles Lovers card is one I prefer to the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) version. I find it particularly captivating when inhabited by cats. Moertl has even anointed a kitty angel in her version of the card (L'Amoureux). Check out the studly legs on the male cat, and the proprietary paw placed presumptuously by the profane pussycat...not to mention those adoring, widened eyes. You can practically hear her purr, "Why don't you come up and see me sometime--like now!"  Meanwhile, our sacred kitty has clamped down with all her claws, a "Don't even think about it" pose if ever I saw one.

Justice is a Siamese--the perfect bone structure for this defined and angular card. The Hermit, on the other hand, looks a little too gentle and playful for his rôle as someone who just wants to be alone. The Hanged Cat also looks a bit too happy--he's not sacrificing anything, he's just "hanging out." That's actually a good thing--I don't ever enjoy seeing a cat in any kind of pain, and a tarot deck that suggested such would not win much favor with me.

The Sun card is much more endearing in this deck than the original--I hate to say it, but the children in the Marseilles version look brutish and somewhat simian--I prefer a feline look myself. Another card that seems improved to me is Judgment. In the Conver version, the people seem quite wretched, but our furry friends are pious, not pitiable. They will always land on their feet, whether they ascend or not. I guess when you have nine lives, you can feel more sanguine about Judgment Day.

The card backs are stamped with the cat-centered Sun--twice and reversed, so that the backs are reversible.  They are printed on white cardstock that isn't particularly sturdy, but isn't as flimsy as regular paper. The deck is not numbered or signed or a "limited edition." The artist assures me that, if she runs out of decks and there is a demand, she will, like Doritos, "make more."  Moertl drew the deck freehand in pencil and then inked it in with Rapidograph pens. It was then scanned to computer, where she added the bottom text and framing. The price is only eight dollars INCLUDING shipping--and it includes a hand-made cloth pouch and a little white booklet, which is self-made and hand-stapled. Her interpretations are fairly traditional and in keeping with the Marseilles-styled meanings, though the word "subconscious" wasn't around when that deck was created. Moertl even has gone to the trouble to put a white paper band around the deck with its name printed upon it. Her thoughtful attention to detail, along with the small price tag, makes this deck the biggest tarot bargain I think I've ever seen.

Historians will appreciate Moertl's faithfulness to the original Conver--with the exception of extra (cat-appropriate) tools on the Magician's (Le Bateleur's) table, and the aforementioned switch from humanoids to felines, the cards echo the Marseilles cards exactly. The cards even retain their original, French titles. And the cards are so inexpensive, you may want to buy two copies--one to keep in pristine condition, the other to give your child to color (or you can allow your inner child the opportunity to do some coloring). I recommend it to cat lovers, tarot historians who possess a sense of whimsy, and those who wish to start collecting on a budget, as well as more well-to-do collectors. In other words, I recommend this deck to just about everybody.

The even better news: the artist is planning to do another cat-based deck, this time a full 78 card deck. It is based on the RWS images and, as of June of 2004, she has already completed 30 of the cards. My back is arched in anticipation.

You can see more cards from the Chat du Marseille and order the deck here.

Chat du Marseille by Elaine Moertl

  Yes No
78 cards   X
Reversible Backs X
Strength VIII, Justice XI   X
Color Images   X
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana   X
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Disks) N/A  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions N/A  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                     X
Smaller than standard 
(2 1/2" x 3 3/4")                                          
Larger than standard                                   X

Images © 2004 Elaine Moertl
Review and page © Diane Wilkes