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Bohemian Gothic


ISBN: 9781905572076 Publisher & Year: Magic Realist Press, 2008 Authors: Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov Card Size: 5" x 3" Purchase at: Out of Print

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Dark Decks

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Bohemian Gothic Tarot

by Jewel


The Bohemian Gothic Tarot, designed by Karen Mahony and illustrated by Alex Ukolov, is another baba studio Tarot masterpiece.  Yes, I am a baba studios/Magic Realist Press (MRP) fangirl, but with very good reason.  The quality and design of their decks puts them in a class of their own.  The seed idea for this deck was found in dark stories, events, and images they came across while creating their first deck, Tarot of Prague (MRP 2004), then in macabre fairy tales when working on The Fairytale Tarot (MRP 2005), and became a major topic of conversation within the Aeclectic Tarot Community during their work on the Victorian Romantic (MRP 2006) as Karen shared information with us about some of the engravings and pictures they had run across that were too dark for the Victorian Romantic.  We all started joking around about how after they finished the Victorian Romantic they needed to get to work on “The Dark Sister” of the Victorian Romantic.  In 2007 baba studious/MRP gave us The Bohemian Gothic Tarot both as a Limited Silver Edition of 500, and a regular deck.  To borrow a quote from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone a deck that will “bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses.”


This review will focus on the regular edition as it is the most common.  Though inspiration for this deck began during their work on previous decks, The Bohemian Gothic evolved and asserted its own voice and personality through the creative process.  Alex Ukolov brought that voice to life through modern digital composition and painting techniques, ensuring the cards retained a very strong period feel.  As Karen shares with us in the companion book “The cards are based on late 19th century photographs taken from “cabinet” (photographic studio) portraits and from the lyrical, romantic photographic postcards that were fashionable in Germany at this time.”  I am not a huge fan of digital art, but Alex’s expert touch always leaves me in awe and wondering if this is really digital art or if I am actually looking at hand painted paintings made specifically for this deck.  Yes, he is that good and that effort is put into each and every card.  A true feast for the eyes.


The Bohemian Gothic does not follow any one Gothic story or novel, though you will see the influences of Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and others in the work.  The genre is captured beautifully.  The deck is dark, subtle, and has that eerie Gothic atmosphere permeating throughout.  It was created with the intent to show the shadow side of life, and in readings it will reveal the shadows in your own or that of your querent.


The deck has the traditional number of 78 cards, 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana.  The Major Arcana retain the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) titles, the difference lies in the Majors not being numbered so the reader can position Strength and Justice at positions 8 and 11 by personal preference.  In the Minor Arcana the Suits follow the traditional names and elemental correspondences of Wands/Fire, Cups/Water, Swords/Air, and Pentacles/Earth.  The court cards are King, Queen, Knight, and Page.  The cards do not rely on exact number of suit icons to tell you what card you are looking at, rather the picture itself tells the story and conveys the meaning of the card.  The card number and suit are included at the bottom of the card.  I love it when decks do it this way.


The cards measure 5” X 3”, and are borderless.  The card titles are included in the bottom ¼” of the card in a black band.  The card stock is superb, something MRP is known for.  These decks are easy to shuffle, durable, and just another sign of the quality that goes into them.  The back of the cards are black with what look like silver Gothic architectural elements radiating from a skull.  The backs are mirror image (top and bottom) and reversible.  Due to its dark nature, the deck was not intended for the use of reversals, but the backs of the cards are reversible, and reversals can be used if the reader so desires.


There is a 232-page companion book for this deck.  Karen’s writing is as spectacular as Alex’s art.  The Introduction tells you all about how the Bohemian Gothic Tarot was conceptualized and developed.  It also includes a list of some typical Gothic elements many which you will see on the cards, and others you will sense while reading with this deck.  This section is followed by a fascinating and educational section “A Short History of the Gothic” from its origins in the 18th century novel The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole to present day.  The next section talks about the structure of the companion book, and gives some additional insights into the deck.  Other sections of the book include: “A Short History of Tarot”; “Learning the Tarot” which includes some good information on court cards and numbers 1-10; “Reading Styles, Spread Styles” which talks about the different styles and approaches to reading tarot, introduces spreads, use of a significator, patterns and making a story, etc.  The next section is “Sample Spreads” which includes the following spreads and sample readings:  One-card Draw, Three-card Spreads (5 options), Five-card Spreads, The Prague “Threshold” Spread, and two spreads designed specifically for the Baroque Bohemian Gothic Tarot:  The Secret Fears Spread and the Vampire Spread.  So, as you can see, lots of spreads.


The book moves onto a discussion of the Major Arcana, information on The Bohemian Gothic Majors and then into the cards themselves.  Each card includes key words for lighter/conventional meanings and darker/shadow or hidden meanings, then a description of the card and more interpretive details, and finally some further ways to consider the card which includes questions and notes about shared imagery with other cards in the deck for you to look at and think about.  Juicy stuff!  Following the Majors we get into the Minor Arcana which has an introduction and then each suit has its section.  The Minors get the same treatment as the Majors in the book.  Lastly is the section on the Court Cards.


The book also includes some additional genre based sections interspersed throughout:  The Vampire, Evil from Foreign places and people, The Hauted House or Castle, Madness and delusion, and The Warewolf or Man-beast.  Also of note is the “A Final Word” section of the book which features a piece written by Dan Pelletier titled “Working with a “dark” deck."


This is not a deck for the faint at heart, those who do not want the cold hard truth, look at or admit to their own personal shadow, or those who like to sugarcoat things.  There is no room for that with this deck and it can be emotionally demanding.  This deck is a dark deck, and lives up to that billing plain and simple.  It sets the mood, and activates the darker side of your psyche.  Beautiful, check.  Tempting, check.  Mysterious, check.  Unsettling, check.  Haunting, check.  To me one of the most beautiful and disturbing cards in the deck is The Devil card. It is sensual, seductive, and painful all in one.  The horror of it.  This is what this deck does so well. 


Like all other MRP decks I have experience working with, this one is extremely readable and ignites your intuition with its evocative imagery.  Personally, I find this deck great for personal readings because well, in my personal experience, it will not allow me the luxury to delude myself or engage in the creation of false hope.  The readings can be like ripping off band-aids, but the clarity allows you to face whatever is going on head on.  If you do not want to really know, then do not pick up the deck until you are.  You might want to warn your querents about the directness and light this deck will shine on their shadows when you read for them.  If they have something to hide The Bohemian Gothic will be sure to shed a really bright light on it. Do not read with this deck if you are in a fragile state of mind.


I recommend this deck to persons who enjoy the classic Gothic genre, like dark decks, want to rip away the shadows and expose the issues, those open to face the darker aspects of themselves, collectors, and MRP deck enthusiasts.  The deck is sure to delight intuitive readers with an interest in the Gothic.  The deck will likely appeal to persons interested in Gothic art, literature and classic horror films as it really captures the best of the genre.  This deck includes a lot of Gothic symbolism, but not esoteric.  I feel this deck could be read by readers of all levels because the art and book are just that good.  You can definitely see the RWS influence and base, but it is not a RWS clone.  I would not recommend this deck to persons suffering from depression or those that are mentally or emotionally fragile.  There is no offensive nudity in the deck.  This is a deck that might appeal to a lot of querents based on its esthetic, but I would recommend warning them that it will bring to light that which lies in the shadows, so to make sure they can handle the cold truths it might deliver.  I would not offer up a reading with it to sweet little aunt “Fify”, but that is me.


In Sum, this really is a stunning deck.  It is very readable, eloquent and expressive.  In my personal opinion it is a masterpiece like every other MRP deck I have ever had the pleasure to read with.  Though I feel a responsibility to warn people of the impact it can have I am compelled to reiterate that it is a fabulous and perfectly executed dark deck.  If you like dark decks, either for collecting or reading with, this is a must have deck.

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