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The Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot


ISBN: 9780954500726 Publisher & Year: Magic Realist Press, November 2004 Authors: Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov Card Size: 5" x 3" Pages: 208 Pages Purchase at: Out of Print

From the album:

Animal and Nature Decks

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By Jewel


Originally published in November of 2004, The Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot was the second Tarot deck published by Magic Realist Press (MRP), and was published as a deck and book set.  Those of you who have read my other Magic Realist Press (MRP)/Baba Studios reviews know I am a fangirl, and this was the deck that started it all for me, and yes, I own several versions of this deck … 3 to be exact.  But I will confess, the first edition remains my favorite to date with its elaborate flowery borders and it’s Hermes card.  The book is absolutely priceless with its “Cat’s Interpretations.”


No review of this deck would be complete without talking about cats in clothing and cats in tarot as both of these have shown popularity across cultures.  Cats in clothes have quite a long history dating back to over a century ago.  Why would the review not be complete without this discussion? Because concept is key to the magic of MRP decks so it is integral to the creation process.  MRP/Baba Studios is fantastic at identifying cultural and niche themes, researching them, and bringing them to us is the form of beautiful and well executed Tarot decks.   The Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot is no exception, and is backed by the history and tradition of cats in clothes in art across cultures from the anonymous artists in the 19th century, to the English Victorian cat artist Louis Wain, in the US Renate and Alfred Mainzer (1930’s and 1940’s), the Soviet Unions’ V. Konashevich in the 1970’s, the Pelorian Cats of Japan in the 1980’s, and UK artist Susan Hebert who Karen notes “in fact, in many ways they [Ms. Hebert’s cats] take us right back full circle to the days of Louis Wain – though with a refreshing modern sense of humor.”  It truly is no wonder cats have captured our imagination with their attitudes and personalities they are perfect subjects, and they do look amazing in clothes. 


Like cats in clothes in art, cat Tarot decks have also been prolific though for far less time.  There are at least 18 of them I know of (Tarot only decks and not including mini-versions) which no other animal can boast!  Quoting Karen “… “cat tarot” has almost become a sub-genre of its own – and a very popular one.”  One of my favorites is the Majors only deck Tarot for Cats; how can you resist a Tower card with a cat freaking out because of the vacuum cleaner? … But I digress as that deck belongs in a separate review.  Getting back on topic … as I was saying, there are many cat themed Tarot decks on the market, some with clothes some without.  Is it their magical mystique, or perhaps the archetypes cats bring to mind that make them so well suited to being represented in Tarot?  As noted in the companion book “Another part of the reason may of course be the very ancient association of cats with magic and witchcraft.”  There are some good cat decks of which the Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot is one of, and art-wise - in my personal opinion - the most beautiful and elaborate of them all. I am sure you are tired of my rambling, so lets’ get on with more information about the Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot deck. 


So now with some history on dressed cats and cats in tarot covered lets’ talk about how Karen and Alex made this deck.  Did they dress and pose cats? No.  All of the elaborate costumes these beautiful cats wear are real fabric costumes and were made by Anna Hakkarainen.  Years’ worth of pictures were taken of cats, and then some dummy like dolls were dressed and posed to match the cats in the selected photos.  Then Alex worked his magic to replace the dressed dummy cat image with that of the real cats in selected photos and adding the beautiful background art and architecture featuring the “Baroque splendor of Prague, Cesky Krumlov and other exquisite period locations.” Voilá! now you have beautifully dressed cats in beautiful Baroque settings. 


The First Edition deck has 79 cards, the traditional 78 cards, 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana, plus the Hermes card.  The companion book does not address this card so you can either keep it in and ascribe some significance to it based on the God Hermes, or use it as a bookmark.  The Limited Gold Edition and Second Edition replace the Hermes card with The Tarot Reader card.  I am not sure if other editions use different extra cards.  The Major Arcana retain the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith 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 retain the traditional names and elemental correspondences of Wands/Fire, Cups/Water, Swords/Air, Pentacles/Earth.  The court cards are King, Queen, Knight, and Page.  Suit icons are included in the cards as part of the illustration in the same way that they are in the RWS.  The Majors all boast the name of the Major Arcana card below the image.  The Minor Arcana card number and suit are included at the bottom of each card but are presented differently depending on which edition of the deck you are using.  The First Edition has a very elaborate Baroque themed flower border, so the suit symbol is shown on the right bottom corner and the number or notation (A=Ace, K=King, Q=Queen, Kn=Knight, P=Page) on the right bottom corner.  The Limited Gold and Second Editions no longer have the elaborate borders and have the number or title spelled out and it is located at the center bottom of the cards.


The second and third versions of this deck were the Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Limited Gold Edition and the Second Edition published in 2007.  They are basically the same deck, just one has the gold ink overlay.  There have been mini-decks and other editions and to be honest at this point I have lost count.  Knowing Karen and Alex, it is no surprise that they have worked on perfecting this deck through the years because lets’ face it, it is no easy feat to make it appear as though real cats have been dressed in these elaborate Baroque outfits, and I am quite sure that as Alex perfected his techniques in photographic manipulation he found ways to make the deck look even more realistic.  In some cards of the first edition you can see the photo manipulation to where in others it is very seamless, but that honestly is me nit-picking the deck for those reading this that are very sensitive to this sort of thing. Those visually annoyed by being able to detect the photo manipulation of the image you might want to look at later edition of this deck.   As with all of their new deck editions they are always perfecting and making some changes to some cards, so no two editions are the same.  I recall being quite upset when the yellow dress of the 2 of Swords was made blue!  I associate the color yellow with the element of Air and Blue with Water so that was my beef with it.  I will share photos of some of the changed cards in the versions of the decks I have. 


The cards measure approximately 5” X 3”, 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 of all three editions I am mentioning in this review share the same Baroque design with a kitty face within a round wreath like frame with a maroon background behind the kitty face at the top and bottom of the card.  There is an approximately ¼” white stripe down the center of the card with the deck name in mirror image.  The cards are reversible.  The First edition card backs are black and light cream colored with maroon lettering and background behind the kitty faces.  The Limited Gold Edition and Second Edition share the same back design as the First edition but are gold where the First edition is black.


The original set came with a 208-page companion book written by Karen Mahony.  As noted in the first paragraph of this review, it is excellent, and a must have.  Karen’s writing is very engaging.  The following sections are included in the book:  About the Authors, Acknowledgements, The Tradition of Cats in Clothes, A Short History of Tarot, Cats and Tarot, Major Arcana, Minor Arcana:  Wands, Cups, Swords, Pentacles, Reading with the Cards, Keeping a Tarot Journal, Spreads, and Bibliography.  Each main suit section, before the cards are presented, includes a comprehensive description of the suit and the Story of the Suit.  I absolutely love how the card sections are laid out and presented.  You have a brief description of the card, “A Cat’s Interpretation,” Keywords and Phrases, Keywords and Phrases for Reversed Cards, and then a very detailed description of the card, its meanings, and in general really gives you a good picture of what the card represents.  Each card section closes out with Notes on the Source Material, which tells you about the cats photographed (i.e. the cat on the Ace of Cups is the real-life offspring of the cat depicted in the Queen of Cups!), as well as the information on the background or architecture and the actual suit icons used.  But the cat interpretations steal the show, and if you ever owned a cat for a period of time long enough to get to know them you will absolutely love the added perspective this provides to the meanings of the cards.  The Spread section of the book is also very nice.  It opens up talking about spreads in general, Using a Significator, How to Begin a Reading, Seeing a Pattern - Making a Story, Reversals, The Reader in a Position of Trust, and then goes into the actual spreads.  Spreads featured in the Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Companion include:  The Three-Card Spread, Five-Card Spread, The Prague “Threshold” Spread (5 cards), The Cat’s Tale (7 cards) which is a more advanced spread as only 2 of the cards (1 & 7) are read using conventional meanings where cards 2-6 form a story narrative as a grouping.  A couple of examples of how to read with this spread are presented as well.


This deck is a solid RWS based deck.  If you read with the RWS, one of its clones, or decks closely based on the RWS you will have no problem just picking up this deck and reading with it.  If you are like me and could just never connect with the RWS itself this is a good alternative to it.  The imagery is beautiful, though it is not like MRPs later decks that are more intuitive, it is straightforward RWS.   As for ethnic diversity, all of the characters that populate the deck are cats.  Not all breeds could be represented, and not all of the cats are of a specific breed, so there is nice kitty diversity.  There is no explicit nudity unless you want to count the undressed kittens on the Aces as naked.


I recommend this deck to persons who love cats and opulence, to those like me that wanted to connect with the RWS just never could but want a RWS type deck, to those who love elaborate costuming and beautiful colors, those who like “humanimals,”and those who like decks that just feel regal.  This would also be a great choice for younger readers, especially young girls that like fairytales.  Of course, it is a must have for fans of MRP decks just because they made it.  This deck is well suited for readers of all levels and ages from beginner to advanced, as noted earlier it is straightforward RWS though with less esoteric symbolism.  How would my good old Aunt Fifi react to it?  Well she likes cats, opulence, beautiful costumes and loves regal things so she would really enjoy a reading with this deck.

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