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  1. Jewel

    Victorian Romantic (Gold Edition)

    The Victorian Romantic Tarot – Limited Gold Edition By Jewel Published in November of 2006, The Victorian Romantic Tarot was the fifth Tarot deck published by Magic Realist Press (MRP). The original release was published as a deck and book set, and a Limited Gold Edition was published as a set with a blank journal instead of a companion book. This review will focus on the Limited Gold edition as that is the version of the deck that I have. If you have read any of the previous reviews I have written about MRP decks then you know I am a huge fan of their decks and books, so yes, this will be a glowing review. I was not really into the Victorian era at the time the deck was released, nor am I really now either. To me it was just a gorgeous collector deck, so I purchased the Limited Gold edition only. Then one day a friend who loves and uses this deck called me up to get my input on a reading she was doing for herself and I pulled out my Gold VR, laid out the cards in the spread and …. magic happened. The deck just sang to me. Everything was so clear. From that day forward I was, and remain, a huge fan of The Victorian Romantic Tarot as a reading deck. I was not really expecting that, though I should have known better with it being a Magic Realist Press/Baba Studios deck! As with all their decks, Karen Mahoney and Alex Ukolov did extensive research and worked their magic in this creation. Karen and Alex don’t just pick a theme/idea and find things to fit it, they immerse themselves in the subjects of their Tarot decks and blend that immersive experience with Tarot knowledge and just wow me with every deck they release. No two decks are the same or have the same feel or voice. They have perfected this blending into an artform all in of itself. The Victorian Romantic was inspired by an old engravings book published in Germany in the late 19th century full of overlooked art or, as noted by Karen “denigrated by formal art history.” But Karen and Alex were impressed by the technical skill and “narrative flair.” From personal experience, I can say that the cards do have a narrative flair indeed! These paintings, being of the same time of Arthur Wait and Pamela Coleman-Smith, were art they would have been familiar with “European salon art at its most accomplished and popular.” Scenes that can be eluded to in the Rider-Wait-Smith (RWS) deck. This book of engravings started Karen and Alex on their path to collecting high quality books of engravings of this time period. Many of the books originated from Germany, the Czech Republic and England, encompassing artists from Europe and US. The more they found the more possibilities for a Tarot deck became a reality. As noted by Karen in the Introduction of companion book “We found engravings that were emotive, gorgeous and memorable, and as we began making them into sketches for the cards, we realized how strong this deck could be in cartomantic readings; these images not only spoke, they sang, laughed and cried. Their realism was to easy to relate to, but could be provocative and unsettling, as well as captivating and charming.” And the deck delivers on every single one these things that Karen mentions. The Victorian Romantic Gold came with 79 cards. It has 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana, the 79th card is a second Lovers card, a more sensual version of the card. This gives the reader a choice of which one to use, or they can include both and read them differently. Personally, I use the more sensual version. The Limited Gold edition of this deck was limited to a run of 500 numbered and signed decks. A gold overlay ink is strategically placed on the images under the varnish so that it does not chip or scratch. It is truly lovely, and as I use the deck and riffle shuffle I can tell you they were serious when they said it would not chip or scratch, I have been using this deck for over 10 years. To me the gold just adds to the elegance of this deck, and even once I realized I was going to read with this deck I did not purchase the standard edition because the gold just seemed to add to my connection with the cards. There have been three editions of this deck: The VR Gold Limited Edition, VR Standard, and most recently the edition with the metallic overlay which I would love to get my hands on! This new edition has several card changes and includes two Devil cards, as well as two Lovers cards (different from the extra Lover’s card in the Gold Edition.) As much as I love my Gold Edition knowing what their metallic overlay decks are like this one must be simply exquisite, and I would so love to get my hands on a copy of it. Mini-deck versions of this deck have also been published. 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 position 8 or 11 based on personal preference. This is standard fare for Magic Realist Press decks. The Minor Arcana Suits retain their traditional names and elemental correspondences of Wands/Fire, Cups/Water, Swords/Air, 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 sets the scene, tells the story, and conveys the meaning of the card. The card number and suit are included at the bottom of the card. The cards measure approximately 5” X 3” and have an 1/8” white border on three sides, a ¼” border on the bottom, and a thin gold line surrounding the picture. The card titles are included in the bottom ¼” of the card in gold lettering. 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 white with an elegant gold Victorian filigree design. The Center area of the card backs are denser in pattern, framed by a deep red line which is in turn framed by a less dense design, also in gold, with some small red hearts as part of the pattern, and finally a red outer border that goes to the edges. The deck is reversible. As noted, the Gold Edition did not come with a companion book. The original release of the standard deck set did. I purchased the book separately. The companion book, written by Karen Mahony, is 216 pages in length and includes the following sections: Acknowledgements, Introduction to the Victorian Romantic Tarot, A Short History of Tarot, Reading Styles, Spread Styles, Sample Spreads, The Major Arcana, The Minor Arana: Wands, Minor Arcana: Cups, Minor Arcana: Swords, Minor Arcana: Pentacles, The Court Cards, and last but not least a Bibliography. The Introduction section was really interesting to me because it shares Karen and Alex’s experiences as they amassed their collection of engravings, and served as a mini-lesson in Victorian art. You can almost hear the wheels turning in Karen’s head. The Reading Styles, and Spread Styles section is standard in MRP companion books, very detailed and helpful to beginners and intermediate level readers. Spreads are presented in the Sample Spreads section and include the One-Card Draw, four variations of The Three-Card Spread, a general five-card spread and of course their staple Tarot of Prague “Threshold” Spread (also five cards). Then you have two spreads specifically designed for the Victorian Romantic: The Romance or Relationship Spread (eight cards), and the Looking Back, Looking Forward Spread, which is a six-card spread. The Major and Minor Arcana card sections include keywords and phrases, suggestions for reversals, card description and pointers on reading the cards, and a sources section where they tell where the art used for the card is taken from. Overall the book is excellent, well designed, easy to read and follow, very complete. As with all of their decks I recommend getting the book. This deck is extremely readable and ignites your intuition. It is RWS based, so if you use RWS based decks you will have no problem reading with this one. This deck not only reads easily, it practically sings. One of the most beautiful and easiest decks I have ever read with. I had no frustrations what so ever with the Golden Victorian Romantic, and if anything it gave me a whole other appreciation for the expressiveness of Victorian art. If you are looking for diversity or esoteric trappings you will not find them in this deck. There is nudity in the deck, but it is artistic and elegant in nature. All versions of this deck are now out of print, with the metallic third edition selling out in August or early September 2019. I recommend this deck to everyone, with the caveat that beginners would really benefit from having the book because the imagery is different from the RWS imagery. Intuitive readers will really love this deck, like I said, it sings. I also recommend it to persons who enjoy the Victorian era, those who like art decks, writers, and to those who like beautiful elegant decks. No matter what version of the deck you get you cannot go wrong with this one. For MRP fans and collectors this is a must have deck, it is one of their finest and most popular. How would my good old Aunt Fifi react to it? Well she is a classy lady and this deck oozes class, so she would love it. She might blush at some of the nudity, but it would not deter her for asking for another reading with this deck.
  2. Jewel

    Bohemian Gothic

    From the album: Dark Decks

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

    The Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot

    BAROQUE BOHEMIAN CATS’ TAROT 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.
  4. Jewel

    The Fairytale Tarot

    The Fairytale Tarot By Jewel Published in February of 2005, The Fairytale Tarot was the third Tarot deck published by Magic Realist Press (MRP). It was published as a deck and book set. If you have read any of the previous reviews I have written about MRP decks then you know I am a huge fan of their decks and books, and this one is no exception. I will admit, I purchased the deck because I like Fairytales and whimsy and this deck includes Fairytales from all over the world. I also liked that this deck was drawn instead of photographed which was different than the previous two Magic Realist Press decks (The Tarot of Prague and the Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot.) Because the deck goes back to the original Fairytales, several of which I only knew the Disney take or had never even heard of, the deck turned out to have a very unique feel and voice, different from any other Tarot deck by MRP or otherwise. There are other Fairytale Tarot decks on the market but this one is in a class all its own. It does not highlight the clichés. It captures the heart and soul of the Fairytales, not shying away from the darkness or pain inherent in some of them, it absorbs the richness of Fairytales adding depth and layers to the meanings of the cards. Due to my lack of familiarity with the majority of the tales I learned to use this deck with the companion book and by looking online for the stories and reading them for more insight. It took me some time to figure out how to use this deck, but it was well worth the effort. This deck is where Baba Studios really separated themselves from the pack in terms of Tarot creation. Unlike the majority of MRP decks which feature beautiful photo manipulation and other such techniques, this deck is drawn by Irina Triskova. The deck is Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) based but the imagery is very different. Instead of matching the actions we see in the RWS to a different setting, Karen Mahony matches the Fairytale stories and scenes to the meanings of the cards. The story the card tells is all you need to understand the meaning and symbolism of the card. As Rachel Pollack put it in the Fairytale Tarot Forward, in the companion book, “Karen has taken the concepts and themes of the [RWS] pictures and found particular stories that bring out those same qualities. Thus the pictures do not at first-glance resemble the well-known Rider scenes … but under the surface they will strike a chord with anyone who knows the Rider tradition.” As noted earlier in this review, there are other Fairytale decks on the market. In the companion book Karen notes that these decks are primarily geared towards children or our own inner child. Baba Studios wanted to do something very different, design a Fairytale deck for adults. A deck that would embrace the oral traditions of these stories, including their darker sides as well as the sensuality that is part of some of the tales. Fairytales that were not “sugared or censored.” In the Introduction section of the companion book Karen shares how personal creating this deck was for her. They were an inspiration to her and influenced her into going into Literary studies at the University. She also notes that “rigid psychological interpretation systems of analysis such as the strictly Freudian Bruno Battleheim are too neat and tidy to be at all convincing.” While “Many of the themes that come up time and again in fairy stories seem to bypass the rational and classificatory parts of our brains and work instead directly on our imaginations and, indeed, on our dreams.” This influence and perspective is the inspiration behind the Fairytale Tarot and why it is powerful and unique. The deck has 79 cards, you have the traditional number of 78 cards, 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana, and one extra card. The additional card is not titled nor addressed in the book, I use it as a bookmark. 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 position 8 and 11 by personal preference. In the Minor Arcana the Suits for the most part retain the traditional names of Wands, Cups, Swords, the only exception Pentacles which are Coins. 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 and the Fairytale tells the story, and conveys the meaning of the card. I usually include the elemental correspondences of the Suits in this section of my reviews, but in The Fairytale Tarot I do not see the elements or any other esoteric system really at play. In lieu of these you have the Fairytales themselves. The perspective of this deck is very different than what we traditionally see with Tarot but is very effective. The cards measure approximately 5” X 3”, have a 1/8” golden ornate frame-like border on three sides, a ¼” border on the bottom with a white scroll with the title of the card and below the title the Fairytale from which it came. The images are framed within an arch at the top, which gives one the sense that they are peering into the scene itself. The artwork is drawn and the colors are rich and vibrant adding to the Fairytale theme. Equal attention was given to the Major and Minor Arcana so the deck is seamless and cohesive. 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 show an intricate ornate gold Victorian era design, framed by a ¼” equally intricate blue frame, which is further framed by a think royal blue line. The cards are reversible. The original set came with a 232-page companion book written by Karen Mahony. As all MRP companion books, it is excellent and honestly, I do not think I would have been able to understand or navigate this deck without it. But that is me. The book includes the following sections: Fairytale Tarot – Forward by Rachel Pollack; The Girl Who Was Too Shy, which is a story Ms. Pollack wrote taking a card to which she did not know the corresponding tale and made her own based on the image; Introduction; Major Arcana; Minor Arcana; Wands; Cups; Swords; Coins; Reading with the Cards; Reading With the Fairytale Tarot; Some Fairytale Spreads; and finally the Bibliography. Both the Major and Minor Arcana card sections include a summary of the Fairytale used for the card, Keywords and Phrases, and then Karen ties the story to the tarot card with detailed commentary. This is why I said I would never have really understood or been able to navigate the deck without the companion book. There are no key words or phrases for reversals. The Reading with the Cards section is excellent and applicable to any Tarot deck, but in all honestly with this deck being so different in approach I am not sure it covers the basis for reading this particular deck, again that is just my personal opinion. The Reading With the Fairytale Tarot speaks about how this deck is good for one-card draws, and also presents the following more general spreads two three-card spreads, a five-card spread, The Prague ‘Threshold’ spread (5 cards). This section is followed by a section titled Some Fairytale Spreads, here we have The Fairytale Fool’s Story (6 cards) of which Karen says It’s an excellent spread when, like the Fool, you feel you are leaving a comfortable situation to set out on a riskier (but more promising) journey, venture or adventure.” The second spread offered in this section is called Fairy Blessings, Fairy Curses (5 cards) of which Karen states “This is a spread designed to help you think about your basic good qualities, skills and talents – and your main ‘flaw’ or drawback in life.” Sample readings are provided for both of these spreads. Unlike all other MRP decks I have experience working with, this one was a bit tougher to read with at first. After all these years I still use the companion book to get the most out of each card before formulating the narrative of the reading in its entirety. This deck is more psychological and emotional than intuitive, though if you do not care about the fairytales you could intuitively read the imagery I suppose. I choose not to do this because after all the card choices came from the Fairytales and they do add layers and depth to the readings. This deck can be used for any type of reading and the readings do have a story quality to them. This deck is a story teller, not a linear card reader. There is no explicit nudity, and though the deck does not shy away from darker themes, there is nothing offensive here. I would not recommend this deck to a beginner despite how good it is, nor would I recommend it to traditionalists who are looking for esoteric elements within their decks as there are none. I would recommend this deck to persons very into, or very interested in, original Fairytales from around the world, readers who love creating a narrative story through the reading to answer the querents question, those who love literary based Tarot decks, those who do not mind using the companion book during the reading, and readers – like myself – that focus on the psychological aspects of tarot vs. the divinatory. Those of you looking for diversity what you will find here is cultural diversity as the tales are taken from various Fairytales from around the world. This is a deck of stories not races. For MRP fans this is a must have deck, I know I say this about all their decks, but seriously this is truly one of their finest and there is nothing like it on the market even today 14 ½ years later. I was lucky to purchase it when it was released, but like The Fantastic Menagerie, I consider it one that is worth every penny of its “Out-of-Print” price. How would my good old Aunt Fifi react to it? Well she loves Fairytales and stories so receiving a reading with this tone would be really enjoyable for her.
  5. Jewel

    The Fantastic Menagerie Tarot

    Fantastic Menagerie Tarot By Jewel Published in March of 2006, The Fantastic Menagerie was the fourth Tarot deck published by Magic Realist Press (MRP). It was published as a deck and book set. If you have read any of the previous reviews I have written about MRP decks then you know I am a huge fan of their decks and books, and this one is no exception. I will admit, when I purchased the deck it was more because it was created by Baba Studios than my interest in the art, and I will also confess that it took me some time to warm up to this deck. In my desire to connect with it I chose The Fantastic Menagerie to complete both the Apprentice and Journeyman levels of “21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card” by Mary Greer, and worked with the deck for about a year and half solid. Needless to say, by the time I completed the work, I was in love with it. As usual, Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov did their research and worked their magic in this creation. They continued what French cartoonist J.J. Grandville started with The Metamorphoses of the Day lithographs in the 1820’s. If he could have seen this deck he would be proud. The companion book is written by Sophie Nussle, and is fantastic. As noted in the companion, The Metamorphoses of the Day were caricatures of half-human half-animals, all dressed up in their fashionable Victorian clothes – or lack thereof, with “…biting wit. The hint of scandal and the visual puns used to convey it turned the series into an international bestseller.” This deck is one that delivers its messages in a tone of social commentary with humor, satire, and at times even light sarcasm. It can cut right through ego and the masks we wear. It can really put reality into perspective. 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 titles, the difference lies in the Majors not being numbered so the reader can position Strength and Justice at position 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, with the exception of Pentacles which his titled Coins and still corresponds to the element of 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 sets the scene, tells the story, and conveys the meaning of the card. The card number and suit are included at the bottom of the card. The cards measure approximately 5” X 3”, and have a 1/8” cream colored border on three sides, a ¼” border on the bottom, and a thin gold line surrounding the picture. The card titles are included in the bottom ¼” of the card in a black script. 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 have a red background with an elaborate mirror image crest design in grey, white, with 4 mirror images of the King of Cups in black and red. The deck title is printed at the top portion of the crest in red. The mirror image work makes the deck reversible. The overall design has a mix of Victorian and Gothic feel to it. The original set came with a 240-page companion book written by Shophie Nussle. As all MRP companion books, it is excellent and a must have. Ms. Nussle’s writing style is easy to follow and engaging. Following the Acknowledgement section, there is 3-page section on the history of Tarot, then a section titled “Playful Paths to Wisdom” which includes information on the structure of the deck and some interesting information regarding Grandville. The next section is really interesting; The Metamorphosis of JJ Grandville which goes behind the scenes on his life, times, and work. It really gives some great insight into the man and his history, from his birth in Nancy, Lorraine to his move to Paris, to him becoming an artist, a revolutionary, a political cartoonist, to a bohemian and a husband. His transition from caricature to illustration, and much more. I find this section so important because it gives some real perspective and context to the imagery which ultimately sets the tone for the Fantastic Menagerie deck. The following sections of the book focus on the cards: Major Arcana, Minor Arcana and the Suits. Following the card section there is a section on “How to Use the Tarot”, which includes the following Tarot spreads: The Three Card Spread, The Classic Horseshoe Spread, The Humanimal Spread – designed to “explore your instinct vs. culture balance.”, and The Chalice of Choice Spread (by Dan Pelletier). The next section of the book is “Number Symbolism and the Tarot”, followed by “Sample Readings with the Fantastic Menagerie.” There is also an extensive Bibliography. Like all other MRP decks I have experience working with, this one is extremely readable and ignites your intuition. It looks at people from an instinctual point of view in contrast with the exterior we may present to the world. As noted earlier in the review, it will expose egos and open your querents eyes to the roles in situations being played out. I call the Fantastic Menagerie my “Social Commentary Deck.” Personally, I find this deck witty, honest, and great for all types of general readings, I find it particularly well suited to inter-personal relationships and career related questions or situations. Why? Because it shows the difference between how people may honestly feel, think, or be as compared as to how they act in a social situation. This deck is truly a visual deck, and is so expressive that it practically reads itself. By visual deck I mean the scene, clothing, actions taking place in the cards, etc. tell you the story of the card and often times the intentions behind or at play in them. As for ethnic diversity, all of the characters that populate the deck have animal heads. The animals tend to be representative of attitudes, thinking processes, or personal nature than anything to do with ethnicity. The lithographs used as the basis for creating this deck are from 19th Century Paris, so they are the lens through which this deck sets its tone in readings. There is no explicit nudity. I recommend this deck to persons who enjoy the Victorian era, “humanimals,” as well as to those who enjoy satire and political cartoons, as you will recognize, laugh and smirk at that “biting wit.” Writers would also really enjoy this deck for character building as it offers up our instincts, cultural biases, societal facades, and how we play them out. Intuitive readers will have a hay day with it. With the companion I would think beginners could learn with this deck, but it might not be the best choice if you are trying to establish Tarot basics that will translate from deck to deck. Yes, it follows the Raider Waite-Smith system, but the imagery is very original for a Tarot deck. For MRP fans this is a must have deck, I know I say this about all their decks, but seriously this is truly one of their finest. I was lucky to purchase it when it was released, but I consider it one that is worth every penny of its “Out-of-Print” price. How would my good old Aunt Fifi react to it? Well she has a great sense of humor, so she would most likely think it was a hoot and find the perspective quite honest and refreshing … though I am not sure how she would react when I reference her or someone she knows as a sheep, wolf, sly fox, or an ass!
  6. Jewel

    The Tarot of Prague

    From the album: Esoteric Decks

    ✧SKU: ToPKITfirst_edKIT ✧ISBN: 9780954500702 ✧Publisher and Year: The Magic Realist Press, April 2004 ✧Author: Karen Mahony; Alex Ukolov ✧Pages: 300 Available At: Out of Print
  7. Jewel

    Bohemian Gothic

    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.
  8. Jewel

    Alice

    The Alice Tarot by Jewel I am a confessed Baba Studios/Magic Realist Press (MRP) fan girl, and will never apologize for it. Karen Mahoney and Alex Ukolov made a believer out of me with their previous decks, and just when I think they can't top what they have previously done, they managed to surprise me yet again with The Alice Tarot. I know the deck is not new, it was originally published in 2014 and they are currently taking pre-orders for the re-release to come in March of 2019, but it is new to me and what a treat it is. In my personal opinion it is the crown jewel of their fabulous decks. From the fact that we have actual pictures of Alex as the Mad Hatter and his daughter as Alice, to the amazing costumes that were designed and created for the models photographed to create this deck. Not to mention Alex’s artistic brilliance. How he does what he does with the digital art to make people like me who are not into digital art love his work is mind blowing. Realistc and magical all in one. The quality and design of MRP decks puts them in a class of their own, but what I love most about MRP decks is the love and research that goes into them. How they gravitate towards the classical, and re-elevate it making it relevant today. Curiouser and curiouser indeed! Though Baba Studios makes it look so easy, quality themed Tarot decks are not easy to create. You have to reconcile the theme with the Tarot to produce a usable tool. To achieve this, there are certain compromises that must be made along the way and Baba Studios has made this an art form all in of itself. Always striving to do justice to the themes they select, Karen and Alex dove completely into the Lewis Carroll Books with passion and enthusiasm, then channeled the essence and whimsy of Wonderland and its denizens, creating a cohesive and masterful Tarot deck. It is important to note that this deck is based on the original books, not on Disney or any other iterations of Alice or Wonderland. The Alice Tarot is based on the real deal, and this deck will transport you to Wonderland without you even having to read the books! Illustrating this deck was feat, even Mr. Carroll, known for being fussy about illustrations, would have been proud and probably as excited as I am about the metallic inks used so flawlessly to enhance the images. There is a whole section in the companion book dedicated to the subject of illustrating this deck. We will discuss the book a bit later in the review. 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 titles, the difference lies in the Majors not being numbered so the reader can position Strength and Justice at position 8 or 11 based on personal preference. In the Minor Arcana the Suits mostly retain the traditional names, one change being Pentacles being renamed Coins, and elemental correspondences of Wands/Fire, Cups/Water, Swords/Air, and Coins/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 image in a scroll type box within the delicate thin gold lines that frame the image. The cards come in a beautiful, decorative and fully illustrated box with a flip top open on three sides so you can lift the cards out of the box. They measure 5” X 3”, and have ¼” borders, the pictures are delicately framed with thin gold metallic lines. 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 look like a blue and white floral tapestry with a couple of small white rabbits and are reversible. The white flowers, leaves, and bunnies and all outlined in metallic gold ink. There is a 283-page companion book by Karen Mahoney that can be purchased in addition to the deck, and I would recommend you to do so to get the most out of this deck. As with their previous books you have the traditional RWS base keywords, and then you have the themed based keywords, in this case The Alice Meanings. Karen’s writing is as wonderlandiful as Alex’s art. In the Introduction you learn about The Alice Tarot and its essence. The next section is on Illustrating Alice, which talks about the creative process used for the cards, including some fascinating information about Lewis Carroll’s involvement in the illustration of the Alice books and his rigidity for artists conforming to the text. This is followed by sections on how to use and read the cards, a section on spreads, reading with The Alice Tarot, the card sections and ends with Abridged versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and of Through the Looking Glass. Going back to the spreads section of the book, which is always of great interest to readers, this one does not disappoint. There are three variations of the three-card spread, there are the three variations of the five-card spread including “The Prague Threshold Spread” from their first deck The Tarot of Prague and then come the spreads specifically designed for this deck: “Down the Rabbit Hole”, “The Caucus Race”, “The Tea Party”, and “My Own Wonderland.” There are sample readings included. Five years in the making, The Alice Tarot thoroughly captures the lucid dream feel, the absurdity, the scariness, and the whimsy Wonderland has to offer. So how does it read you ask? This is a deck that focuses on making sense of what makes no sense of course! It puts you in Wonderland then spits you out initially wondering what the heck just happened, for you to then realize you have new understanding of what is going on. The cards have much of the essence of the RWS deck yet pulls on a different take of that essence, a side of the card you had not thought about. For example in the traditional RWS 5 of Pentacles you have this lady and child out in the cold trying to reach the sanctuary of the church for protection. In the Alice Tarot you have Alice and the Fawn (from The Looking Glass) in the Wood Where Things Have No Name, lost and confused comforting one another. Here the emphasis is on how companionship can make a hard situation more bearable. That theme is also inherent in the RWS 5 of Pentacles, but in the Alice Tarot it is the emphasis. The deck basically narrates a story to you via the spreads you use. I have found the stories and characters of Wonderland intertwined as part of the reading, and in the end it all makes perfect sense. It makes for lively, honest, and entertaining readings. Just when things seem topsy-turvy and absurd they fall into place and make sense. Strange but true. Reading with The Alice Tarot is an experience, and wonderful and magical one at that. I cannot say enough good things about his deck, and it has become my new primary reading deck. If there is such a thing as the elusive “The Deck” many Tarot enthusiasts are always looking for, then this is that deck for me. Like all other MRP decks I have experience working with, this one is extremely readable and ignites your intuition with its evocative art and in this case the story within. Personally, I find this deck amazing for personal as well as readings for others. Sometimes you will feel like the Cheshire Cat dishing out advice or asking questions to come full circle. It is hard to explain, but amazing to experience. It allows you to speak to things referencing a character that you and/or the querent know who you are referring to, but you put them in the context of the Wonderland character. I have also found reversals to not be important with this deck, the way the readings unfold seem to put the cards in the right context without having to reverse them, and yes, I do use reversals with many decks. The relationship between cards seems to play a significant role in the readings, which is basically how the story telling voice of this deck comes through. This deck combines elements of the Alice stories and characters with tarot to give its message. I recommend this deck to persons who enjoy the story telling aspects of tarot, and those who use Tarot with a psychological approach. What I mean by that is readers that weave story into their readings. Alice in Wonderland lovers will obviously love this deck as well. The companion book is extremely helpful, especially if you have not read the original books, as it provides you with the part of the story the image is using and how it fits within the meaning of the card. So people who enjoy using the companion books in conjunction with their readings will also love the deck. Even with the companion book, I do not think I would recommend The Alice Tarot to a beginner as The Alice Tarot is a deck with a twist. Having a solid base in traditional RWS meanings is really helpful as this deck often plays on aspects of those meanings that are not so obvious starting out. Baba Studios/MRP collectors will obviously want this deck, and those who love tarot decks based on classical literature will also want it. Honestly I have no clue why anyone would not want it, but I am biased. In Sum, this really is a stunning deck and the love, heart, sweat and tears put into resulted in a beautiful and well thought out themed deck that works. It is very readable. Because it expresses itself in a narrative story telling fashion it can deliver tough and harsh messages in a safe but very clear way … with Wonderland tact and Cheshire Cat flair. There is no nudity in this deck, and I would surely read for Aunt Fifi with it if she asked. Nothing offensive here except some occasional brutal or absurd honesty.
  9. Jewel

    Alice

    From the album: Artistic Decks

    SKU: AliceTarot_1stEdition_deck Publisher & Year: Magic Realist Press, 2014 Authors: Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov Card Size: 3" x 5" Purchase at: Out of Print
  10. Jewel

    The Fairytale Tarot

    From the album: Rare, OOP Decks

    ISBN: 9780954500757 Publisher & Year: Magic Realist Press, February 2005 Authors: Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov Artist: Irina Triskova Card Size: 3" x 5" Pages: 232 pages Purchase at: Out of Print
  11. Jewel

    The Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot

    From the album: Animal and Nature Decks

    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
  12. Jewel

    The Fantastic Menagerie Tarot

    From the album: Animal and Nature Decks

    SKU: FantasticMKIT ISBN: 978-0954500771 Publisher & Year: Magic Realist Press, March 2006 Authors: Karen Mahony & Alex Ukolov Card Size: 5" x 3" Pages: 240 pages Purchase at: Out of Print
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