When I heard of the Medieval Cat Tarot I was a little skeptical. I would have thought the market for cat decks was becoming rather crowded and that it would be hard to make an impression, but the Medieval Cat Tarot manages to stand out with its novel blending of traditional and modern imagery and style.
I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the box and began to examine the cards. They are glossy, smooth and very polished in appearance; a little longer and thinner than usual cards but very easy to handle and with a nice feel. The cards were inspired by fifteenth century art, and have the look of the historical Visconti-Sforza. The very consistent artistic style was created by Lawrence Teng, who also worked together with Gina M. Pace (Wicce) to complete the companion text.
The Major Arcana cards feature stately cats with bodies in human poses, their head and feet cat-like in shape but palely human in colouring. The symbology has a traditional foundation, but has been stripped down and reduced of clutter. The Minor Arcana take a new direction and combine modern and standard styles. They appear to be traditional looking pip cards in the background, but in the centre have a kind of porthole. Here, a RWS-style scene has been condensed down its essentials and shows a medieval cat participating in the activity or feeling of the card. Some scenes have been altered to be more immediately clear and aren't a complete RWS clone, but they somehow seem truer to the meaning. The best card of these cards in my opinion is the Seven of Swords -- a blue-dressed cat stands next to an empty and rocking birdcage, empty of its canary but drifting feathers. Others worth mentioning are the Four of Pentacles, a portly cat holding a ring of keys in front of a heavily padlocked door; the Eight of Wands, where a cat stands poised with a note on the end of an arrow, poised to fly, to name but two.
The major cards have standard Rider-Waite style titles, but are without numbering to avoid the Strength/Justice conundrum. Of note is the Empress, who has the significant addition of children, and she stands in a very Hierophant-like pose with her hands on their hands (though it appears somewhat more caring). The Devil is a fox-like creature, expensively dressed and hiding behind a cat-shaped mask. I particularly like Death, showing as it does a robed Death figure who has a feline skull and jaw. All of the feline figures are elegant and well dressed, and no strong emotion passes their face. They are rarely kitschy and never cute -- above all they are dignified, as a cat should be.
The court cards are titled traditionally, but in imagery are a departure from the traditional. They have been changed to more clearly differentiate between each other, with the element develops from the Pages through to the Kings. Each court figure is dressed in a different period costume, and interacts with their element in a different way.
The booklet is small and staple bound, but includes a satisfying amount of information and meaning for each card in English. The card backs have an almost reversible (they are reversible at a distance) design, though they are intended to be read upright. The Medieval Cat Tarot is simple and clear enough to be an easily readable for the beginner and intermediate reader, while at the same time it is an original and polished deck with links to Tarot's history and European tradition. A deck for the cat lover, the lover of the Renaissance era, and most especially for the Tarot reader.
-- Solandia, Aeclectic Tarot
I thought this would be a light-hearted deck mostly for show. I was wrong. The symbolism is remarkably clear and the cat faces don't in any way detract from the ability to take this deck seriously. The images are charming in style, faintly folkart-ish, and it's a very easy deck to read. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants an accessible deck, including those new to tarot.
-- GriffonSong, Amazon customer
I wasn't sure what to expect of this deck, but what I honestly didn't expect was to be as wholly impressed as I am. The cats have not simply been dressed in Renaissance garb or put in tarot poses. They have been depicted to demonstrate precise meanings for the cards, with depth and accuracy. They are not overly cute; rather, they gaze out from the cards with often serious looks of contemplation, and expressiveness that is shown mostly in their eyes. Also, they are not all cat but somewhat human, with human shapes, and hands. One does not have to be a big cat lover to enjoy the deck -- the cats as tarot figures are entirely convincing.
Though the illustrations are based largely on the Rider-Waite, the cards depend on their own imagery. And this they do very well. For example, in the Eight of Swords, a cat stares wide-eyed out from behind bars, which are further blocked by a chain and lock. A key dangles near the cat, though he doesn't notice it. A cat sits with arms crossed in front of his chest in the Four of Cups, three ignored cups before him, and a fourth cup being offered to him on a tray. His gaze is cast to the side. The miserliness of the Four of Coins is indicated in many locks on a cat's door. He holds a ring of keys, but the task of opening the door looks tedious. The sense of being overly cautious, protecting or guarding what one has, is obvious. The little booklet explains the card with good balance: "The Four of Coins shows where we feel threatened by what we have experienced in the past; our security is exercised in overkill because our perception of danger or struggle is much more than the reality. We may actually be safe, but we still feel intimidated. We must realize that our foundation has been laid securely and we may now build upon it." Another good example of this effective use of simple imagery is the Three of Wands, in which our cat holds a small ship in one hand, a telescope in the other. The text that interprets this card for us says, "The Three of Wands symbolizes the ability to see what it is that we are launching and to put it into motion. We carry with us the small tokens that remind us that we are responsible for putting our own ships out to sea if we wish to see our ships return overflowing with prosperity and abundance." The pictures are incredibly clear in meaning, but the artwork is purposeful, rich, and ornate. Interpretation and understanding are accessible, while the aesthetic experience is fully rewarding.
The Majors are not numbered. The artist states simply, "Some of the first tarot decks did not include numerology symbols or a numbering system in the Major Arcana. I have chosen that same omission for Medieval Cat Tarot. As there is some interchangeability with a few of the Majors (most often Strength and Justice), this allows the reader to use the cards at his or her discretion." I will just note -- for those who might be starting out -- that this does not make using the cards any more difficult. A traditional ordering of the cards is presented in the booklet. Most of the Majors stick to expected imagery, though often with a whimsical or lighthearted air -- The Hanged Man reminds me that cats always land upright from a fall, because the featured cat here does not exactly hang upside down as is standard -- he looks ready to land safely if he falls. This seems to intend a hopeful aspect of a card that is sometimes misunderstood as frightening or ominous. The grim reaper in Death is surrounded by butterflies, which indicate personal metamorphosis. It is a purely positive element in what some believe is a difficult card. And the Devil is a fox hiding behind a cat's mask, and makes clear the meaning expressed in the booklet: "It is the Devil inside each of us that this card addresses. We are our own worst enemy -- we bedevil ourselves at the times when we undermine our own best efforts to get clear of the repeating patterns of behavior and abuse in our lives. This Devil, for example, hides behind a mask, much as we hide behind our own denial when we fight ourselves on many levels."
Also notable in Medieval Cat Tarot, is the emphasis on the court cards to provide insight into the self, rather than to merely serve as representations of others. These are presented largely as a progression of the self, which stage one might be in, etc. The court cards can still represent another, but they are clearly described as phases in development, and in this way are quite helpful. An included spread, "The Court Cards Curve," is an aid in learning to see the court cards in this way.
Because of the simplicity in symbolism, the deck would be a super choice for someone just starting out. The accompanying booklet offers more than enough instruction on the meanings of each card, along with added insight and clear ideas for interpretation. It is a highly readable, very strong, and well-rounded deck, in image and word. My own readings with it have been highly useful and insightful. I recommend it for everyone -- except perhaps, those who really don't like cats!
-- Nellie Levine, Illumination Tarot