I’m a “cat person”. Although I only share my life with one feline companion (Erzulie, a beautiful black 5 year old moggy that came to me as a stray aged 4 weeks, who I hand fed for the first week and saw back to health) I’m definitely a “cat person”. I talk to other people about their cats and mine, I get all gooey-eyed over cute cat pictures on the internet, I know far too much about cat behaviour and biology than is normal for a non-veterinarian, and I regularly find myself doing things that adversely affect me just for the sake of my cat. Like sleeping at the wrong end of the bed so as not to disturb her nap. Our feline companions are truly amazing, and I regularly tell people that Erzulie was the best thing I ever did.
Despite all this, I don’t like cat Tarot decks. There’s just something about them that is weird… Tarot is about human experience, and I don’t usually find that the traditional Tarot images replaced with cats doing the same things as the traditional human counterparts in the cards gets across the meaning and archetypes of those cards as readily. Cats have a very different experience of the world. So, when I got the Cat’s Eye Tarot, I was very uncertain that I would like it at all.
But, to my surprise, I found myself liking it more and more as I looked through the cards. I appreciated it even more when I read in the accompanying LWB that the creator is a veterinarian of 28 years experience, with 22 years focusing specifically on feline practice. Working as a veterinary receptionist in my spare time made me automatically feel a connection with the creator and the deck. This isn’t just a cat lover – this is somebody who works with cats every day of her life, truly understands their behaviour, and has a special connection with them. Debra’s passion and knowledge of the feline shines through strongly in the deck, making it a joy to behold.
The strength of this deck really lies in its Minor Arcana, which are not only extremely easy to read, but also express the feline point of view of the card meanings without making them obscure. They’re also extremely cute, in places funny, at times sad and tear-inducing (particularly for us “cat people”!) and beautiful. The traditional card meanings are innovatively illustrated, which means that the Cat’s Eye Tarot is a good deck for more advanced readers to look at and use to shake themselves out of old, tired reading habits or to gain new perspectives and insights into the cards. For example, the Five of Wands, a card traditionally concerned with conflict, inner conflict, or some sort of opposition that is in some way “friendly”, designed to improve the fighters with no dire consequences. In the Cat’s Eye Tarot we see five ginger and white kittens who are almost of the age when they are ready to leave their mother, fighting amongst themselves in the typical playfight found throughout the world in cat litters. This playful conflict teaches the kittens useful skills that they will need later in life: stalking and hunting, power and dexterity. It may sometimes look nasty, but it all serves a purpose. The Ten of Wands shows a cat proudly bringing home his latest catch: a very large snake. But he struggles to drag it up the stairs towards the porch. He’ll get there eventually, and very proudly present the dead creature to his human, but in the meantime he may have bitten off more than he can chew… In the Five of Swords we find a scene probably very familiar to the deck creator: a hissing cat sat upon the weighing scales in a veterinary clinic, medication sitting in front of him ready to be administered. Conflict will ensue, with
the cat undoubtedly losing eventually and the pills being given, but the vet/owner of this audacious kitty is going to need to rethink their strategy for medicating her. I loved the Nine of Cups: the cat being given his favourite treat from the can of tuna. This simple image reminded me of my cat’s response to a can of tuna being opened, or a can of evaporated milk being brought into the house (how does she even know what’s in the can?!) and the response she gives when she is finally given her treat. Not only is this a card of satisfaction and wish fulfilment for the cat, it’s also one of happiness for the cat’s owner, who gets to see the relish their cat consumes the treat with.
Some of the less pleasant images evoke a visceral response in the reader. In the Nine of Swords we see a terrified cat hiding under the bed, hackles raised and claws shown. The cause of the fear is not seen: it could be a hairdryer or hoover, the cat box being readied for a trip to the vet, another animal, or something more threatening. To us the cause may be nothing, but to this cat it is truly terrifying. The Ten of Swords shows a house in which the cats are neglected, their litter never cleaned, food scarce, space cramped. And the Five of Pentacles displays the image of a sick, injured cat with her kitten hidden behind a bin in an alleyway, homeless and in need of help.
The Major Arcana are quite clever, in that sometimes the cards feature the traditional symbolism, but hidden in the card in a way that is in context for the deck’s theme. In The Hierophant, for instance, a big ginger tomcat stands proudly on a desk in a study filled with books. Veterinary textbooks sit in a pile on the desk, along with a computer and a set of keys – the keys found originally in the traditional Hierophant image. This is an innovative,
modern, and accessible way of expressing the card’s meanings of learning from authority, or received wisdom: the veterinary student’s cat. The Devil is another example of the card meanings made applicable not only to cats but to the modern world: an obese cat eating yet more food that he doesn’t need.
Only the Court Cards might be a little difficult to read, since they don’t have much in the way of symbolism or scenes that express meaning. The little white book helps in this regard, as once you’ve read the descriptions of the Court Cards you see what the artist is expressing. The meaning of these particular cards is found in the demeanour, position, and body language of the cats here, rather than in any detailed scenes.
There are also other creatures to be found in the Cat’s Eye Tarot: lizards predominate in the suit of Wands, mice in the suit of Pentacles, fish in the suit of Cups and birds in the Suit of Air, emphasizing the elemental nature of the four suits. There are also dogs, sometimes companions, as in Strength, and sometimes enemies, as in the Seven of Wands. Humans appear here and there, mostly in the cards depicting happiness and comfort: the Three of Cups shows an elderly woman bending down to play with three very happy and friendly cats; the Ten of Cups shows a kitten curled up in the soft arms of her human.
The Cat’s Eye Tarot has a lovely, fresh, uncluttered feel to it, with a subtle realism to the artwork. Debra has also taken great care to depict the same colour combinations throughout each suit, such as all oranges and yellows for the Wands, and all plush pinks and reds for the Cups. The same kind of cat graces each suit as well: red tabbies for the Wands, Siamese cats for the Swords , brown tabbies for Pentacles and black and white cats for Cups. These are clever choices, as anybody who knows these different types of cats will tell you. Siamese cats, for instance, are known for being vocal and talkative, whereas red tabbies, or ginger cats, are often more assertive, larger, and independent. These nuances make the Cat’s Eye Tarot brilliant for any beginner to read with, as they aren’t esoteric or occult, but rather express the nature of each suit simply.
The deck comes with a lovely spread to try: the Nine Lives Tarot spread. It’s fun, insightful and charming, just like the Cat’s Eye Tarot itself. The card backs are also beautiful, featuring the faceof a red, lion-like long-haired tabby cat with piercing green eyes, but not reversible for those who like to use reversals and want symmetry on their card backs. Overall, the Cat’s Eye Tarot is very cute, clear and easy to read, with brilliant Minor Arcana in particular that make it a great deck for beginners but also a wonderful addition to any experienced reader’s collection.
The Cat’s Eye Tarot by Debra M. Givin, DVM
U.S.Games Systems Inc., 2011