I should be clear up front that I’m not a huge fan of animal decks, unless they’re a little (or a lot) quirky like the Tarot of the Magical Forest, the Marseille Cats or the Baroque Bohemian Cats (which I unfortunately missed buying when it was still in print). But I was gifted the utterly charming Medieval Cat Tarot for Christmas, and decided to run it through my deck “personality profile” layout, which is my version of the deck interview spread.
Although the deck has minimally scenic pip cards that carry a whiff of RWS atmosphere, they are best read in the way one would approach the Tarot de Marseille, using suit and number symbolism and very little else. Interestingly, all of the images show the same tawny cat, a kind of feline “everyman,” sometimes as twins and occasionally as triplets.
The draw featured all minor cards, with no trumps or court cards in sight, suggesting that the deck will be utilitarian rather than philosophical or humanistic. The “First Impressions” column was all “tooth and claw,” with three of the four positions coming up Swords. The cards in the “Energy” (Wands), “Heart” (Cups) and “Voice” (Swords) positions share an interesting synergy. The 9 of Swords in the Wands slot suggests that the deck will be measured and somber in its presentation, not given to dramatic flourishes. The 6 of Swords in the Cups place is rational and precise, more brain than emotive gut, and the 5 of Swords in the Swords spot gives a rather ruthless economy of expression that will needle rather than soothe. There will be no eluding or soft-peddling the testimony of this one. It’s apparent charm is only skin-deep. The 5 of Wands in the “Substance” position implies that the deck will excel at delivering unpleasant news with a certain unflinching panache. Everything about this series speaks of hard-nosed pragmatism; I think I like this deck already since I approach reading from an action-and-event-oriented perspective that entertains few niceties of psychological nuance. The deck should be good for tough decision-making situations since it seems so impatient to get to the point.
The “Manner of Speech” or “Tone” column begins with the 2 of Wands, which suggests stepping out into a “brave new world” while keeping one foot firmly planted in the present. There is a tempered optimism to this card that won’t overreact to opportunity with unbridled enthusiasm; it exhibits an astute watchfulness that implies sound judgment. The 7 of Cups brings a surfeit of imagination that could border on fanciful embellishment if not wielded with a firm hand. The 7 of Swords has one of the more fascinating visuals: it shows a guilty-looking cat standing next to a swaying birdcage with an open door and feathers floating in the air. As an expression of “Eloquence and Directness” it looks askance at being too forthcoming with the facts, instead imparting a need for careful deliberation before speaking. “Cat got your tongue” indeed! The 9 of Coins shows a fullness of poise and discretion that furnishes a stable platform for the deck’s more imaginative forays. This sequence offers a much more balanced interpretive palette than the singularly sober complexion presented upon first encounter.
The “Personality Profile” column holds the 10 of Wands in the “Energy” position, implying a sturdy diligence that borders on compulsive; this card will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of the goal. Taken together with the 2 of Wands to describe the “energy signature” of the deck, the Ten represents the taut binding power of the Two unstrung and enlivened by the creative but chaotic turbulence of the Five (2×5=10) . This can result in pushing the envelope of accepted decorum as the line between conventional caution and radical impulsiveness is blurred. But when did a cat ever care what we humans think?
The 3 of Coins in the “Heart” position firms up the dreamy vagueness of the 7 of Cups, creating an “emotional signature” that manages to find its center in practical expression despite the allure of fantastic visions. The combination suggests a savvy grasp of mundane affairs that is amply steeped in imagination, which strikes me as the trademark of a skilled storyteller.
The 4 of Wands in the “Voice” position coupled with the 7 of Swords favors a superficially pleasing wittiness that nonetheless carries a razor-sharp edge. The “verbal signature” conveys ebullient self-affirmation blunted by sardonic self-deprecation, the upshot being a style that is at once exclamatory and cunningly understated, a bit of elocutionary “cat-and-mouse” that can hide as much as it reveals. The reader will have to work at penetrating the glib façade to get at the untrammeled truth behind it.
The 10 of Swords in the “Substance” position brings an end to the conspicuous self-indulgence of the 9 of Coins; it’s back to the straight-and-narrow of intellectual asceticism. The customary role of the 10 of Swords is to wreak havoc on complacency, symbolized here by the 9 of Coins; the “practical signature” metaphorically resembles a dust-storm of shrouded inferences with scant footing in the overt reality of the situation, and misconstruing its testimony is not out of the question. “Dust in the wind” is a useful analogy for the opacity this implies, as is Winston Churchill’s “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” Don’t expect much sympathetic hand-holding from this deck
It’s obvious that using the Medieval Cat deck to good effect will be an absorbing challenge for the experienced reader if there is any hope of doing more than scratching its surface. Novice readers should probably content themselves with admiring the cute kitties while sticking with their RWS sensibilities when it comes to interpretation.