Measuring 8x13cm / 3’x5′, this anthropomorphic animal deck is a large delight. The word “Bohemian” is a perfect way to describe this deck because there is something about animals dancing around in human attire that lifts the spirit. There is an upbeat and lighthearted tone to the deck that is often associated with the Bohemian movement.
These gorgeous gilded cards inspire a sense of childish wonder. They remind me of the imagination children possess. Looking at these creatures, I am reminded of the things I used to dream up as a child – magical forests where birds talk to trees and lions walk alongside rabbits and beavers.
As adorable as they are, however, these animals are much more than just cute. Many cultures have spiritual and personality associations attached to animals. Songbirds are often symbols of joy while foxes are seen as clever but untrustworthy. This deck carefully pairs animals to cards according to their known associations to enhance and complement the Rider Waite Smith interpretation. This added layer of animal symbolism makes the already easy to read RWS images even simpler.
Combined with the incredibly well organized and written 240 page guidebook, The Bohemian Animal Tarot is a perfect beginner deck. Each card write up includes a description of the animal chosen to represent that card. The major arcana cards also include a section on ‘the innocent’s quest’, which is equivalent to ‘the hero’s journey.’ I find that putting the majors in this context is a wonderful way to help connect the tarot to our individual experiences. It helps us understand not just the standard meanings of the cards, but what they mean to us.
Just as the majors include the journey, the minors also contain extra information. The writings of the minor arcana cards have a section dedicated to numerology, giving readers an additional method of interpretation. This general description of the cards’ numerical position extends to the courts as well.
But this isn’t just a beginner’s deck. While I respect faithful RWS replicas, as a collector, I value decks that manage to have their own distinct voice while maintaining harmony with tradition. These bohemian animals definitely have their own distinct voice. There are some cards that possess meaningful differences.
The 3 of Swords show a rat stabbed by three swords. I find this card interesting because this is one of the minor arcana cards that are most likely to follow the RWS imagery by showing no people. I’ve always felt that the lack of a person in this card is meaningful. It speaks of pain, not the cause or effect. Here, a rat, of all creatures, is the individual experiencing the pain. Because rats are survivalists, the card describes not only pain but our ability to overcome it.
I also really like the changes made in The Devil. This card has been renamed as The Lower World. Instead of a couple in chains, Death and a Toad act as puppeteers. While this isn’t how I generally interpret this card, I always appreciate decks that offer alternative interpretations. These alterations make this deck interesting even for seasoned readers.
There are also two extra major arcana cards – 22, The Universe and 23, The Afterlife. To me, these two cards plus the renamed 21st card, The Earth Mother, feels like one card split into three. Just as the Moon is personified as the Maiden, Mother, and Crone, these 3 cards represent different aspects of the Completion.
Overall, I love this deck. The images look like illustrations for a children’s novel and take me back to simpler times when we believed in magic without reservations. The sepia toned card backs further add to this feeling of nostalgia, giving this deck that timeless fairy tale vibe.