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Tarot Of The Cat People
Karen Kuykendall
US Game Systems paperback + card deck $29

review by Amy Harlib

Karen Kuykendall (recently deceased), an exceedingly talented Arizona-resident artist and writer, wrote the instruction book and designed the 78 cards for this unique and gorgeous tarot set, still readily available. Well-known for her fantasy artwork in a variety of media most often featuring cats and cats with people as the subject, Kuykendall here enriches the traditional tarot deck with imagery and characters from her very personal and original invented otherworld: The Outer Regions.
   The Outer Regions are conceived as existing in a parallel universe, a very magical place divided into six kingdoms that are represented by various precious gemstones that serve as the defining emblems for each ecologically distinct territorial entity. The human inhabitants dwell in sophisticated civilisations that nevertheless maintain harmony with the forces of nature.
   Cats are the favourite animals in all these realms - everywhere revered, loved and even obeyed. The people in each of the sextet of areas, have distinctive appearances, cultures, dress and spiritual/magical practices but all acknowledge a basic underlying sacred Cosmic Order. Kuykendall's visuals depict appealing and wondrous folk, strong men and women that reflect in physiognomy and ornament the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Asia, Africa and Siberia/Mongolia, all accompanied by felines of a variety of species. They are rendered in the artist's unmistakable, unique style rich in exotic detail, gorgeous colours and dazzling lighting effects set-off by beautifully stylised, complementary backgrounds.
   The tarot pack contains full-length portraits of fascinating people in elaborate costumes with intricate jewellery and headdresses. The Major Arcana cards represent the Diamond Kingdom. The suit of Swords embodies the ruby Kingdom, likewise the suit of Wands, the Emerald Kingdom, while Cups and Pentacles serve that purpose for the Topaz and Sapphire Kingdoms respectively.
   The 192-page book describes the Outer Regions in the first section, in considerable detail that reads like an ethnographic account, yet all of it fascinates being the creation of a very imaginative and talented woman. All the cultural and survival activities of these imagined people, fraught with spiritual significance spelled out in the text, are then, in the following segments, directly related to the tarot deck as a means by which to interpret the image, the divinatory meanings and the reverse meanings. This imbues the process of interpreting the tarot with the exciting feeling of travelling and exploring in a fantastic new world as if the plot of a fantasy novel was unfolding while reading the cards. Nevertheless, the relevance to the reader's personal life is also crystal clear. Thus while using the included spreadsheet for performing ancient ten-card readings of the past, present and future, the seeker for knowledge and guidance will enjoy a very special tarot experience, for these cards are adorned with appealing and lovely personages both human and feline that obviously represent characters with rich and complex lives of their own!
   The Tarot Of The Cat People can't be too highly recommended for anyone who appreciates exquisite artwork, cats, special tarot decks and fantasy world building. For those who crave more of Karen Kuykendall's Outer Regions, she co-authored a novel (now out-of-print), of fantastic fiction set in that world with none other than grandmaster Andre Norton, a superb book titled Mark Of The Cat thankfully republished in 2002 by Meisha Merlin in an omnibus volume with a brand new sequel called Year Of The Rat - definitely something about which to purr excitedly!
   Serious ailurophiles, collectors and fans of Karen Kuykendall should seek out her two solo books: Cat People And Other Inhabitants Of The Outer Regions: The Fantasy Art of Karen Kuykendall (1979) and Karen's Cats (1980) - photos and memoirs of her cat companions, both published by Desert Diamond. These beautiful volumes will amply reward those who search for them, for although this lovely artist is sadly no longer with us, her wonderful work lives on.
Tarot of the Cat People

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