Cats are faithless but dogs are trustworthy? A new look at Bohemian fortune telling

Falseness in the Central European/Bohemian fortune-telling card system is often depicted as a cat, often with a snake, bird or mouse.
Cat Falsehood cards from Bohemian fortune telling cards

Cats are faithless but dogs are trustworthy? A new look at Bohemian fortune telling

Our Bohemian Fortune Telling cards do show a cat for "Falsehood". But not in the traditional way.​

Falseness and Faithfulness are one of the pairs of cards that are nearly always seen in the Central European/Bohemian fortune telling card system.

Falseness is commonly the Fox that we see in the Lenormand cards, but may also be a snake (probably derived originally from the story of Adam and Eve with Satan as a snake) or a cat—and in fact the cat became the more popular depiction in later decks of the Central European type. The combination of a cat and a snake was a common way to depict this card, although sometimes the cat was holding either a bird or a mouse in its mouth. You can see some fascinating examples of these cards below (by kind permission of Pavel Langer).

Bohemian fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat printed in Prague
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card wit a cat
Fortune telling card with a cat by Emanuel Klogner
Fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat
Historical fortune telling card with a cat printed in Ostrava
Cats as "Fales" (Falsehood) feature on many of the historical Bohemian fortune telling cards from Central Europe. These examples are from the 19th and early to mid 20th century. From the collection of Pavel Langer.

A cat either killing a snake or a mouse seemed to us a rather harsh image for contemporary users and so we decided to soften it to imply simply that the cat had surprised the snake. So in the deck that we designed, The Bohemian Fortune Telling Cards, we  show a cat confronting a snake on a wall. As cat lovers ourselves, we didn’t want to show the cat as “false” or “treacherous” but at the same time, we wanted to respect the traditional symbolism seen in the historical card system. So our image can be read as the snake being concealed, rather like a lie is hidden, and then being discovered.

As a symbol in much of the world, the snake has historically often been used to symbolise falseness or deception—this was because in the Biblical story of The Garden of Eden, Satan was often depicted as a snake. So the choice of a snake for this card image would have been widely understood in Europe when the cards originated and as a symbol, we think it still works.

For those who would really rather not see either cat or snake on this card, we decided  to offer an alternative for  “Falsehood”. Our second card has the same meanings, but the depiction is quite different and is not traditional. It shows a deceptive “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, a well-known idiom. (you can see it in the reel below). The wolf looks rather pleased with itself and obviously has bad intentions!

Falsehood card from The Bohemian Fortune Telling Cards.

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