Hudes Tarot Deck and Book Set by Susan Hudes (deck) and Leah Samul (book)
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click here.

I have heard some call this deck dour and depressing, but I disagree. It is true that one would not use the words "bright" or "vibrant" to describe the Hudes Tarot, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's cold and dispassionate. It simply possesses a different kind of feeling, a mood that appeals to those (like me) who find more allure and resonance in wintry skies than sunny ones. Not for the Hudes deck are the glaring reds and yellows that predominate in the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS). Instead, we are treated to subtle hues; hushed grey, rich brown and pine green are the colors that Susan Hudes' palette produces.

And even the deck's nay-sayers must acknowledge that the Major Arcana in this deck are uniquely conceived and exquisitely portrayed. Temperance is one of my favorites. It shows a lovely auburn-tressed angel pouring a clear liquid into a pool that serves as a dark--and subcutaneous-- mirror. This angel knows how to create a dynamic alchemical concoction: the clear liquid turns the water blue.

The Death card is one of the most compelling versions of this archetype I have ever seen. The skeleton has a butterfly, long recognized as a symbol of transformation, for a pelvis. The Wheel of Fortune is encircled by two gracefully stretched bodies. Cards like The Star and The Moon, always known for their beauty, are not just eye-candy; each rendition also offers a unique slant on the images. In the Hudes Star card, a woman is not merely dispensing liquid onto the earth and herself--she is immersed in the healing pool. We only see her face and hair, lit beautifully by the streaming starlight, but we can't help but be inspired by the curative waters, as well. Even the sky is unique--it's a map of the astral bodies.

The Moon is positively haunting. No animal moves in this card, but the trees seem to have a life of their own as their branches claw towards the luminous orb with a crescent face. A tranquil pool eerily replicates the white moon's light. The sky is starless and utterly black, except for the looming magical lunar presence. The image literally provides a moment of complete stillness, a time for profound inner reflection.

While the Major Arcana in the Hudes deck is often revelatory, the Minor Arcana hews more to the traditional RWS imagery. As in the aforementioned Star, many of the cards are illustrated with maps, some more symbolically meaningful than others. Individuals are dressed in wonderfully marble-ized attire, as if Pucci or some other trendy designer had personally concocted the Hudes line.

Fashion upgrades aside, any RWS-user should find this deck easy to use. One card that illustrates this perfectly is the Eight of Wands--the imagery is identical to the RWS, except that the flying wands are silk-screened in attractive shades of burnished brown. Strength is VIII, Justice is XI, and the suits are Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. The backs are not quite reversible, but are of an elaborate design that places two frescoes back-to-back with a Celtic filagree imposed at the center. One of the frescoes has swirls of grey below, the other, subtle fire colors of mellow yellow and reddish-brown.

While the Hudes Tarot has been around since 1995, it is only this year (2002) that US Games has published a companion book for the deck. Authored by Leah Samul, the title is Wisdom in the Cards: Inspired by the Hudes Tarot Deck. "Inspired" is used literally; the author saw the Hudes deck, fell in love with it, and decided to write a companion book for it when she realized there was none forthcoming. When Samul bought the deck as a birthday gift to herself, she was in the process of recovering from ovarian and uterine cancer, and used her work with the tarot, in addition to other metaphysical disciplines, as a healing tool.

It is my understanding that the original manuscript was considerably lengthier, yet it is an unusually generous size (300 pages) for a US Games companion book, 273 pages of which are devoted to card interpretations. The structure is also unusual, in that each card description includes an affirmation and prayer specific to the card, as well as a lengthy write-up and upright and reversed interpretations. Major Arcana cards are also given a "planetary influence" that does not often align with Golden Dawn correspondences. While Samul corresponded with the deck's artist, who was delighted that Leah was motivated to write a book based on her visceral response to the artwork, I think the interpretations are primarily insights developed by the author, often ones that were not intended by the artist.

These individual insights are often universally meaningful, such as her words on the Hermit: "Though hermits are spiritually defined people, the Hermit here doesn't necessarily signify a religious individual...What the card depicts is the willingness to act on the instinct to get away from "life in the fast lane." He is receptive and open to the gut-level feeling that he needs to take some time out for some contemplation. This process can be purely spiritual; a retreat of some sort. But often it indicates a mid-life crisis, though the word "crisis" is somewhat melodramatic. Interpreted another way, a mid-life crisis is what we experience when a part of ourselves instinctually feels that we need to change direction." However, I think there are times when Samul's presentation is a bit too agenda-driven. Her specific, socially-conscious/feminist allusions are interesting facets, but do not encompass the entire archetypal jewel. One example is in her description of the Empress:

"The Empress gently urges us to accept our bodies. Because the Empress loves all that is physical, she doesn't subscribe to the fact that we are only beautiful if our bodies conform to societal ideas of perfection. Rather, she embraces all bodies as being formed in beauty by The Creator."

Look at this Empress and her finely-chiseled cheekbones! This is one reed-like Empress. Maybe she doesn't hug the white washbowl, but I don't think she's considering becoming a model for Mode Magazine, either.

Samul then goes on to say, "This kind of energy is absolutely necessary in the world today, which is why The Empress is one of the more powerful cards of the entire Tarot. We live in a world that can be too quick to condemn us on the basis of physical appearance. The reason that racial prejudice is such a horrifically successful agent of oppression is that it is predicated on something we can't escape--the color of our skin."

The next paragraph speaks to increased sensitivity for those with physical disabilities. Since there is no way for the author to get messages of heightened racial awareness or a concern for the handicapped from the actual image, we are forced to conclude that these politically correct thoughts come more from Ms. Samul than Susan Hudes or the Empress. And while I am in concert with all of the above beliefs, I am convinced that they shouldn't make up the bulk of a card interpretation of the Empress.

This is not the only card that I felt was slanted. The Nine of Cups contains a paragraph relating to fathers who may no longer have a relationship with their spouses who still have a responsibility to care for their children. The Page of Swords includes a warning not to get trapped in crass materialism. 

While I think the majority of the affirmations and prayers are lovely, some dwell too much on the negative (and the unconscious mind does not register the word "not"). So the Devil's affirmation, for example, could be a dangerous dance: "Whenever I'm stuck and have trouble moving on, I keep my heart's eye open for ways in which to free myself." The mind is hearing "stuck" and "trouble"--not good things.

Please don't think I don't recognize that Wisdom in the Cards is superior to the usual companion book. It is not that I don't embrace different takes on cards--far from it. But I think they should be a side-dish on the platter of interpretations, not the main course. If one were to only have this book in his/her tarot library, confusion might ensue, especially since the art doesn't exactly evoke a political context.

Having said that, it is obvious from the text that Samul has worked extensively and intensively with the Hudes Tarot and has developed an intimacy with it that she is abundantly willing to share, and we are all the richer for it. It also helps to have some familiarity with more traditional takes on the cards.

I recommend this set for those who want a tasteful and soothing RWS variant. Those whose favorite deck is the Albano version of the RWS need not apply.

If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click here.

If you would like to peruse a sample reading with this deck, click here.

Hudes Tarot Deck and Book Set by Susan Hudes (deck) and Leah Samul (book)
Publisher: US Games
ISBN#: 1572813342


Review and page 2002/2003 Diane Wilkes