Review by Kimberly Fordham
Titania Hardie is certainly prolific. Perhaps this can be explained by Titania’s claim to have first discovered she had psychic abilities in childhood. This is her thirteenth published work, all of which variously concern numerology, fortune telling, and Wicca. The packaging is initially appealing. The deck and book set is presented as a faux hardcover book, with the cards (playing-card sized and packaged in two flip top boxes) fitting neatly into a well in the left side of the cover. The right side is the companion book, with a softcover frontispiece, permanently affixed to what is actually the hardcover back of the faux book. Using the book is both challenging and annoying, but stay with me here. The good news is that after looking through it once to get the gist of Titania’s admittedly unique system, you probably will never need to refer to it again, and it does look attractive on the bookshelf!
The text of the book is lengthier than the standard little white book (LWB), and it is beautifully designed and illustrated. The book opens with the familiar “tarot originated with the Egyptians and gypsies” misconception, but from there things become, well, intriguing. Titania discusses "semiotic sign systems" (basically a fancy term for semantics), stating that they spark off interesting connections and insights which are beyond the realm of language to convey. Hardly a shattering revelation, but definitely worthy of mention nonetheless, and what could have been a great lead in. Unfortunately, this is the point where Titania decides to combine the traditional tarot meanings with “their equally significant astrological past”. Oof. One would think that, with thirteen published works under her belt, Titania would have tripped over the fact that tarot originated as a game.
Did I mention that Titania’s system is unique? Despair not….there is wheat here among the chaff. The cards themselves are rendered mainly as silhouettes, with a surprisingly effective use of color. The images are simple and complex, both at once. The richness and vibrancy of the colors lends something original and provoking to the basic representations. I sat on the floor, spread the cards out around me, and reveled in their life and energy.
The little white booklet (LWB) includes a couple of layouts, all of which are heavy on astrological symbolism and seasonal timing of events. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the spreads depicted utilize from nine to 49 cards. Titania recommends that the Rainbow spread, which is almost identical to the popular Chakra spread, but uses seven rows of seven cards, not be done more than once yearly. Personally, I can’t imagine it taking much less than that long to actually interpret that many cards! Yikes.
She places a strong emphasis on the court cards, which she names King, Queen, Youth, and Horseman. In this deck, Kings, Queens and Youths always represent people, and Horsemen represent “thoughts”(we’ll get to my personal theory as to why in a second). In addition, the upright King of Wands (for instance) represents an Aries man; but reversed, it represents an Aries woman! Now, that’s pretty darn cool (I already mentioned the unique part). The same principle applies to Queens and Youths. The astrological signs of the court cards are intended to indicate the astrological signs of the people in the reading itself.
OK, here’s the caveat: these are Not Your Mother’s Astrological Correspondences. I’m no stranger to the study of astrology, and it bugs me no end that The High Priestess (“Veiled Isis”) in Titania’s deck corresponds to the earthy astrological sign Virgo. I just don’t see the energies of this particular card as being that “grounded”, nor do I relate to The Emperor (“The Sovereign”) as being exemplified by the element of water and the sign of Scorpio. Some Major Arcana cards are assigned an astrological sign, while some are not, and no explanation is given regarding the reason behind the author’s choice of correlations. Many of the assignments seem to fit like square pegs in round holes. The Majors that have no associated astrological sign have instead been assigned a planet…which only further confuses matters. For instance, The Magician (“Magus”) corresponds to the planet Mercury…which rules the signs Virgo and Gemini. I applaud Titania’s zealous attempt to apply astrological symbolism to her tarot deck, but I am also reminded of the convoluted systems proposed by the occultists of Etteilla’s day.
My theory is that the author assigned the astrological signs in their sequential order to the Majors, beginning with Aries (the first sign of the zodiac) as card XIII (“The Reaper”) and progressing successively through the rest of the cards, so that the astrological signs remain in order, but skipping certain cards and assigning planets where she felt one was more appropriate than the other. A handy fix, considering there are twelve zodiac signs and 22 Major Arcana.
Remember when I mentioned I had a theory regarding the designation of the court cards, too? Well. There are twelve signs, and 16 court cards. You do the math. Titania conveniently associates an astrological sign with each King, Queen, and Youth, leaving the Horsemen to become… “thoughts”. Another issue I have with this deck is the suit correspondences. Swords are earth, Cups are water, Coins are air, and Wands are fire. No reasonable explanation is given for Titania’s predilection to swap out the traditional correspondence of Swords/air and Coins/earth. Weirdness abounds.
I have other issues with the text; the “traditional” meaning of The Empress (“Isis Unveiled”) is “marriage”?? Her hair is described as being adorned with green leaves, but there’s not a single green leaf, or anything green at all for that matter, in the card. In the end, the LWB is basically “fortune-telly”; in some ways that seriously concern me. It actually indicates that if The Devil (“The Black Magician”) falls next to Death (“The Reaper”), it means physical death for someone of whatever astrological sign is nearest these cards!
Many of the Majors not mentioned in this review are renamed to suit the author (and sometimes intriguingly); The Fool is numbered XXII, and is titled “The Materialist”. None of the cards bear verbal titles, only signs, symbols, and silhouettes, which in my humble opinion, in combination with its evocative colors, is the major attraction of this deck. My suggestion is…put the book away. The flawed system and fortune-tellerish garbage get in the way of the real beauty of this deck, which is evident as soon as you sit on the floor and spread it out around you. Open yourself to the simple renderings of color and form, and ignore the rest. You won’t be disappointed.
Tarot by Titania Hardie
Publisher: Quadrille Press, London, UK 2003
ISBN #: 1844000397
Kimberly Gibbs Fordham (also known as Kimber) has been fascinated with the tarot for the past 30 years. She has done readings and taught classes on Tarot, Wicca, and Astrology at Escape into Reality in South Windsor, CT. She also has a lifelong passion for Tudor and Stuart British history and renaissance faires (check out www.plaiddragon.com). Kimberly now resides in Dallas, TX and is currently working on her second tarot deck.
Images © 2003 Quadrille Press
Review © 2003 Kimberly Fordham
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes