Titania’s Star Tarot by Titania Hardie, cards illustrated by Johnson Banks
Review by Lee Bursten
After reading Kimberly Fordham’s excellent review and seeing the scans, I immediately ordered this deck from Amazon UK (at the time of this writing it is unavailable in the U.S.). I was captivated by the illustration style, which is unusually modern for a tarot deck.
The design of the cards, book and outer package is superlative, and Johnson Banks deserves much credit for his work. The cards are simple yet sophisticated, with lifelike silhouettes set against bright, solid colors. There are various small touches on the Majors which show that the authors were not unaware of various tarot traditions, such as a butterfly on the Star card or an alligator on the Fool card. At the same time, there are some delightful twists, for example on the World card, where the usual woman enclosed in a wreath is represented instead simply by a yellow circle. The traditional Biblical/astrological creatures square off the circle, and below the circle a woman is shown seated at a harp.
For further discussion of the Majors and Courts, please see Kimberly’s review.
I found the numbered pip cards (Ace through 10) very intriguing. They are basically arrangements of suit symbols, as in unillustrated decks, but they are arranged in patterns which are suggestive of Hardie’s given meanings. Unfortunately, these meanings are quite simplistic and fortune-telling-oriented. So we have, for example, a scroll on the Four of Wands, meant to suggest “money coming through a legacy.” The 10 of Cups shows fireworks, “an unconventional love relationship.” Extra design elements are added which sometimes make the meaning quite obvious, as with the Eight of Swords, “a feeling of personal dishonour due to failure in business,” showing a large “down” arrow.
Now, in the book for a previous deck, Titania’s Fortune Cards, Hardie discloses that deck’s debt to Mme. Lenormand; but for her Star Tarot Hardie supplies no bibliography, nor does she mention any past tarot authors or designers from whom she derived any of her ideas. If one didn’t happen to know otherwise, one would be led to think that Hardie had invented her deck from scratch, as in the following quote from the introduction: “My wish in writing this new volume is to unite the immense flexibility of the cards in their traditional meanings with their equally significant astrological past, harnessing our knowledge of horoscopes and the meanings of the zodiac.”
Apparently Hardie felt that since the sources from which she borrows go back 70 years, no one would remember them. If so, she was mistaken.
From the book, A History of the Occult Tarot by Ronald Decker and Michael Dummett, I learned that in 1927, C.C. Zain published a book, The Sacred Tarot, in which he compiled a series of lessons he had been creating since 1915 for his organization, the Brotherhood of Light (this group still exists as the Church of Light; check out their website). In this book, Zain sets out his tarot theories, including new titles and astrological correspondences for the Majors, as follows:
Arcanum: Astrological Function:
1. The Magus Mercury
2. Veiled Isis Virgo
3. Isis Unveiled Libra
4. The Sovereign Scorpio
5. The Hierophant Jupiter
6. The Two Paths Venus
7. The Conqueror Sagittarius
8. The Balance Capricorn
9. The Sage Aquarius
10. The Wheel Uranus
11. The Enchantress Neptune
12. The Martyr Pisces
13. The Reaper Aries
14. The Alchemist Taurus
15. The Black Magician Saturn
16. The Lightning Mars
17. The Star Gemini
18. The Moon Cancer
19. The Sun Leo
20. The Sarcophagus Moon
21. The Adept Sun
22. The Materialist (Fool) Earth
These are the exact same titles and astrological correspondences Hardie gives to her Majors in the book (there are no titles on the cards, but they do contain the astrological symbols), although she does change the Materialist (Fool)’s attribution from Earth to Pluto.
Zain is also the first to refer to Knights as Horsemen, as Hardie does.
Another link to Zain is the presence of constellations on certain Major and Court cards. I rather liked this original touch in Hardie’s deck, until I saw on the Church of Light’s website that their deck also displays constellations on certain cards. I don’t have their deck, so I can’t say whether they’re the same constellations on the same cards, but I think we're safe to assume that Hardie appropriated at least Zain’s idea of putting constellations on the cards, if not the constellations themselves, along with his card titles and astrological attributions.
Now, for the Minors, there is still a link to Zain but a much more tenuous one. Here we must jump forward in time to 1952, when Frank Lind, one of the leaders of the Insight Institute, wrote a book called How to Understand the Tarot, in which he lays out his tarot theories. The only connection to Zain, as far as I know, is that he borrows Zain’s titles for Strength (“The Enchantress”), Death (“The Reaper”) and the Devil (“The Black Magician”). For Temperance, Lind uses a title created by P.D. Ouspensky, “The Angel of Time.”
But now we must focus on Lind’s treatment of the numbered pip cards. He uses a number-plus-suit method to arrive at his meanings:
Wands = business, Cups = affectionate relationships, Swords = disasters, Pentacles = money.
Five: Good luck
Nine: Hopeful outlook
Ten: Profitable result
A few tarot authors of the ‘60s and ‘70s derived their methods from Lind’s work, including Rolla Nordic (The Tarot Shows the Path), Carlyle Pushong (The Tarot of the Magi), Doris Chase Doane (The Tarot-Card Spread Reader), and Sandor Konraad (Classic Tarot Spreads). I have the Nordic and Konraad books, and Hardie’s meanings for her Star Tarot’s pip cards mostly follow Nordic’s meanings, right down to using the same phrases (Hardie: “The Eight of Coins reveals a necessary – and usually quite costly – lawsuit looming…” Nordic: “Loss. Costly lawsuit…”). Doane, like Hardie, refers to the Pages as Youths, while keeping Zain’s “Horsemen” terminology for the Knights, so Doane rather than Nordic may be Hardie’s source.
I have no objection to tarot authors and deck designers building on the work of others, but in my opinion, if they’re going to basically copy someone else’s work wholesale, they should at least be gracious enough to give their sources some credit.
While I’m always on the lookout for new schemes for reading with unillustrated pips, I’m afraid the Lind/Nordic/Konraad/Pushong/Doane/Hardie system just doesn’t work for me. The meanings (“a marriage motivated by money,” “an increase in the family”) seem useful only for parlor-game-type readings. The only way I could imagine using these meanings is if I applied them very loosely and creatively, and frankly it doesn’t seem worth the trouble to do that. Unfortunately, since these meanings are worked into the designs of Hardie’s pip cards, it’s impossible to use a set of meanings other than Hardie’s, and this reduces the deck’s usefulness to the large number of people who, in my opinion, will not be interested in using these kinds of simplistic meanings.
It’s a pity, because I do truly like the cards’ designs.
Titania’s Star Tarot by Titania Hardie
Cards illustrated by Johnson Banks
Quadrille Publishing Ltd.
ISBN # 1-84400-039-7
Lee Bursten has been studying the Tarot for 25 years. He is the author of a new tarot deck which will be published by Lo Scarabeo in 2004 or 2005. He owns over 170 Tarot and oracle decks and over 50 books on esoteric subjects including the Tarot, playing cards and astrology, and has written over 70 Tarot deck reviews for Tarot Passages. He is available for professional e-mail readings at Aeclectic Tarot.
Images © 2003 Quadrille Press
Review © 2003 Lee Bursten
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes