hudes9.jpg (12443 bytes)The Hudes Tarot Deck - Review by Lee A. Bursten

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

This interesting deck by Susan Hudes was published in 1995 by U.S. Games Systems. It's a standard 78-card deck, with Major card names, Court card names, and suit titles all following the Waite-Smith deck. The imagery on the Minors follows Pamela Colman Smith; in fact, in the placement of the figures they seem to actually be based on another Waite-Smith derivative, the Aquarian Tarot by David Palladini. The Major imagery, however, is more original and individualistic.

The art medium is watercolor, which is done very skillfully, the colors glowing like stained glass against the muted backgrounds. The cards also include many added elements such as marbleized paper, world maps, and constellation maps, but they are used discreetly and never overwhelm the picture.

The scenes seem to take place in the same quasi-medieval world as the Waite-Smith, but in this deck there is a decidedly wintry tone, another feature reminiscent of the Aquarian deck. Nobody smiles, nobody is excited or amused. Even in the 6 of Cups, a relatively pleasant card showing two children digging up and arranging cups full of flowers, the child with its face to us is frowning in concentration.

The artist has done some very interesting things with the Majors. Rather than most decks which fill each card with a wealth of symbols, Hudes has chosen to take one particular aspect of each card and plumb the depths of that one aspect, presenting it in a vivid, imaginative way.

For example, the Fool is simply a young man chasing a butterfly, with nothing else in the picture at all. This emphasizes that perspective of the Fool that shows him as someone foolish (or wise) enough to do something as unproductive as chasing a butterfly. But it leaves out many other interesting features traditionally assigned to the Fool which many use as interpretive elements, for instance the court jester's garb of the Marseilles deck, or the cliff, wand, bag, and flower of the Waite.

Likewise, the High Priestess hearkens back to the traditional Marseilles design, showing a seated woman with an open book. This card is even more devoid of symbolism than the Marseilles; here, the woman has no ecclesiastical robes or headdress. The only feature to hang an interpretation on is the woman's dress, which is composed of antique manuscript.

This simple picture is an interesting one, however, given that the book she holds has blank pages. To me this suggests what happens when our minds, so literal and linear and language-bound in their thinking (represented by the woman with her dress made of words), try to wrestle with philosophical mysteries (the blank book) whose answers cannot be reduced to writing.

The Lovers is unique among decks for its somber mood. A young couple stands in the foreground with their eyes lowered or closed, suggesting they are enveloped in their own world. Behind them stands an older woman who stares toward us, wearing a frown, suggesting that she, unlike the callow lovers, sees dark times ahead. Above, bare branches wave in the wind.

Strength is an example of Hudes's ability to imaginatively transform the symbols. The traditional woman holds open the lion's mouth, while above her head birds fly in a lemniscate pattern. The card is particularly attractive because of Hudes's skill at painting animals.

The Hermit is my favorite Hermit card of any deck. It's simply an old man with a white beard, dressed in a cloak, leaning on a staff, while dark browns and blacks swirl around him. I can't really explain it, but to me this is the perfect Hermit.

Hudes's imagination is also evident in the Hanged Man, where faces stare out of the tree on which the man hangs.

Death is, again, my favorite Death card of any deck. It's just an unclothed skeleton; but the pelvic bone becomes the wings of a colorful butterfly. Thus Hudes manages to retain he ancient symbolism of the skeleton while communicating the modern interpretation of change in one simple, potent picture.

The Devil is also unusual, in that it shows him in a Mephistophelian mode, elegant and dapper, rather than the usual hairy monster.

The Star, Moon and Sun are each reminiscent of the standard images, but more bare. The Star is the most traditional, but in this card the woman is actually submerged to her neck in the water, while a single star shines above. This gives a nice restful feeling to the card, as if one is submerged in peaceful waters. The Moon is only a marbleized paper moon with a Pamela Smith-type face, and two trees with bare branches. The Sun is characteristically muted, shining in a gray marble sky, with colorful flowers below.

Judgement simply shows a rather broad-shouldered angel blowing a trumpet, his cheeks puffed out. Looking at this card, one can practically hear the trumpet blast. In the World, Hudes actually abandons the traditional imagery altogether. Against a background of maps, four green leaves form a wreath around a drawing of two hands. The hands are actually a depiction of a famous statue, although I'm not knowledgeable enough about art to say which one. This new imagery doesn't bother me as much as it might with other cards, perhaps because the traditional picture never particularly inspired me. For me, the two hands convey more psychological and emotional significance than the typical World dancer accompanied by the bull, lion, eagle and angel inspired by Christian iconography.

The Minor cards are notable for their quiet, muted mood. The Waite-Smith pictures have been drained of any drama or excitement (except for a few cards, like the 5 of Swords, which is actually more dramatic than the Waite). This brings a wonderful sense of coolness and mystery to the cards, but many (including myself at times) will miss the action and drama of Waite-Smith inspired decks.

For example, the 7 of Wands shows a woman holding a wand and looking downward, while six wands rise up in front of her. The scene is obviously derived from Waite-Smith, but here there is no suggestion that she is fending off attackers. In fact, it's hard to tell what she is doing.

In other cards this quiet moodiness is an advantage. In the 4 of Cups, a man sits cross-legged on the ground, disconsolately staring at the ground, the very picture of boredom, while a cup is offered him on a tree branch. And the 7 of Swords, an imaginative recasting of the Waite-Smith picture, is an overhead shot of a man in a rowboat, while seven swords float in the water around the boat like mines or spent torpedoes.

The 8 of Pentacles shows a man working on a pentacle in a workshop, similar to the Waite-Smith picture. Hudes apparently liked this image so much that she used precisely the same image for the 3 of Pentacles, except this time the artisan is a woman.

The 10 of Pentacles is one of the very best cards. Modeled after the Aquarian picture, it shows a man, woman and child standing under an arch. The picture is ambivalent; the family is together but they don't look very happy. The woman stares off to the left, while the child looks wistfully out at us. In the background is the faint outline of a castle, barely discernible. To me this suggests that no matter how happy the outcome, human nature dictates that there will always be a certain dissatisfaction; even while we enjoy the fruits of our labor, a new dream begins to coalesce on the horizon.

Likewise, the 10 of Cups is my favorite of any deck. Rather than showing the usual insipid happy family, this card is composed simply of a rainbow containing the ten cups, and a seagull (created from marbleized paper) soaring high above a landscape. To me this is a much more apt representation of ultimate happiness.

Whether one likes this deck is really a matter of personal preference. Many will miss the traditional symbolism of the Majors and the simple, exciting scenes of the Minors in more standard Waite-Smith derived decks like the Hanson-Roberts. But this imagery is psychologically powerful in its own right, and makes this deck worthwhile. I particularly recommend it. Even if it is not one's main reading deck, I guarantee that new insights and depths will emerge from these images.

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

The Hudes Tarot Deck
U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Stamford, CT 06902
ISBN 0-913866-51-2

Review Copyright 1999 Lee A. Bursten

Images Copyright 1995 US Games Systems

Page Copyright 1999 by Diane Wilkes