Stella Bennett. “The Star That Never Walks Around.” Weiser Books, Boston, 2002.
Stella Bennett, a dedicated Tarotist has created a deck combining her Native American heritage and her vision of the Tarot as the “Guide to Wisdom.” (Her grandmother was of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Indians.) Her title for the deck, “The Star That Never Walks Around” reflects both traditions. (It is the Native Americans’ name for the Polar Star (Polaris).)
Demonstrating her extensive knowledge of the Tarot, Bennett includes its astrological aspects in her cards. For the Court Cards, she pairs each with their Sign. The “Knight of Turtles (Pentacles)” is Capricorn, while the “Queen of Butterflies (Swords)” is Virgo. In the Minor Arcana, she matches the suits’ elements with their respective Zodiac Signs. Bennett writes for the “Three of Thunderbirds (Wands, element of fire): Our warrior offers assistance, help, and strength to the ram in distress. The ram represented by the Zodiac Sign Aries and can be headstrong.”
Bennett wrote that designing this deck was a spiritual experience for her. By drawing the cards herself, Bennett could explore the Native American cultures of the Plains, where she lived, more deeply. Each card depicted Native American ceremonies and beliefs. She included ordinary events, since they also carried a message from the Spirits. An example of this was the “Death Card (XIII)” of the Major Arcana. It showed the graves of the men from Custer’s Last Stand next to a platform Indian burial. Bennett wrote, “This card represents the death of the old human spirit and the rebirth of the new spirit of the Grandfathers.”
However, I feel uneasy in using this deck, since Native Americans have objected to their portrayal in various media. Also, they have complained that their cultures are being mined for commercial, Neo-Pagan, or New Age uses. For me, the crux of the issue became where on the “continuum between celebrating culture diversity and cultural appropriation” does Bennett’s deck lay?
In my review of “The Star that Never Walks Around,” I considered the following. (1) Did the deck portray the dignity of the Plains Cultures of the Native Americans? (2) Were the images of a particular stereotype? (3) Were the images taken out of context to be used for various Tarot meanings? (4) Does the authentic voice of the Tarot come through?
What bothers me about this deck is how Bennett mixes the Tarot, Astrology, and Native American cultures. For example, “The Tower (XVI)” of the Major Arcana is represented by the Sun Dance, a sacred ceremony of the Lakota peoples. She writes that “The Tower (XVI)” is a “breaking down of Karmic ties,” The message of this card is “Liberating yourself from old ways and old belief systems will provide the path to a higher place within your spirit.” This is troubling to me since it takes a sacred ceremony out of its cultural context. The Sun Dance has a superficial commonality with “The Tower (XVI),” but is contextually different. The Sun Dance is a personal sacrifice for the welfare of the community. Since “The Tower (XVI)” represents an outside catalyst to instigate change for the individual, the Sun Dance is not appropriate for this card.
A culture can express unique viewpoints of the Tarot, and not be shoehorned into the standard card meanings. I would prefer seeing how the “The Tower (XVI)” is expressed in Native American cultures than fitting those cultures into the “The Tower (XVI).” This is a subtle but important distinction. Bennett removes the original context of the Sun Dance and forces it into an artificial one. This ceremony sanctifies personal sacrifice for the sake of community and is not “a breaking down of Karmic ties.”
Although Astrology and the Tarot are a natural combination, Native American cultures are not. Bennett’s explicit association of Astrology with the Major Arcana Cards implies that Native Americans practiced this form of divination. She makes the logical fallacy that since Native Americans watch the stars, they are astrologers.
Bennett uses Native American cultures to “fill in the blanks” for the Tarot. Rather than depict the various Native American cultures of Montana (where she lives), she lumps them into one homogeneous group. In the process, she also skews the meaning of the Tarot cards as well. Bennett equates the “Royal Road” of the Tarot to be “Trail to Wisdom” in Native American cultures. This is a subtle form of stereotyping, since it assumes that Native Americans today are the same as those of the 19th Century.