Divination Review: “The Star That Never Walks Around” by Stella Bennett

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.

Divination Review:The Sibyls Oraculum (Oracle of the Black Doves of Africa)

The Sibyls Oraculum (Oracle of the Black Doves of Africa), Author: Tayannah Lee McQuillar, Artist: Katelan V. Foisy, Destiny Books, 2018.

Tayannah Lee McQuillar developed “The Sibyls Oraculum” to present an African point of view in divination. (McQuillar is a cultural anthropologist noted for her writings on African-American culture.) Her aim was to move beyond the Euro-centrism that she found in many divination systems. She writes, “The Sibyls Oraculum was created to pay homage to the oft-forgotten African founding mothers of the sibylline tradition and the amalgamation of spiritual concepts that made the ancient Mediterranean world interesting.”

McQuillar set-up her oracle system for people to receive wisdom at various points in their lives. She divides her system into four main concepts – “Core Issue,” “Projection,” and blue and red “Actions.” For each concept, there are eleven related ideas. The Core Issue cards “reflect the essential spiritual principles that a seeker should deeply reflect upon.” The Projection cards represent the rationalizations that a person makes in their life. The Action cards are blue for developing the proper state of mind and red for the response to the core issue.

McQuillar proves a symbolic picture to meditate on, with an epigram to ponder. She also adds a religio-mythological association to obtain divine wisdom. All the symbols, epigrams, and associations are based on her belief that all Goddesses are a part of the Great Goddess, and that Africa is the ancestral source. Her philosophy is that “the ancients focused more on abstract lessons and the underlying symbolism of personages than on literal facts.”

In “The Sibyls Oraculum,” Core Issues range from “Wisdom,” “Rhythm,” and “Vibration.” “Wisdom” features the Tree of Wisdom with two duplex knots. Its epigram is “true wisdom is effortlessly applied knowledge.” The mythological associations are Anatha (Neith), the Moon Goddess of Libya and Tehuti (Thoth)/Hermes, the God of Wisdom of Egypt and Greece. One question to consider is “Do you expect someone else to ‘wise up’ just because you have gotten the point now.” The Core Issue cards have a series of questions to ponder, while the Projection and Action cards have divinatory explanations.

The rationalizations for the Projection cards range from “Purpose” to “Doubt” to “Contentment.” “Purpose” features the omphalos, which McQuillar claims is a symbol of the Great Goddess. The epigram is “Reason determines the weight of every harvest.” The mythological association is Cybele, the Anatolian Mother Goddess and Melissae, the Great Mother. The divinatory explanation is “This card may also be a warning to be aware of how the attachment of purpose to a belief…will positively or negatively affect your self-esteem legacy.”

The blue Action set includes “Synthesis,” “Desire,” and “Strategy;” the red set – “Purity,” “Disguise,” and “Defense.” “Synthesis” presents the sphinx with the ankh, with “Parts do not make the whole, the whole is made of parts.” Serapis, the Greco-Egyptian Father God is associated with this card.

“Purity,” the red Action card show the room of the initiate for the key symbol. The epigram is “If your conscience doesn’t respect you, eventually no one will.” Tanit, the Goddess of Heaven (Carthage) and Asar (Osiris) God of Death and Resurrection are the mythological associations. The divinatory meaning is “to be mentally clean.”

As a diviner and as a Roman Polytheist, I have problems with this oracle. First, McQuillar views that all Goddesses are manifestations of the Goddess. For me, the Gods are discrete individuals. Since her interpretations are personal, I have problems relating to her meanings in each card. For example, the omphalos is considered the navel stone in Hellenic Polytheism. Meanwhile, Ptolemy I created Serapis to unify his rule over Egypt. A combination of Osiris and the Apis Bull, Serapis did take on some qualities of various Greek Gods, but He wasn’t considered a “Father God.”

I cannot divine with the system that McQuillar has set up. My philosophy to divining is that a divination system is a framework of how to interact with the world. (In my divining practice, I use ten different systems ranging from animal signs to cards.) Each system should facilitate the understanding of our world. Furthermore, the divination provides us with questions to illuminate different aspects of the answer.

McQuillar’s system is peculiar to her in that she assumes that what she knows is easy to grasp. She fails to explain her choices for each of the sections or why this particular symbol should be thought of in this way. I cannot see the matrix that she is using to interpret the world. She does explain her point of view in the beginning, but fails to expand on how that is reflected in her choices. I find her choices to be a hodge-podge of symbols and meanings.