Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Rachel Pollack is a writer/lecturer/artist whose work I have long admired. I was blessed to have been able to attend the 2003 Readers Studio (co-sponsored by The Tarot School), where Rachel was one of three presenters. I was as impressed by the energy of the person as I was (and am) with the energy of her work.
The Kabbalah Tree is the second project that Rachel has worked on with Hermann Haindl - the first being the Haindl Tarot, with Haindl as artist and Rachel as wordsmith. Rachel notes that the painting of Haindl's Tree of Life came after the deck itself was authored. This is an important point - because it indicates, essentially, the growth of one from the other.
My habit is to go through any book or magazine from back to front, and then proceed to read it. In doing this, one of my first discoveries was the poster of Haindl's Kabbalah Tree that Llewellyn has included with the book. (It was also the only snafu that I had with this book - in all my grace I had a hard time getting the poster out of the plastic sleeve that it was contained in!) The poster alone is well worth the price of admission - it humbles anyone who is lucky enough to view it.
Most of us, in picturing the Tree of Life, see a graphic of the ten sephiroth and the 22 connecting paths in our mind. Perhaps we see the lightening path through the 10 sephiroth, or perhaps we take it one step further, and see the 10 sephiroth superimposed on the image of an actual tree. For most of us, this now becomes largely an intellectual exercise, to understand the ten sephiroth, the twenty-two pathways and the four worlds. Hermann Haindl choose to see the Tree of Life as a living tree (which it is) - living within each of us.
Each of the ten sephiroth contain an animal image, referencing the meaning of the sephiroth. How easy this makes it for us to now look at the image of the Tree and see energy and movement - change, if you will - and to begin to see how this works in our lives. Each of the ten sephiroth also contains the Hebrew letter attribution, and the Hebrew name. The twenty-two pathways carry the names of the twenty-two cards of the Tarot Major Arcana. From this foundation, the book begins. Along the border of the poster we see the words "der baum ist der baum ist der baum ist der baum" (the tree is the tree is the tree). One cannot help but think, as Rachel did, of Gertrude Stein's words "a rose is a rose is a rose".
When one attends a seminar given by Rachel, there are no excess or lost words. Take notes from the very beginning - every word is there for a reason. And so it is with this book - pay attention from the very beginning. Do not get lost before the journey begins. Great care and respect has been taken in interpreting Haindl's work - pay the author the honor of respecting her work as well. Rachel has a diverse background, including extensive study in the fields of Tarot and Kabbalah. In The Kabbalah Tree, Rachel turns to the traditions of Tarot and the Kabbalah, shamanism, tribal culture, mythology and the bible.
Rachel does a very good job of bringing biblical references into the story of the Tree, gifting her audience with the ability to reference her words to their own lives and backgrounds. She makes an interesting point about the myth of the Tree of Life - that it occurs in different forms in different cultures, but that it is there. For instance, there is the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden; the tree that Christ was crucified on; Yggdrasil, the tree that Odin hung upside down from in Norse mythology before receiving the knowledge of the Runes; and the Bodhi tree that Buddha sat under. All trees relating to the roots of wisdom and life.
(Side note - I finally found out what the notation C.E. means! It is the term Common Era - which is used by non-Christian cultures to refer to the last two thousand years, in order to avoid using the term "anno domini" - in the year of our lord.)
If you want to learn - this is the book for you. Rachel discusses things such as gematria - the application of numbers to letters, and how this applies to the Tree of Life. She takes the word Paradise and applies it, through gematria, to the Tree of Life. Here is one of the first places that we see that there are many paths through the Tree - all equally valid. (This is one of the gifts of this book - and Rachel's writing in general: one never feels the need to defend one's beliefs. Another gift - that more than one belief, or way, is presented in a plausible manner so that the reader has much food for thought.) This to me is an important section. From the book:
"My friend Zoe Matoff, who thinks deeply about such matters, has suggested that we can actually map these four letters/levels onto the tree itself. If we place the P in Malkuth, the sephiroth that represents the physical world, and the S in Kether, the sephiroth closest to the divine, that leaves the R and the D for the two pillars on the sides. Perhaps the pillar of justice, on the left, would contain remez, the intellectual level, and mercy, on the right, contain drash, the allegorical. We can be more specific and place remez in Gevurah and drash in Chesed, for these two sephiroth, power and mercy, epitomize the two pillars. In this way, the four levels of interpreting a story or image become a means of traveling up the tree to spiritual awareness, from Malkuth to Gevurah to Chesed to Kether."
Through the eyes of Jewish Kabbalah, Christian Kabbalah and the Kabbalah of Western Hermeticism (Golden Dawn) we see differing views and understandings of the Tree of Life. The paths may differ, but the journey is the same: to understand the four worlds, the ten sephiroth and the twenty-two pathways as energies that are alive and working in our own lives on a daily basis. To know that these are archetypal energies common to us all, and, for those of us who live in the world of the Tarot, to see how the Tarot archetypes can be attributed in more than an intellectual manner to the Tree of Life.
You will find things here that you have never seen before (at least, things that I have never seen or thought of before). Those who study Kabbalah know the image of the ten sephiroth, the twenty-two pathways, the four worlds and the three pillars. Step back for a moment, and close your eyes. Now open them. Before you the sephiroth have been reconnected - one through six, in a circle. A straight line goes from the sixth sephoroth through the ninth and tenth sephiroth. Another straight line crosses from the seventh to the eighth sephiroth. The symbol taken together is that of the feminine energy of life. Taken separately, we have the circle, which represents the divine, and the cross beneath it, which signifies earth and the four directions.
There is also a short discussion of work done by Judith Laura on the sexual attributions for each sephiroth on the Tree of Life. The question posed here was whether the symbolism from the Tree of Life may have originated in the ancient goddesses of nature. Before you go off huffing, read this section. The cross-polarity shown here give another form of balance to the Tree, and is certainly one to at least consider.
In the chapter on the four worlds, Rachel manages to sneak in a wonderfully revealing and intense Tarot spread. For each of the four worlds (Atzilut, Beriah, Yetsirah and Assiyah), two cards are drawn. One card answers the question: "Who am I in this world?", while the second card answers the question: "What is my task in this world?". There are many times in my life that I could have used the understanding about myself that this spread brings. It certainly will be one that I use in the future - for myself, and for my clients.
At the end of the book, Rachel talks about ways in which readings can be done using the Tree of Life. One thing that she suggests is placing the Tarot cards on Haindl's poster. I have done this - with the result of feeling as if I were being taken into another world. I have done this before - setting the cards out in the form of the Tree of Life, but without benefit of the poster. There is learning both ways - intense wisdom coming through. An interesting thing to work with is a concept that I came across when working with the Tarot School Kabalah tapes. Aces through tens are ordered by number and suit (i.e. all four Aces, all four Two's - in the same suit order), and placed on the Tree. Study what is there with each suit in turn. It is absolutely amazing at the change in energy that you get as you work through the suits!
The Kabbalah Tree is a work of art in word form, presenting the history of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the thoughts of various authors along the way, and the myths and stories that make up its reality. In the end, you will come to an understanding of how the energy of the Tree of Life works in your life. It will move from a concept to a living reality - as it is reflected in both out internal and external lives. I highly recommend this book as a resource for Kabbalists and Tarotists, and for students of all levels.
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.