Rachel Pollack's Tarot Wisdom
Rachel Pollack's Tarot Wisdom: Spiritual Teachings and Deeper Meanings is an essential for the tarot library, next to 78 Degrees of Wisdom. Thirty years later, Rachel explores the cards afresh, through history, psychology, mythology, Kabbalah, astrology, magic, the Tao Te Ching, and also offers a new approach to reading and several new spreads.
By Rachel Pollack
Book - 408 pages - Published by Llewellyn
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
As always, I am in awe of Rachel’s work! I had the great good fortune to attend the Readers Studio 2003, where Rachel was a presenter – and the further good fortune to be forewarned that I needed to be ready to take notes from the time she hit the podium. Her lecture was an absolutely amazing journey! It is my turn to pass this advice on to the readers of this book – pay attention from page one – every word, every phrase has a purpose. Rachel set a good tone with “Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom” (Thorsons, 1998, 2nd edition), starting us out on the wonderful path that is the Tarot. With “Tarot Wisdom” we take a quantum leap in the understanding and application of these very special cards.
In reading this book I feel very much as I do whenever I read Jason C. Lotterhand’s Thursday Night Tarot – as if I am sitting in someone’s living room, a cup of good coffee at my side, in the company of congenial, like minded people. It is as with any really good book – that when we are reading the book we enter another dimension, another time zone. This time zone, this dimension, for me is one of peace, joy and contentment. I believe that it will be the same for you – a lovely break from what can be a less than harmonious world.
“Tarot Wisdom” reflects the past thirty years of study that Rachel has done since writing “Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom”. Tarot history – and our evolving understanding of Tarot history – along with influences from astrology, mythology, Kabbalah, magic, Paganism, psychology, and Rachel’s personal interpretation of the Tao Te Ching form the foundation for this work. We also need to give a tip of the hat to the members of Rachel’s Tarot intensive study group, who not only acted as a sounding board for Rachel’s thoughts, but contributed wisdom gained from their own studies.
I was very pleased to see that in her introduction Rachel gives credit to Paul Huson, and to his body of work, including “Mystical Origins of the Tarot” and his earlier work, “The Devil’s Picture Book”. I found “Mystical Origins of the Tarot” to be a fascinating reference, and felt that it did not receive its just due when it came out, so seeing it referenced here gave me a wonderful feeling.
In “Mystical Origins of the Tarot” Huson gifts us with a chart including interpretations from several early cartomancers, including Pratesi, De Mellet, Court de Gebelin, Levi, Christian, Mathers, the Golden Dawn, Grand Orient (a Waite pseudonym), and Waite. Rachel has included these interpretations as part of her presentation for each of the Major Arcana cards.
In her presentation of the Major Arcana, Rachel includes a discussion of what is termed the 3x7 theory, in which the Tarot Major Arcana are laid out with the Fool separated from the remaining cards, which are laid out in three lines of seven cards each. The first line represents our Conscious, the second line represents our Unconscious, and the third line represents our Super-conscious. Within each line, the first two cards represent the basic issues, the middle three cards show us the challenges we face at that level, the sixth card represents an experience that we can have, while the seventh card shows something we can become.
The interpretation is further developed by looking at the triads formed when reading the vertical lines – 1/8/15, 2/9/16, 3/10/17, 4/11/18, 5/12/19, 6/13/20, and 7/14/21. Rachel takes us through these triads in her discussion of the Major Arcana.
Each Major Arcana card is presented by title, number, astrological correspondence, Kabbalistic letter, and path on the Tree of Life. For comparison purposes, and to follow the descriptions given in the presentation on each card, scans are shown from the Visconti-Sforza, Marseille, Rider, Golden Dawn Ritual, Egyptian and Shining Tribe decks. A discussion of the energy represented within each archetype is presented, along with Huson’s chart of early cartomancy meanings, and questions that can be used in a reading specific to each card. Note: In some instances there are two different reading formats given – one for a basic reading, and one for a Wisdom Reading, a term coined by Rachel to represent readings referencing questions about issues that loom larger than personal concerns.
In her introduction to the Minor Arcana, Rachel discusses the four suits, their names, qualities, and attributes, basic information on the attributions given numbers, the themes for the numbers in the Rider deck, Pythagorian numerological principles, and Kabbalistic placement for the numbers. The following attributions are listed for each suit: element, Kabbalistic world, Magical “weapon”, social class, Biblical object, “Ruling God, primary Major Arcana card, and medieval virtue.
Each Pip (numbered card) is presented with the following attributions: element, sephirah, Pythagorean association, Major Arcana card and Rider theme. Numbers Two through Ten also show the Golden Dawn title, Decan, and Picatrix. Scans are shown from the Golden Dawn, Marseille, Rider, Sola Busca, Shining Tribe and Visconti decks. There is a short discussion of the card, along with upright and reversed meanings.
The Court Cards are presented as “families”, which are presented in chart format, along with permutations. Rachel presents the Court, or “people” cards in several different formats, including heroes (Kings), partners (Queens), enemies (Knights) and sidekicks (Pages). From the book:
Wands – action, power, optimism
Hero – Superman
Partner – Lois Lane
Enemy – Luthor
Sidekick – Jimmy Olson
Each card is listed with the following attributes: element, sephirah, Golden Dawn title, elemental combination, Rider physical quality, Rider theme, Renaissance character, and Shining Tribe title. Scans are included from the Golden Dawn, Marseille, Rider, Visconti and Shining Tribe decks. There is a short discussion of each card, along with upright and reversed meanings.
The final section of the book – on performing a reading, starts out by addressing several Tarot myths – such as wrapping your cards in silk, or having to be given (or steal) your Tarot deck. The stealing part was something that was new to me! (If I had been told that when I was young and impressionable, the world of Tarot perhaps would not have been part of my life experience!)
Rachel also addresses how to phrase questions (or help the Seeker to phrase questions), and gifts us with an incredible amount of information on how to set up various readings. Including two card spreads, three card spreads, and more. Wonderful suggestions are made for defining the positions for each of the spreads, although for the most part the actual spread layout is left to the reader. Kudos to Tarotist Zoe Matoff for one of the three card spread definitions, which she lists as situation, do, and don’t do. I read this part of the book at the end of a very long day, and I sat in front of my computer giggling into my coffee over this spread. It is so precise – set the issue/situation, then look at what to do, and what not to do. I tend to over-think and complicate things, so this spread was a proverbial kick in the tush to “sit up and fly right”!
Also included are the Doorway Spread – a five card spread used to define who the Seeker is at the time of the reading; the Body Spread – a five card spread that asks about who the Seeker is as a person; the traditional ten card Celtic Cross Spread; and a six card Esoteric Celtic Cross Spread, amongst others.
Rachel speaks from a background of her own studies, from readings she has done (for herself and others), and from life experiences. “Tarot Wisdom” takes the reader deeply into the cards, and into how to place them in your life. The reader is given a great deal of background information, then encouraged to think for themselves.
As is Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, “Tarot Wisdom” is a must have book for any Tarot library. It is well written, fast paced, respects the Tarot, the wisdom traditions that the Tarot is coupled with, and the reader. I would highly recommend this book for any level of Tarot reader/student.
© Bonnie Cehovet
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.