Interview with Mary Greer and Rachel Pollack
by Bonnie Cehovet
For close to twenty years, the Omega Institute in upstate New York has been graced with seminars given by Tarot legends Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack. This June will see the hosting of two new seminars: "Tarot Play" (June 12th - 17th), and "Tarot and the Tree of Life" (June 17th - 19th). There is an amazing continuity here, a coming together of two dedicated, inspired teachers who gift the Tarot world with their grace, humor and intellect, and allow us to grow in our knowledge of ourselves and of the Tarot.
Mary and Rachel both graciously agreed to be interviewed, so I will now be quiet and let them have the stage!
A lot of years have been put in here! How did the partnership between East coast and West coast ever come about?
MKG: Actually it began as a meeting of the USA and Europe. I was invited to teach at an Amsterdam center called De Kosmos. Rachel, who lived in Amsterdam at the time, taught a weekly class which I attended. We enjoyed being able to share our love of Tarot and other interests. Then, the second year I taught at Omega, Rachel was visiting her father in Poughkeepsie and so I invited her to visit the class.
What made you decide to make this an annual event?
MKG: The year after Rachel visited the Omega class she returned to the US and was in the process of moving to Rhinebeck, where Omega is located. I proposed to Omega that we both teach the class - after all it was an opportunity for the students that was just too good to miss. We've been doing it ever since, including at other locations like a similar workshop in the Los Angeles area the weekend of June 3-5 (contact Barbara Rapp for more information). Students have said they love how our teaching styles intersect and how we each bring something different yet congruent to our discussions.
RP: Our approaches to the cards, the things we each love about them, and the way we try to use and understand them, are close enough that we can communicate really well, and different enough that we bring fresh perspectives. One thing I think we share is that we are both very interested in comparing outside concepts to the Tarot, such as studies in mythology or psychology, or literature, or art, that are not strictly connected to the cards, but will illuminate how we can use them and understand them more deeply.
How do you decide between you what topic(s) will be covered each year, and how have the topics evolved?
MKG: Sometimes the topic reflects what we're currently working on or a book that's just come out. We also like to challenge ourselves by stretching into new areas to see what we'll all discover in the process. Both Rachel and I like to experiment and we teach experientially. In fact, we sometimes create new techniques or processes on-the-spot in an attempt to explain or show students something, and then that technique or process becomes a key element in a new book. We also consider the needs of our participants - what isn't or can't be addressed adequately in books and where are the greatest tarot controversies.
RP: Because Omega is longer than most workshops, and residential, we want it to be something that people can really experience, can sink their teeth into, and have fun. After all, for many people it's their summer vacation, and if they are going to spend their vacation with us we want to make sure it's memorable. So we try to think of subjects that will be compelling and exciting. We also need to consider subjects that will allow for a wide range of participation, since we have everyone from beginners to long time professional readers.
"Tarot Play" sounds like it is going to be a lot of fun! I was happy to see that you added movement to the program, as that adds a new and, I feel, necessary element to Tarot study. How did you come up with exactly which topics to cover ... and is Tarrocchi one of the games that will be covered?
MKG:: Movement is a major way to discover dimensions of the cards that can't be known in any other way. Plus it gets the energy up. In fact, I rarely do a reading without having the querent do some form of movement so that they can experience the card's meaning directly. Like many games with lasting power, Tarrocchi is very easy to learn (except for the scoring) but hard to play well. Yes, we'll learn the game which is quite fun but also several new games. Generally Rachel and I make up lists of the things we really want to do and the stuff we think should be covered. Then we order them in a developmental sequence, leaving room for spontaneity and inspiration of the Fool to break in unannounced. We also modify our plan before each session to allow for the needs of the particular group. Our students teach us as well as our teaching them.
RP: Movement, in particular acting out the image in a card, is something I learned from Mary. If you sit in the posture of the 4 of Pentacles or 2 of Swords (from the Rider) you get a whole new meaning for those cards. As for games, we've got some great ones planned, including one I've been working on for years, as part of a novel.
Can you talk a little bit about the self-healing and dreams segment?
MKG: This is one of those topics that's hard to discuss in few words and is far better when experienced. Let me leave it at that. Perhaps Rachel will have more to say.
RP: The dream work has been part of our Omega workshop for many years. It has a playful experimental quality because we don't ask questions, but rather use the dream itself as the questions. The idea originally came from Gail Fairfield, but both of us have worked extensively with it on our own as well as together. Because you're not asking external questions, such as "What does this mean?" or "What does it tell me to do?" you do not step outside the dream, do not try to make it rational and conscious, but instead use the Tarot pictures to go more deeply into the original dream. Say in the dream you were playing an ancient piano, and the card that comes up is the High Priestess. Now suddenly you're the High Priestess playing the piano, and what is that experience? Self-healing actually is something that comes with the spirit of play and storytelling. We are using the Tarot for something more than information or advice.
I like the ability to look at the Tree of Life from both Jewish and magickal traditions. Can you tell us a bit about the pathways, and how they can be accessed?
MKG: You don't ask easy questions, do you? There are thirty-two pathways on the Tree-ten sephiroth that can be related to the numbered cards in the Minor Arcana plus twenty-two paths between the sephiroth that can be related, in a variety of ways, to the twenty-two Major Arcana. You can think of the numbers as temples or waystations and the linking paths as ways to get from one to another. There are tons of modes of access - though not all of them work for everyone.
RP: One of the difficult problems here is that there really is not one Tree of Life. Those who only know the Golden Dawn magickal tradition think it's an absolute form, but there are radical differences with the older Jewish Kabbalistic images, in both the placing of the 22 lines, and the attributions. And even in the occult Kabbalah, there are major questions between Levi, the Golden Dawn, Crowley, and others. Rather than get caught up in such details we probably will focus more on the qualities and images, and a method for people to begin their own explorations.
What do each of you hope that this year's participants will take away from the seminars?
MKG: Actually they're experiential workshops, even though we talk a lot. I'd say fun, friends, enthusiasm, new ideas, a deepened sense of the power of the tarot experience, an expanded sense of possibilities, pride in their own skills and development, tools. . . .
RP: A great time, first of all. And as a major part of that the discovery of just how good a reader each person is. I'd like them to take home a sense that Tarot can be so much bigger than they thought, and they personally can do so much with it.
What direction do each of you see the world of Tarot taking?
MKG: I see it going multi-media. Eventually there will be a form of tarot that talks and moves. Also, we've begun a wonderful international sharing of decks, techniques and historical information that will broaden our perspectives. Unfortunately a split is developing among those who want to "own" some piece of tarot and its practices and those who simply want to explore and enjoy all that tarot has to offer. I chose tarot because it's what I call a borderline "outlaw" practice, which means that the rules of other disciplines and professions don't apply. There are people who would like to change that - usually originally for excellent reasons - such as to improve the ethics in and quality of information and practices. While this is needed, it also heralds the dawn of legislation, formal or by the weight of opinion. Something important gets lost when this happens.
RP: I always find it hard to say where Tarot might go. It still seems a rather specialized field of enthusiasts. Mary and I have been among those who have sought to open up the way we look at it, and use it, but for the wider world it remains an odd fortune-telling device. A lot of people have become fascinated by history in recent years. So far, there has been a split between the historians and the readers/occultists but now new books by Paul Huson and Robert M. Place are showing that such a split is not necessary. So I'm very curious to see how new decks and ideas might develop out of this material. I actually find that Tarot has been in a bit of doldrums lately, with almost no conferences or other large gatherings (BATS in San Francisco remains lively, and the Readers' Studio continues but little else), and I would like to see a resurgence of energy. It's also very important to consider new generations of readers. Do young people continue to come to Tarot? I'm not sure. I have a new book coming out this summer--SEEKER, from Llewellyn--aimed at Young Adults and teens, so hopefully some fresh interest might be developing.
What advice do you have for a student/practitioner that wishes to truly incorporate the Tarot into their life?
MKG: First and foremost, use the cards often both for yourself and with others through readings and in a whole variety of other ways. Attend classes, workshops and conferences as you'll learn so much and so much faster than any other single way-plus you'll make lots of tarot friends! Read as much as you can about tarot history and methods and about related subjects like psychology, new physics, philosophy and symbolism. By delving deeply into the various areas of tarot-where it comes from, how it works, what it says, what it can do and where it can take you-you will obtain a marvelous and well-rounded education.
RP: I agree with everything Mary has said, especially about using the cards as much as possible. You need to have a playful experimental attitude, don't worry about whether you are right or wrong, or how good you are. And certainly don't think you have to memorize all the meanings before you start. I began reading with the cards in one hand and a book of explanations (Eden Gray) in the other. And I still will occasionally look things up. When I'm using the Shining Tribe deck in a class (the deck I created), I will sometimes say "Let's see what the author said about this card" and read from the book. People laugh, but we forget things over time. I also advise people to get a good notebook, one they will want to keep for years, Set several pages for each card, then begin by writing down what they know right now about that card, even if it's very little. As they learn and experience, they add discoveries and ideas for each card, until they have their own book.
Is there any thing that either of you wish to say to the Tarot public about the place that Tarot holds in our lives?
MKG: Tarot is not for everyone. But for those to whom it speaks, it is a wondrous, faithful and exciting companion on the road of life, and it's a powerful way of connecting deeply with others.
RP: For those who love Tarot, it's a Foolish friend on the journey, a great performer of Magic tricks, and a Priestess who can lead us deep into the Mysteries.
I want to thank both Mary and Rachel for doing this interview, and for the depth of their answers. Sometimes it can be hard to tell a truth, and there are some marvelous truths here! More information on the seminars that Mary and Rachel will be doing can be found here: Omega: Tarot Play, Omega: Tarot & The Tree of Life.
Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack have each worked with the Tarot for more than 30 years. Mary K. Greer is the author of several books, including The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, Tarot for Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation, Understanding The Tarot Court (co-authored with Tom Little), and a new book coming out in 2006 - 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card. Rachel Pollack is the author of The Forest of Souls: A Walk Through the Tarot, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, The Kabbalah Tree, and a new book coming out in the summer of 2005, Seeker: The Tarot Unveiled, and the creator of the Shining Tribe Tarot.
© 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.