Interview with Rachel Pollack
by Alex B. Crowther
Rachel Pollack’s literary credits include Teach Yourself Fortune Telling; The Body of the Goddess: Sacred Wisdom in Myth, Landscape and Culture; The Power of Ritual; Tarot texts for the the Haindl, Salvador Dali and Vertigo decks; comic books Doom Patrol, The New Gods and Time Breakers and the 78 Degrees of Wisdom, originally published in two volumes but now available as a single revised edition. She also created the Shining Tribe Tarot (formerly Shining Woman) deck and book sets.
My interview with Rachel Pollack was over the phone to her home in upstate New York. From the moment she answered the phone I knew it was going to be a fascinating interview. Of all the people within the world of Tarot I have spoken with Rachel Pollack was genuinely the most enjoyable thus far.
She was open, relaxed and spoke with a very friendly, laid-back kind of grace. Ten minutes into the interview I felt as though I was getting reacquainted with an old friend. Diane Wilkes has described her as "a literary descendant of the sculptor, painter, architect and poet Michelangelo, in terms of range and prowess". I would go further as to compare her with the Tarot card Empress. Her natural, worldliness and spiritual endowment was evident as we spoke. If ever the opportunity for me to meet Rachel Pollack in person arises I will take it without a doubt.
After 8 years of reading the Tarot you began to write 78 Degrees of Wisdom. What was the catalyst for this?
I was staying at a beach house with a friend and she asked me to teach her how to read the tarot, from this I began to form lessons to teach classes and the book actually evolved from my original class lesson material.
You began reading by using the Rider Waite deck. Do you see this deck as being the definitive system say in comparison to Marseilles or Thoth?
The Rider Waite deck was really the only available deck at that time. There wasn't a lot of decks being published as there are today. I think there really is no definitive system within the actual Tarot decks. It is like an art form which conveys similar messages but by use of different artistic mediums.
Do you see Tarot as being a tool for one's intuition or is it purely academic?
It would be a shame to approach the Tarot purely from an academic viewpoint. I think it is important to learn the traditional meanings, where the system comes from, but one needs to go back to intuitive results. I tell people to love the images... get to know them from a spiritual viewpoint. By all means learn the intended meanings after all there is no point in discounting what these meanings are intended for. It would also be pointless to approach the cards only from an intuitive prospective, there must be a healthy balance between the two. At this point I would say that no one deck is more correct than the other in this approach.
The book you wrote to accompany the Haindl Deck could almost be used in much the same way as your 78 Degrees of Wisdom despite it being written about a specific deck. Was that your intention?
Well, a lot of my experience and prior knowledge about Tarot is certainly reflected in that book, however it contains a universal quality with spiritual meaning that did not have anything to do with my original connections with Tarot. However it definitely adds a sense of value with the artist Hermann Haindl.
What impact did Hermann Haindl have on you in regards to your previous experience with the Rider Waite type decks?
Got me over my previous prejudice with the Germans... coming from a Jewish background. When I travelled to Germany to meet with him I thought "my gosh I'm in Germany". His artwork was so reflective and allowed me to open more.
Your deck the Shining Woman was re-released in 2001 as the Shining Tribe. Why the name change?
Firstly, it was a practical name change. When I realised there was a perception that this deck was geared towards women only and that men could not use it I was a little concerned. I wanted people to know it was not a sexist deck. The re-issue also contained new qualities I wanted to improve on, such as some colour changes. I wasn't fully comfortable with in the original deck. Secondly, I wanted to convey a concept of tribe... people who use the Tarot have a tribal aspect sense of community with each other and I wanted this deck to reflect that.
Can you explain the naming of the minors? (Trees = wands, Rivers = cups, Birds = Swords, Stones = Pentacles)
I like the idea of the cards as being of nature rather than a human invention such as a sword or wand. The tribal aspect of my deck has a sense of spirituality which cannot be reflected in human made objects.
You have also renamed the court cards in the Shining Tribe deck. What was your intention here?
Well other cards are usually conceptual and traditional court cards are boring (laughs). Mine are a concept of development, reflecting that achievement is not alien. A somewhat different take on the same issues. The overall deck is powerful for a direct dialogue with your spiritual issues. It is really great for deep readings, but I think it also contains a sense of fun also. Tarot should not always be conceived as a deeply serious medium it can be fun with you as well at times.
There are many theories as to the origins of the Tarot. What is your take on this subject?
I think it is very valuable to see what the myths are surrounding the origins of the Tarot. There has certainly been a lot more research over the past few decades in this regard. It is evident the physical conceptualisation of the Tarot was during the Renaissance period and that is practical because that is the time a lot of ideas were put down into material ideas. However the ideas and esoteric purpose of the Tarot system certainly stems from previous traditions. The Tarot has existed forever, but it probably wasn't until around this period that physical concept was developed.
With so many new decks on the market now do you think the Tarot still holds the same relevance to people?
I think it is becoming more relevant. It is no longer monolithic. It’s wonderful that it is being conceptualised in so many artistic ways.
Your new book The Forest of Souls: A Walk Through The Tarot is a new direction for you in your Tarot writings, what lead you towards this?
This book is very special to me personally, it comes from the deepest place of my life and heart. It was conceived from my spiritual understanding of the Tarot and is a tool to be used for soul investigation. To enrich what the Universe is about.
You do enter a type of "spiritual quest" in the book. So The Forest of Souls: A Walk Through The Tarot lends the idea of the Tarot being more than just a crystal ball and you use a musical assimilation to reflect this.
Yes, divination is more than just finding out things. The word "divine" is derived through the objective of communicating with your God(s). The book guides you to go beyond your normal dimensions. It clarifies the use of the Tarot as something more than just a fortune telling device. My intention within the book is to open up the whole purpose of the Tarot spiritually. The Tarot is an instrument of our wisdom. I see the Golden Dawn and people such as Arthur Waite and Aleister Crowley as being much like classical music. There is no room for error in interpreting the notes and how the music should be played. World music are the cultural Tarots there is that same consciousness as the music. Jazz music represents the contemporary readers. They know the general structure, but are open to spontaneity whilst still allowing the basic structure to remain.
An interesting concept on the book was to ask the Tarot how they work. Does the book better acquaint you with the system of Tarot moreover than the idea of fortune telling?
People will be inspired to actually use the Tarot. Nobody ever "asks" the cards. The Tarot is there for theorising, using, gain understanding and to see a purpose. I hope even people who never intend to use Tarot cards will read The Forest of Souls: A Walk Through The Tarot because it will help them to gain a universal prospective. The book offers itself as a guide through one's spirituality and the deities of the Tarot system rather than a card by card list of meanings. There are some wonderful new spreads I have introduced to gain an insight to spiritual understanding.
If you were on a dessert island and could only take one Tarot card with you what would it be?
Only one? (with a laugh). Oh I'd have to say the Emperor to get in charge of my environment. I have to add a few others though. The Empress to enjoy myself and nature around me, the Chariot for a sense of clear direction and definitely the Magician so that I could create something out of nothing in order to survive.
What advice do you offer today's Tarotists?
Let the images work on you. Work with them openly and don't be afraid to experiment.
© Alex B. Crowther