Magickal Mystery Tour - Signing in with Rachel Pollack
by Bonnie Cehovet
Rachel Pollack is one of my very favorite people in the Tarot world. I had the good fortune to meet her in person at the 2003 Readers Studio, where she was a presenter, along with Mary K. Greer and Nina Lee Braden. I also had the good fortune to be forewarned that I would need to be ready to start taking notes the moment Rachel began speaking!
Rachel is an accomplished author (Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Seeker: The Tarot Unveiled, The Kabbalah Tree, The Forest of Souls: A Walk In The Tarot, "The Shining Tribe Tarot", "The Power of Ritual", "The Complete Illustrated Guide To The Tarot", "The Haindl Tarot: A Reader's Workbook", "The Vertigo Tarot", "The Haindl Tarot, Volume I: The Major Arcana", "The Haindl Tarot, Volume II: The Minor Arcana", "The New Tarot", "The Open Labyrinth", "Teach Yourself Fortune Telling", "Salvador Dali's tarot"), artist ("The Shining Tribe Tarot"), and teacher/lecturer (monthly "Tarot-on-the-Hudson" classes in Rhinebeck, NY; presenter for the Tarot School's "Readers Studio"; workshops alone and in conjunction with Mary K. Greer at the Omega Institute in NY; appearances at LATS and BATS; powerful seminar work with Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman using both the Shining Tribe Tarot and the Sacred Rose Tarot; and working in conjunction with Nicki Scully to lead a tour to celebrate the Mysteries in Egypt). BTW - this does not take into account any of her non-Tarot fiction and non- fiction writing, nor her work on comic books!
The focus of Rachel's work for 2007 is on leading Intensives covering each of the four suits of the Tarot. The work that comes out of these Intensives will be coming out in the future through Llewellyn Worldwide. Rachel has agreed to give us a peek into her very magickal world!
BC: Rachel, I want to start out by thanking you for taking the time to do this interview. I have often wished that I lived on that "other coast", so that I could be "in person" with your classes. You are referring to the work that you are doing this year on the suits as Intensives, rather than seminars. Can you define Intensive for us, and tell us how this differs from seminars, and from the monthly classes that you teach?
RP: A seminar or workshop tends to be fairly broad. We might take a topic, such as "Working with the Minor Arcana," and then do our best to cover the varied aspects. An intensive goes card by card and does its best to cover everything about that card, including a spread on the themes of that card. For this reason they take up a lot of time. We did 12 full days on the Major Arcana, and will do 16 on the Minor. Ongoing classes also can go card by card, of course, but classes usually run around two hours a week, and this is full day sessions.
BC: I understand that the symbols in the Tarot will be in focus in your Intensives. Not just the symbols, but their history and evolution over time. Why is this important?
RP: We tend to assume that our modern way of seeing cards is true for all time. So we think that the Fool has always shown a wise innocent joyously about to step off a cliff. If we look at older cards, and older texts, we discover that the Fool more often showed a tramp, and the meaning given in divination books was insanity. In other words, a crazy homeless person. This expands our understanding of the Fool card even if we still focus on the modern version.
BC: Why is it important to reconcile the older versions of the cards with the modern ones? What does this teach us?
RP: I'm not sure we have to reconcile them so much as see the different options. It expands our understanding of possibilities, and also what the card designers might have intended.
BC: Are Marseille-style pips still relevant in the post-Rider deck age? Should there still be that option? Is this option more prevalent in Europe than it is here in the United States?
RP: From what I understand, southern European countries, France and Spain, for example, maintain the Marseille tradition. Northern Europe has long been Crowley territory. However, the Rider has made serious inroads in recent years, especially in the North. Many people in this country don't realize that the Marseille deck has a powerful divinatory tradition. I was probably one of those people, and I'm indebted to Zoe Matoff for pointing out just how subtly symbolic the Marseille cards can be, including the pip cards.
BC: In developing possible meanings for the cards, what are some of the systems and traditions that you will be citing? (Heads up for those who are participating in these Intensives!)
RP: There's a lot! We will look at a wide variety of decks, for one thing (we got up to more than thirty examples of a single card in some of the Major sessions). We also will cite numerology, both modern and Pythagorean, Kabbalah of course, astrological correspondences, mythological figures, and of course the modern psychological tradition. And I'm always interested to see thematic (not just system) links to different Wisdom traditions. In teaching the Fool, I found the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tsu kept coming up, and in teaching the Hermit, I found it valuable to consider Nietzche's character, Zarathustra.
BC: Scary thought here - Are your Tarot Intensives going to be moving away from the foundations of your work in "Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom"? Even scarier thought - is the "Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom" material still relevant?
RP: Yes, of course it remains relevant. Well, at least I hope so! That's more for other people to judge. While this work expands into a larger field in some ways, I hope that the close careful look at the Rider cards done in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom will always be helpful to people. It's been one of the joys of my life that "78 Degrees of Wisdom" has been so valuable for so many people. I've heard from readers all over the world who use it, or learned from it, even one man who said it saved his life when he was in a desperate state.
BC: You are going to be doing a book for Llewellyn Worldwide based on the material coming from your Intensives. Why is now the right time for this material to be coming out? (Thank heavens for the book - one of us is on the wrong coast for me to be able to attend the Intensives!)
RP: First of all, I should say that the book will be awhile in coming, since I'm still writing it, and then of course it will take the wonderful folks at Llewellyn a good year or so to produce it. But one of my hopes for this work is that it will open up new fields for the Tarot in the 21st century.
BC: Aside from the Intensive workshops, what other teaching will you be doing this year?
RP: There's Omega with Mary Greer, a highlight of any year. That's in the third week of June. Then there are the monthly classes in New York City, and here in Rhinebeck. The New York class has been going on since 1991! People can find out about those from my web site. I also will be one of the guest speakers at the annual conference for the Tarot Association of the British Isles, July 6-8. I did that two years ago and it was wonderful. The following weekend (July 13th through the 15th) I will be at the Wisconsin Area Tri-State Tarot Symposium. Nov 9-11 I will be at the "Between the Worlds: A Great Magickal Congress" conference in Wilmington, Delaware, and I'm hoping to do a weekend in the DC area around October. I also will be speaking at a conference on "Green Hermetica" at a Sufi center in New Lebanon, NY. The theme of the conference is flowers and gardening, and I will be speaking about flowers and agriculture in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Not about Tarot per se, but the Tarot will probably come into it. And I will be an eager participant, if not a presenter, at the Readers Studio, April 20-22.
Speaking of being an eager participant, I am very excited about the amazing series of workshops lined up this year by the Rhinebeckian Institute of Tarot and Esoterica (under whose auspices I am doing the Intensive classes). Zoe Matoff, the founder and director of the Rhinebeckia Institute, is bringing back Mary Greer (who gave a great workshop last year) and Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman of the Sacred Rose Tarot (a workshop with Johanna is not to be missed), and a great group of new presenters, including Bob Place, who will be speaking both about vampires (!) and Tarot and alchemy, and the wonderful James Wells of Toronto.
And since we're talking about my teaching, Bonnie, I hope you don't mind if I put in a plug for Goddard College, where I teach creative writing for the Master of Fine Arts Degree. It's an amazing program, and I recommend it for any people seeking to develop themselves as committed writers. Anyone who is interested can e-mail me.
BC: I absolutely have to know - what is the projected date for the launching of the "See of Logos"? (Note: This is a project that Rachel is doing in conjunction with Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov of Magic Realist Press.)
RP: I'm afraid I don't dare speak for Karen and Alex on this. They are perfectionists, and it shows in everything they do. But it also takes time. However, since I have my original hand-written text cards for the See, I will consult them. Here is what I got:
During a pause in the David Letterman show you will hear a faint click underneath the bed. When you bend over the mattress you will discover a yellow and black snake who uses his tongue to scatter small pieces of brightly colored pebbles into random patterns. The snake will declare himself an apprentice fortune teller. He has lived there for years, he will say, while he researches his book "Love Stones: Discover Your Future In The Pebbles Of Life."
So there you have it, Bonnie. The project cannot be rushed!
And remember, Bonnie, it says right on the title card "Guaranteed 100% accuracy."
Note from Bonnie: We all need to keep track of this project - it is incredibly exciting and innovative!
BC: Rachel, what words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers about the ever changing world of Tarot?
RP: That's always such a tough question. I think I would tell people never to think they have found the final answers, the last word. The Tarot is ever-changing, always opening new fields for us if we remain open to the cards. One thing that I have found valuable is not to see the Tarot in isolation, as something you consider apart from the rest of your life.
Anything you read, anything you experience, can illuminate your understanding of the cards.
I would like to thank Rachel again for taking the time to not only do the interview, but to help me formulate meaningful questions. I will be first in line when her book on Intensives comes out! (Even though, as a Sun/Moon Capricorn, I am firmly entrenched in the more traditional ways.)
If you want to see more about the work that Rachel is doing, and the classes that she is offering, please visit her site at: www.rachelpollack.com. She has the BEST webmaster, and the most incredible graphic on her opening page - it is well worth the visit!
© 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.