Women in Tarot: Rachel Pollack

by Bonnie Cehovet

This is part of a series of articles on women in the Tarot world. I wanted to peek into the minds of those women who are making outstanding contributions to the field of Tarot, to honor their body of work, and to take a look at what they see for the future of Tarot.

Rachel Pollack is an author, artist, teacher, lecturer, poet, and leader of workshops in the Tarot field. Her introduction to Tarot was from a fellow teacher at the State University of New York, where she traded a ride home for a Tarot reading. Her interest piqued, she began to do readings for herself, and for friends. Today, she is a Certified Tarot Grand Master (CTGM) with the Tarot Certification Board of America, and a Tarot Sage (TS) with the American Board For Tarot Certification. She is a member of the American Tarot Association (ATA), the International Tarot Society (ITS), the Tarot Guild of Australia and the Tarot Association of the British Isles.

Rachel's body of work includes: text for the Salvador Dali Tarot; the Shining Tribe Tarot (originally the Shining Woman Tarot); 78 Degrees of Wisdom (originally a two book set, revised into a single volume in 1997); "The New Tarot"; "The Haindl Tarot: A Reader's Handbook"; "The Haindl Tarot: Volume I The Major Arcana"; "The Haindl Tarot: Volume II the Minor Arcana"; "The Vertigo Tarot" ; "Teach Yourself Fortune Telling"; The Forest of Souls: A Walk in the Tarot; "The Body of the Goddess: Sacred Wisdom in Myth, Landscape, and Culture" ; The Kabbalah Tree ; Seeker: The Tarot Unveiled ; "See of Logos" (due out in 2006), and "Simon Wisdom and Other Stories" (due out in 2007).

For nearly twenty years Rachel has been teaching seminars with Tarot author/teacher/lecturer Mary K. Greer at the Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, New York.

Rachel has also done seminars for several years in California in conjunction with Mary K. Greer, and she co-presented a breakthrough seminar with Tarot author/artist and renowned psychic Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman on Tarot and Psychic ability, using Rachel's Shining Tribe Tarot and Johanna's Sacred Rose Tarot.

Rachel is also a very, very popular lecturer at Tarot seminars and symposiums such as LATS (Los Angeles Tarot Symposium), BATS (Bay Area Tarot Symposium), and the Readers Studio (which is where I had the good luck to meet this very gracious lady in 2003).

Now that we know a little bit about Rachel, I am turning the podium over to her.

BC: What has Tarot been in your life? How has it changed you? How has it helped you to grow?

RP:Tarot has been a great source of wisdom and inspiration, in my life and in my art. It has opened me up to the esoteric world about which I knew next to nothing before I became exposed to Tarot. For example, I grew up in a fairly traditional and religious Jewish family but I never heard the word Kabbalah until I discovered the Tarot. The Tarot has enhanced my natural optimism, for the cards have an inbuilt bias towards transformation and liberation. It also has helped me to think about exciting ways to look at life and spirit, through thinking about questions. And I have met some wonderful people through the Tarot world.

BC: Rachel, over your career you have delved deeply into many aspects of the Tarot. Which ones interest you the most?

RP: The two main areas that have drawn me are the use of Tarot for self-knowledge (as opposed to predicting the future), and what I call Wisdom Readings, the practice of asking the cards such questions as "What is God?" or "Where were you before the creation of the world?"

BC: In 2004 you were a co-presenter, along with Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman, in a workshop that dealt with Tarot and psychic ability (which I hope that the two of you do again when I can attend!). In what ways do you feel that these two fields complement each other? In what direction do you feel this work is heading?

RP: There's an odd disconnect in the world of Tarot. For the general public it's all about psychic predictions. For many Tarot readers it's all about the symbolism in the pictures and how we can interpret them. I know one or two readers with great psychic ability who try not to use that for fear they will "disempower" their clients. Johanna and I are both Tarotists and creators of decks, and we are both knowledgeable about the esoteric tradition (Johanna is actually more trained in that tradition than I am, and knows it more from inside). However, I tend to emphasize what I call the Wisdom tradition, which emphasizes the images and their meanings, while Johanna helps people release their innate psychic abilities. Bringing these together is a very exciting direction for Tarot and I hope other people will pick up combining these qualities.

BC: Rachel, you have been involved in a number of diverse Tarot projects. Which ones piqued your interest the most?

RP: I love working with artists who have done individual decks. With Hermann Haindl (Haindl Tarot) I have had a very deep connection. He and his wife Erika are lovely people and it was a great opportunity to delve into the mind of the artist. I also very much appreciated the chance to spend time with Niki de St. Phalle, the great sculptor and painter, while she was creating her magnificent Tarot Garden in Italy. Niki invited me to give a reading on the statues, which I did by treating them as if they were cards laid out on the table. It was Niki who encouraged me to do my own art for the Shining Woman Tarot (which later became the Shining Tribe).

BC: In what ways do you personally work with the Tarot?

RP: I read for myself quite often. I use the cards to inspire stories or help me get out of tight situations in a story. When some complex idea or issue comes to mind I often ask the cards' opinion.

BC: How did working with Hermann Haindl impact your view of the Tarot?

RP: Hermann helped me see some of the complexities of structure in a work of art. He would talk about the angle of the composition and how it affected the mind of the viewer. He is intensely political, as am I, and he helped me see just how much art, spirituality, and politics are entwined, how spirit and politics are really the same thing, especially when it comes to the environment. Shortly after working with Hermann I did my book The Body of the Goddess, and some of his approaches were very helpful to me.

BC: You renamed the court cards in your "Shining Tribe" deck. What was the reasoning behind this?

RP: Three reasons. First, I wanted to make clear it was not simply a reprint. There were four cards that I changed completely, four I changed significantly, and quite a few with small changes. Second, some people had assumed that Shining Woman meant it excluded males, which was not the intention ("Shining Woman" is a name for the cosmic dancer in the World card). Third, I also liked the term "Tribe" for the community of readers and diviners. It enabled me to create my own myth of the Tarot's origins.

BC: Can you tell us a little bit about your intent with "Forest of Souls: A Walk Through the Tarot"?

RP: This is probably my favorite of my books about Tarot. The idea was to fully explore seeing the cards as a teacher of Wisdom, with the chance to ask outrageous questions in a spirit of play. It invoked various religious traditions in decidedly untraditional ways, such as borrowing some of their basic ideas and adapting them to Tarot. For example, mystical Jews have suggested that the Torah,the Five Books of Moses, existed before the universe, and God consulted it for Creation. This idea has many wondrous implications, such as that God surrendered Her/His free will by creating the Torah as a blueprint. I shifted this to Tarot, imagining that in some way the cards existed before the universe, and that God consulted them. That led to a reading in which I asked the Shining Tribe Tarot, "Show me the reading you gave God to create the universe."

BC: What message do you feel that the Tarot has for us?

RP: I'm not sure there is just one message. I think it teaches more about approaches than ideas. It helps free the imagination but within a spiritual structure.

BC: Where do you find the Tarot most useful in your life?

RP: One of my shorthand definitions of Tarot is "a navigation system for the soul." That is important. I use the cards in difficult situations to give me productive ways to deal with them. But I also use them just to feel connected to Spirit and other worlds. Once, in an emotional crisis, I did a reading where I did not try to find solutions or practical advice. Instead, I just said to the cards "Take me home," and they did just that, reminding me of my spiritual truths.

BC: How do you see the Tarot as being most useful in daily life?

RP: Well, since I find spirituality very significant in daily life, I would say that something that helps you keep that connection very strong is extremely useful. I also find that navigation aspect valuable. Many days I do an open reading for the day, using a spread created by Zoe Matoff: 3 cards, the first in the middle, the second on the left, the third on the right.

2    1    3

1. Situation 2. Don't do (a bad approach) 3. Do (a good approach)

We all are subject to doing dumb things, or just things that seem to make sense but are not really useful, so that I find it very valuable to consider what not to do.

BC: How do you see the Tarot as being most useful in regard to spiritual guidance?

RP: I see it more as a way of staying connected to Spirit, to The Way (to use the Taoist term), than as instructions or suggestions. It also helps us stay aware of spiritual ideas and values.

BC: In what direction do you see the world of Tarot going?

RP: I'm not sure. There's a lot of interest in computer interactive cards so that's one possibility. I think the psychological approach that was so valuable in the "Tarot Renaissance" of the early 80s may have run out of steam, so that the time is ripe for some new daring way of looking at the cards. With the rise of religious fundamentalism I'm surprised that we have not seen narrow fundamentalist Tarot decks.

BC: What advice do you have for someone who wishes to integrate the Tarot into their life?

RP: I would say to consider what they think of as the essence of Tarot for them, in their own approach, and then see how they can make that alive on a daily basis. Doing daily readings is valuable, especially if you come up with questions suited to your own needs. If you like to draw or collage, creating your own deck can have great rewards.

BC: Are there any words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?

RP: How about an image of Wisdom? Imagine a gateway to a bright light of many colors. The tarot is both the keys to open it from many angles, and the road that leads to it, and an endless variety of wondrous sights along the sides.

I want to thank Rachel for taking the time to do this interview. Amongst other things that Rachel has coming out is a very exciting project called the "See of Logos", done in collaboration with Karen Mahony, Alex Ukolov and Magic Realist Press. Watch for this to come out sometime in late 2006 or early 2007. Readers may see more of Rachel's work on her website, www.rachelpollack.com.

© 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.

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