Rachel Pollack is one of the organizers and featured presenters at the Omega Institute Tarot Conference on July 29-31st. Rachel is best known in the Tarot world for her landmark book, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, which has been followed up by more than a dozen tarot works including a tarot deck and the recent book, Tarot Wisdom. She is also a well regarded fiction writer, having received many honors and awards, among them the famed Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction and the World Fantasy Award. Currently, she teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Goddard College. Among comic book aficionados she is best known for her run of issues 64-87 on the comic book Doom Patrol, on DC Comics‘ Vertigo imprint. Rachel is a member of the American Tarot Association, the International Tarot Society, and the Tarot Guild of Australia and presents Tarot workshops around the world.
Following the Conference, Rachel and I will be teaching a Five-Day Workshop on The Art of Becoming a Great Tarot Reader, July 31 to August 5th. Watch a video of Rachel discussing teaching tarot at Omega here.
The picture on the right shows Rachel wearing a mask created by Marlene Boaz (go, girl!). It’s The Speaker of Birds from Rachel’s Shining Tribe Tarot.
Mary: As a novelist, comic book and short story writer, and poet you are very involved with story. How does story relate to the tarot and how do you think tarot readers can benefit from knowing something about story?
Rachel: There is a famous Chasidic proverb that says “God created humans because God loves stories.” Story allows us to enter the cards and become part of them in a way unlike anything else, not study, not meditation. Story seems to me the basis of readings, with the querent the hero, the question the springboard of the plot, and the cards in their places the action. It can often help Tarot readers to ask the querent story questions, such as the attitude of the figure in the picture, where he or she might be going, why a figure is weeping, and so on. And we begin to go deeply into the cards, in a very personal way, when we see great stories of mythology or literature in the Tarot. I’m sure the original designers never thought of Rapunzel when they created the Tower and other cards, and yet it works perfectly, and gives the cards more meaning.
Mary: You’ve been doing tarot for over 40 years. What keeps it alive and fresh for you after all this time?
Rachel: I have never walled Tarot off into its own corner. To me, Tarot is the world, so as I learn more about anything I think of how it can apply to Tarot. For instance, just yesterday I read an intriguing idea about the story in Genesis that God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. At first glance, this seems very sexist, and has been used to describe women as inferior. But the writer I was reading looked at the fact that chimpanzees have 13 ribs and humans have 12. Thus the creation of woman was the evolutionary change from ape to human. Women can be said to introduce human consciousness. How does this affect Tarot? Well, for one thing we find Adam and Eve in the Rider version of the Lovers, so now we can consider new and interesting points about that card. But it also opens up the relationship between the male and female cards, such as the Magician and the High Priestess, or the Empress and the Emperor. The Tarot and has led me to spiritual wisdom, inspired stories and poems, and brought truly wonderful people into my life. I’m currently writing my 33rd book (not all about Tarot, but probably half of them), inspired in part by the classic works of Eden Gray, who introduced so many of us to Tarot in the late 60s and early 70s. In the introduction I say this about Tarot: “The only thing I can tell you for sure is that you will never come to the end of it.”
Mary: You created the Shining Tribe Tarot deck. Do you feel fated to have done so? What were the biggest lessons you learned, and is there something a tarot reader can gain by creating a deck that they won’t get any other way?
Rachel: All my work with Tarot seems fated in a way. In that same introduction I write that people ask me how I discovered Tarot, but it feels more like Tarot discovered me. I began to create my own deck while writing The New Tarot, which looked at some seventy-five decks created in the 70s and 80s. It felt like the right thing to do. I was also reading about early human spirituality, and traveling to prehistoric caves and stone circles, and ancient temples for my book “The Body of the Goddess,” on the origins of religion in nature and the human body. So creating a deck grounded in nature and tribal and prehistoric art happened naturally. Fate, you could say. Getting permission to go into Lascaux cave was one of the great experiences of my life, and deeply affected my relationship to images in general and the Tarot in particular.
When you create your own deck you bond with the cards in a very deep way. They become an extension of you, and you of them, a living relationship. At the same time, my whole way of teaching and experiencing Tarot runs against any idea that I own the meanings of the cards. I love it when people show me new meanings. I did a Shining Tribe workshop this past year, and a woman came who loved the cards, never used any others, but had never had my book about them. She made up all her own meanings, and they were completely different than mine. I think she was nervous I would be angry, but I loved it. I could see the truth of everything she said. Maybe everyone should find a deck they know nothing about but like, work with the cards, do readings, draw or tell stories with them until we really know them, and then publish a book about them, all without ever reading the creator’s interpretations.
See interviews with other presenters: