Interview: Rachel Pollack

printaceoftreesI asked one of my personal Tarot heroes if she would do an interview for me. Imagine my surprise when she said yes. It was even more fun to do it over the phone.

I’m telling you I am learning the lesson of just asking for what you want. I’ve been damned surprised every time lately when folks have said yes! I mean can you imagine it? First Mary K. Greer and now Rachel Pollack?

Rachel Pollack wrote a book that is often in the top five most popular Tarot books. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom is a standard, really. For me it is onebiorachel of those books you don’t loan out. You may buy it for others as a gift, but you don’t give your copy away. My copy is missing the front and back cover thanks to an overly enthusiastic puppy last year. I let the dog live. Generous of me, eh? Good thing he’s a sweetheart!

Arwen: What was your first encounter with Tarot like?

Rachel: I didn’t know too much about it. I’d read about it in T.S Eliot’s poem Wasteland and some from studying the grail. A fellow teacher offered to do a reading for me when I offered to give her a ride home. It was very interesting. This was in early 1970 when there really only was the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. I think my interest in the grail is what drew me in. There was a theory that the Tarot was based on grail symbols. Of course that’s been discredited since.

Arwen: Who do you see as other Tarot luminaries?

Rachel: There were so few when I started. Of course, there was Eden Gray. And Paul Huson’s book. I love the The Devil’s Picturebook. You had Waite, Crowley, Alfred Douglas, Papu, and Mouni Sadhu.

Arwen: Most might say that card by card books have been overdone. Why did you write Tarot Wisdom? Who was your target audience?

Rachel: I wanted to reach intelligent people who might or might not know anything about Tarot or spirituality but were sensitive to it. I really didn’t tarotwisdom_coverwant to talk down or explain things in simplistic ways. The value is that now I’ve learned so much since 78 Degrees. We did revise 78 Degrees but we kept close to the original. For Tarot Wisdom I wanted to use a wider range of decks for illustration. I also wanted a more historical book. As I say in this book, it’s a wisdom tradition. We explore the Tarot to gain an understanding of life and who we are rather than specific symbolism. And, like 78 Degrees, Tarot Wisdom came out of classes I’ve taught.

When I first started with 78 Degrees of Wisdom, it felt like I was trying to learn from people who seemed to be writing for the in-crowd. I really wanted a book you didn’t have to stop for thirty minutes while you researched a phrase. I felt the same about Tarot Wisdom.

Arwen: Rider-Waite, Thoth or Marseilles? Which style do you trend towards?

Rachel: Well I started with Rider-Waite-Smith so it’s basically my touchstone. I prefer to have something going on in the picture for Minor cards. Still it can be limiting to be stuck on the RWS version. It’s so prevalent you nearly can’t talk about the Minor without thinking about the Rider-Waite-Smith version. I can absolutely see the value of having abstract pictures. An artist feels that they own a picture but no one really owns a picture. It’s open to anyone’s interpretation. I know what I felt when I created the Shining Tribe Tarot, but not everyone will see it the same way.

Arwen: Do you have a favorite deck to read with? Does that change if you are reading for yourself or for others?

Rachel: Well I definitely use my own Shining Tribe Tarot for myself as well as others. I am drawn to Rider-Waite-Smith clones. I do like using new and different decks. There’s Kat Black’s Golden Tarot and her Touchstone Tarot. I do like the Tarot of Prague as well.

Arwen: Who inspires you?

Rachel:fortuneslover_cover
So many people it’s hard to pin it down at any time. For Goddess myth there’s The Gate of Horn by Gertrude Rachel Levi, there’s Mary Greer of course, and the book Meditations On the Tarot, by Anonymous, and Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade on myth, and Peter Lamborn Wilson, who writes about radical esotericism, and so many others over the years.

Arwen: Has the Tarot ever failed you?

Rachel: Certainly there were times when I didn’t get what the point was—not sure if that was failing. It’s really hard to say. Other times I felt pretty sure I had an understanding of something and was wrong. I do think it’s possible to make mistakes in reading. Mostly for myself. I am more likely to make an assumption by myself

Arwen: What is the one hidden asset of Tarot that you think is overlooked?

Rachel: Playfulness. I think a lot of people are serious and don’t see the possibility of play. Ferol Humphrey comes up with wild things. Too many get locked into the meanings of the cards being so literal and basic. You don’t really get to experiment with them. So much you can do with them in terms of creativity.

Arwen: Other projects we can look forward to?

tarotperfection_coverRachel: I have a book of short stories that is recently out from Magic-Realist Press titled The Tarot of Perfection: A Book of Tarot Tales. And I’m very pleased with my book of poetry that will be released in May. It’s called Fortune’s Lover. Every poem was inspired by the Major Arcana. Midsummer’s Night Press is the publisher.

Arwen: If you could give one piece of advice to every aspiring Tarot lover in the world, what would it be?

Rachel: Try to see the connection that completely non-related things have to Tarot and vice versa. See how the Tarot cards reflect romance or Abraham Lincoln. I mean how would you see Lincoln’s life in the Tarot? Relate the world to the Tarot and the Tarot to the world and I think that will wake people up to see beyond what they are studying.

One commenter will win a copy of either Tarot Wisdom or Tales Of Perfection. Contest runs from March 8th 12:o1 am until March 9th 12:01 am. Everyone is invited to participate. Winner announced March 10th.

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16 thoughts on “Interview: Rachel Pollack”

  1. Excellent interview. Rachel Pollack is also one of my “tarot heroes”. I am in the process of reading “Tarot Wisdom” and “The Forest of Souls”, which are both amazing, insightful books. I hope “The Forest of Souls” becomes available again soon (can’t find it on Amazon). It’s high on my recommend list!

  2. How serendipitous this interview is for me; just a few days ago I started to read “Seventy-Eight Degrees” because my interest in tarot has grown unexpectedly as of late. I’ve held a passing, superficial interest in it for over a decade. In an intricate series of happenings, I found Ms. Pollack’s highly recommended book and it’s exactly what I need right now. I’m looking forward to reading her other books. Thanks so much, Arwen, for some insight into this inspiring teacher.

  3. I love hearing what Rachel has to say. I had a reading by her in James’ home in Toronto, last year. As insightful and clear as the reading was.. I enjoyed talking to Rachel just as much!
    Looking forward to more good interviews, Arwen. Thank you, Judy

  4. I love Rachel’s work; it’s inspiring to me.

    And I completely agree with “Relating the world to Tarot and Tarot to the world”!

    I always find it a real joy when one of my favorite Tarot people interviews another one of my favorite Tarot people. It’s magic to me!

    Keep up the good work,

    Mark
    Aurora, CO
    USA

  5. Great questions, great interview. Thanks Arwen, I love it when I’m led to new people (for me), like Ferol Humphrey.

  6. I recently joined the Tarot guild of Australia, and Rachel was one of their guest lecturers a while ago. There were so many CDs of visiting speakers to choose from for my “free CD” that I ended up buying another four, one of which was Rachel talking about how the big teaching-stories of mankind (from Rapunzel to Oedipus) are reflected in the Major Arcana.

    It’s interesting to see that one of the writers Rachel mentioned as seminal for her, was also a seminal one for me: Alfred Douglas. I got his book on Tarot in the seventies, but it took until this year to pick up the Sheridan-Douglas deck that supposedly came with it!

  7. Wonderful interview with Rachel. It was great to hear her thoughts about tarot through your questions. I particularly like the part about the importance of playfulness. :’) Thanks Arwen.
    ~kort

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