Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review- Rachel Pollack's Tarot Wisdom

Not that many years ago, tarot books were few and far between, and into the sea of emptiness dove Rachel Pollack, whose work 78 Degrees of Wisdom is considered seminal by many tarotistas.  It was certainly the first book I read about tarot, at the age of 17, five years after I had my first deck of cards, and I was delighted to discover that the meanings I had come up for myself were very close to what Rachel Pollack defined them as.  I decided that meant I was doing something right, but really is was that the cards were doing something right.  All tarot decks that resonate with you will do so from the imagery and tell you every story you need to know just from the picture.  The study is just for extra flavor.

Weighing in at a hefty 504 pages packed full of knowledge, Rachel Pollack's Tarot Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, published by Llewellyn, is her follow up work, and absolutely dwarfs its' predecessor.  In addition, if I have any compliant about 78 Degrees of Wisdom, many years later, it is that I now find the writing style a bit dry, but Rachel Pollack's Tarot Wisdom has quite a different flair to the writing.

The book begins with a brief introduction of the author, terms she uses, and a brief history of the tarot which is largely considered accurate according to the best information tarot scholars and historians have been able to put together.

She then dives into the meat of the book, the descriptions of the cards.  She begins at the beginning, with the Major Arcana.  Each card is illustrated with different decks in black and white, including the Waite Smith deck, The Visconti, Marseille, Sola Busca, and Ms. Pollack's own Shining Tribe Tarot.  The card includes a list of its' name, Trump number, astrological correspondence, Kabbalistic letter, and Path on The Tree of Life.  Ms. Pollack goes on to explain each card over several pages, including divinatory meanings, philosophy related to the card, historical references, and ways to use the card in more psychologically based readings, as opposed to fortune telling style readings.  These pages really are packed with information!  She ends each Major Arcana description with a spread specifically created for the Trump, and they have been quite valuable for me to use over the years for personal insight.

The next section is the Minor Arcana, where Ms. Pollack begins with a treatise of numerology and tarot.  I am always pleased to find books that compare the tarot cards by number, grouping all Aces together, all Twos together, and so forth, because study this way can be so enlightening!  If you try this for yourself and decide how each Four, as an example, is the same, and how they differ from each other, your understanding of tarot will grow.  She also discusses the elements and how each Minor Arcana relates back to a Major, which makes for interesting comparison, as well.

In the descriptions of the Minor Arcana cards, Ms. Pollack includes the Element, Kabbalistic World, Magical "Weapon", Social Class, Biblical Object, "Ruling" God, Primary Major Arcana Card, and Medieval Virtue for each Suit.  Each card contains information for the Element, Sephirah (having to do with Kabbalah), Pythagorean Numerology, Major Arcana correlation, Waite Smith theme, Golden Dawn Title, Decan (this relates to astrology), and Picatrix.  The Minor Arcana are also illustrated with the same decks in black and white, and each card contains about a page worth of further information.

The book ends with some basics about how to read, some myths and some truths about reading tarot, and even more spreads to try out.  There is a lengthy bibliography that would make anyone who pursued all those books quite the scholar themselves, and a very easy to use index.

Generally, I think the market is glutted with books that give meanings for the cards, but this one is special, and if I could only have one book that gave meanings, this one might be it.  It is a scholarly volume that will make you feel smart just for having read it, and while the writing is often geared to a college level reader, it is quite interesting if tarot history or philosophy are your things.

I hope this has been a helpful review, and if so, that you will pass it around!

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