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Saturday, 11 August 2012

Seven Days of 78 Degrees: Day One

Welcome to Day One of my 7 day review of 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack.

I've now read Pollack's take on her first row of the Major Arcana, Magician - Chariot. (She treats the Fool separately.) All of the material so far sounds really, really familiar. Obviously Pollack's work would have influenced other tarot writers whom I've read, but now that I think about it, I believe one of the first books I read about tarot was Illustrated Guide to Tarot by Rachel Pollack. I found it in the library and thought it looked pretty thorough. Of course at that time I didn't know a thing about Rachel Pollack, or any other big name in the tarot world. I didn't know anything about anything! I then went on to buy Mary K Greer's books Tarot for Yourself and 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card as well as a blank book. So I went the Mary K Greer route and decided at some point, after reading reviews at Amazon, I'm guessing, that Rachel Pollack was too advanced for me and it would be best to stick with more practical books. Still I've managed to absorb a lot of her ideas without reading her, it seems.

A few things stood out to me in these first chapters:

The Magician -- 'Unless we make something of our potentials, they do not really exist' (Pollack, 31). This sentence struck me so hard I had to stop and read it again several times. I had to get up and find a pen and draw a big blue asterisk next to it (even though I've learned not to start marking up a book until I've read it enough times to realise I'm going to keep it and not trade it). I don't know why, but for me this seemed to crystalise the meaning of the Magician.

Another thing about the Magician that I never noticed is how the hand that is pointing to the earth ('so below') is actually centered in the right side of the card with lots of space around it, while the raised hand ('as above') is more lost in the upper corner.  'When we look at the Magician,' Pollack writes, 'those of us who feel a lack or flatness in our lives will be drawn to the wand raised toward heaven. But the real magic rests in that finger pointing down to the earth. That ability to create gives him his title' (32).

The Empress -- 'In short, she wears the universe as her jewelry. The Great Mother is not the forms of nature but the underlying principles of life' (Pollack, 46). Why this struck me I don't know, but I then spent a good few minutes studying the Empress card of my Universal Waite in great detail, pondering.

The Emperor -- There were no startling revelations about this guy, but there was a reference which made me curious, about how 'in ancient times when the Goddess reigned', kings would be sacrificed yearly, but after the patriachy took over, they put a stop to that practice. Where the heck did this come from? There is no useful bibliography in this book (a serious flaw in my opinion). Is it from The Witch Cult in Modern Europe by Margaret Murray? Because I was under the impression this book had been entirely debunked. I haven't read it, but remember reading of it in Ronald Hutton's excellent Triumph of the Moon (if you haven't read it, you simply must). It really bothers me when something like this is claimed with no reference to a source. She reiterates it in the section on The Chariot, seeming to claim the practice existed in India: 'In many places, particularly India, the horse became associated with death and funerals. When the rising patriarchy abolished the ritual sacrifice of kings, a horse was killed instead' (Pollack, 65). No reference whatsoever. So where the heck does she get this? It's amazing to expect us to believe that there existed a culture where a series of men would become king and allow themselves to be ritually sacrificed. If such a thing existed, I want proof of it. This rankles. Is that my Queen of Swords nature??

The Lovers -- Another a-ha moment occurred for me when Pollack claims that the Lovers card represents the first real choices a person makes independently of his/her parents, at the onset of sexual maturity. Makes so much sense.

So far, I like how the book leads me to look very closely at details on the RWS cards themselves. I like how Pollack attempts to link the cards into a coherent whole. Whether I will end up agreeing with her opinions about this remains to be seen. I do not like her lack of documentation for sources when she seems to be making historical claims. That's a no-no!


  1. Love how you are including page numbers in your comments. Nice touch.

    I need to take the time and look back over the book. I remember the part of the magician and I too found it an interesting addition to my own thoughts on the card.

  2. I guess when she was writing this, those historical claims were considered to be absolute truths amongst feminist academics. Like the fact that loads of books (even some published recently!) say that tarot has ancient Egyptian roots. Now these things seem less clear cut, but back in the seventies it was the accepted understanding...

    As you say, I love the very detailed look at the RWS cards. I hope, despite its flaws, you'll get some useful insights. And I think it's funny that you had actually read one of her books before. Plus, she has been so influential in the tarot world it's not surprising that some of her ideas had percolated through other ways - she and Mary Greer have been teaching together at Omega for over 20 years, I believe :)