It isn’t often you get to interview your hero.
The second tarot book that I ever bought was “78 Degrees of Wisdom“. I’d been reading cards for about a decade at this point, and although I could read the cards, I didn’t really understand them. Not entirely. Rachel Pollack’s book introduced me to my cards in a way that made me feel like we were old friends. I could talk to the cards and for the first time – clearly hear what they said. Magical.
Because the Universe seems to conspire to shower me with blessings, I was invited to present with Rachel Pollack, Mary K. Greer, George Koury and Liz Dean at the Masters of Tarot weekend at the Omega Institute. (August 3-5, sign up here)
As part of our preparation for the event, we’re interviewing each other. I jumped at the chance to talk to Rachel.
Melissa: Rachel, with your writing of novels, comics and divination texts, your work has a theme of offering the readers self-discovery. Is this a conscious decision, or did it just work out that way?
Rachel: I was always a writer of fiction first, and actually wanted to write comics long before I did so. In fact, I was teaching years ago at a college in New York State, and gave a talk one evening, and one of the students asked how I became a teache. I began by saying I had tried to get a job writing for Marvel Comics but they weren’t hiring, so became a college teacher instead. Well, that made me a kind of mini-celebrity with the student body! The faculty, not so much. But the big thing that happened during those two years came on a quiet, bitterly cold afternoon in early 1970, when a fellow faculty member said if I gave her a ride home she would read my Tarot cards. They completely fascinated me, and I knew I had to have it. I also remember thinking they reminded me of comics. There were mysterious pictures of people and actions (early Rider deck), and a book–one of Eden Gray’s works–that seemed to explain the pictures, but was really just another layer of mystery. As for self-discovery, I’m not sure I consciously set out to make that the theme. Wonder and adventure are really the common themes of most of my work. But what greater adventure is there than discovering the mystery of yourself, and that of the world? And being queer (I like to joke that I’m half of LGBT, the beginning and the end) self-discovery became almost basic survival. Because if you allow the outer culture to define you, you’re lost. I think one thing I’ve learned from being intimately involved with the living oracle of the Tarot is to make the subtle shift from “defining yourself” to “divining yourself.”
Melissa: Your work – from comics to tarot has been a huge inspiration for myself and so many others. So, who inspires you?
Rachel: So, so many people! Tarot readers, poets, novelists, artists, scientists, people who struggle for justice, so, so many. Just within the world of Tarot, I’ve been inspired for so many years by Mary Greer–and consider myself so fortunate to have taught with her for nearly 3 decades. Two others are Caitlin Matthews and Camelia Elias. And I have a special connection with David Schaar. Many won’t know his name–yet–but that will change when he publishes his remarkable work on traveling the Tree of Life. And I find working with Robert Place–on the Burning Serpent Oracle and more recently, The Raziel Tarot–very exciting.
Melissa: What else excites you about the future of tarot and divination?
Rachel: There seems to be a great new wave of decks, both Tarot and oracle, featuring very exciting and explorative art. At this recent Readers Studio there were so many wonderful new works. It feels almost as if Tarot has been re-discovered as an art form. Both the quality of art and the sense of mystery have jumped to a new level.
Melissa: Some of my tarot buddies have said that your work seems to take a literary analysis approach to reading the cards. Which authors influence you? What do you read for enjoyment? That’s a lot of questions at once.
Rachel: First of all, I think “literary analysis” sounds too academic and intellectual. I approach the Tarot as a living being-maybe a storyteller–and try to discover just what that story might be. The authors who influence me are again a very wide group, by no means all Tarot. riters on myth and mystery have been vital to me, books about prehistoric art, Australian Aboriginal art, esoteric practices and beliefs, heresies, books of tribal and ancient poetry in daring translations. Here are some titles that have meant a lot to me–“The Gate of Horn,” by Gertrude Rachel Levy, a book on the history of religion, and a kind of founding text of the Goddess revival–“Shower Of Stars: Dream And Book,< by Peter Lamborn Wilson, a work about dream initiation, divination from Ancient Egypt to China to 19020’s Harlem, and the idea of a magical book,that is, a book that is itself magical rather than just information about magic–“Awakening Osiris”, Normandi Ellis’s gorgeous poetic rendering of the Pert Em Hru, aka the Egyptian Book of the Dead–“Flash of the Spirit,” by Robert Farris Thompson, a great work on African art and spirituality–“Boneland”, by Alan Garner,the third book in a trilogy, written 50 years after the first two–“Major Trends In Jewish Mysticism”, by Gershom Scholem, a work that almost single-handedly brought Kabbalah back into cultural consciousness, “Shamanic Voices”, edited by Joan Halifax, a series of first-person accounts of shamans from around the world (one of the most beautiful, and scariest books I’ve ever read), and on and on. As for pleasure, I’m not sure there’s a sharp line between reading for pleasure and for inspiration, but I do like mysteries and fantasy. Lately I’ve been very excited by a couple of fantasies that probably are considered Young Adult (72 is young, right?) “Every Heart A Doorway,” by Seanan Maguire, and a trio of novellas by Nnedi Okorafor–“Binti,” “Binti Home,” and “Binti The Night Masquerade.” And then there’s “Tropic Of Night,” a book I’ve read four times, and will certainly read again. it’s a thriller about African sorcery in Miami, and explores a kind of shamanic psychology that I find very powerful.
Melissa: And now my “books to read list” has doubled. Thanks for that! Ok last question. What is something that you wish more people knew about you?
Rachel: You know, I’m not sure! I kind of just try to be myself in most situations. I guess I could say that everything I do is about sharing what excites me.
Melissa: Thank you – this was an absolute treat.
Rachel: Me too, Melissa. I hope it’s okay.
Melissa: *dies from a severe case of fangirling*