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  • Writer's pictureTero Goldenhill

Rachel Pollack In Memoriam

Updated: May 25


Rachel Pollack (August 17, 1945 – April 7, 2023)

The temple doors, carved with pomegranates, roses and lilies,

are shut and sealed,

closed forever.

But because of you,

the beacon fires are burning.


Reading 78 Degrees of Wisdom for the first time in the nineties was a life changing moment for me (as it's been, and continues to be, for so many others). The book flung open my inner doors, showing just how powerful and marvellous an instrument the tarot can be – a far cry from something that was still mainly associated with fortune-telling at the time. There's hardly a page in my softcover edition, just about holding itself together, which wouldn't have markings made by me in the margin over the years.


The reason I love 78 Degrees so much is simple: it's nothing short of a perfect union – a true alchemical marriage, for sure – between psychology and the real world. It's so much more than just "a tarot book". It teaches about life, and what it means to be human. With Rachel, your feet always remain firmly rooted in Malkuth, no matter how high up the Tree you go (or dimensions, if you prefer). She had such an original mind. She was a bridge between many different worlds, and many different dimensions. Quoting her wife, Judith Zoe Matoff, "She will continue to inspire so many of our beloved Tarot community, the Science Fiction and Fantasy community, the Comics community, and the Transgender community for whom she shared so much respect and care." Rachel was a trailblazer and a legend, already during her lifetime.


Sad and bleak times are upon the tarot world; first losing Osvaldo Menegazzi, and now Rachel Pollack. Two bright lights, beacons, gone from this world. I consider myself very lucky, to have met and become friends with both of them. During one of the times I met with Rachel, at the UK Tarot Conference some years ago, I gave a presentation on the art history of the tarot Devil. In the talk I included a quote from Rachel's The Open Labyrinth, which I see very much as Part 2 (or 3, depending on which editions one uses) of 78 Degrees. Afterwards she said, "Interesting you chose something from that book. Not many people know about it." to which I replied "- which I think is a bloody shame!" Rachel burst out laughing her famous, infectious laughter. I will miss that laughter. Her witty, razor blade sharp mind, her genius spirit. That was the spirit of Hermes/Mercury moving through her, dancing with her mind... Rachel's favourite god/entity to work with.


"The cards can be a Sage. Ask them what they can teach you." -Rachel Pollack


Upon receiving the 40th Anniversary Edition of the 78 Degrees, I posted on social media: "If I had to choose one book (not just tarot but any book) to bring with me to a desert island, this would be it. 78 Degrees taught me so much; not just about tarot but about life in general. My paperback copy is falling to bits after heavy use over the past 30 years, so I'm very happy to receive this 40th Anniversary Edition. Thank you for all the wisdom, Rachel." In her typical, no-nonsense way she replied: "Wow, thank you, Tero! As someone who used to listen to Desert Island Disks on BBC Radio, I know what an honor it is to have your book chosen as the one book to have on the island. (For myself, I used to imagine I would choose as my one book, The Boy Scout Handbook - tells you how to build a shelter, light a fire, forage for food...).


"Our conditioning, our past experience, above all our ignorance of all these things, tend to manipulate us in certain directions. The reading reflects these influences and shows their likely result. The cards do not compel the situation to turn out in a certain way. They simply reflect the way in which the influences combine in real life. We can make a different decision when the time comes to act. And yet we do not.

Over and over again in life, with little conscious knowledge, we surrender our freedom of choice. We allow our history and conditioning to move us. We do this partly from ignorance, and partly from laziness. It is much easier to follow conditioning than to act on truly conscious decisions." -78 Degrees of Wisdom


Saying "Rest in Peace" seems, at least from my point of view, incredibly unfitting here. I honestly can't see you doing any of that on the other side. But I do hope (and believe) you're having an incredible party in the afterlife, toasting with your family, friends (Brian Williams, looking at you) and loved ones. I shall raise my glass, with everyone else, from this side to you. You were a mentor, a teacher, a guide, a friend, someone who had mastered their art. We were so incredibly lucky to have you.


Thank you, Rachel, for everything.

For your friendship, joy, creative genius,

humour and love, wisdom and wit,

for all of us.

For all the degrees of wisdom.

Our Rachel.

__


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