My fangirl moment over Rachel Pollack, tarot pioneer
April 15, 2020
I have been reading Rachel Pollack’s seminal tarot book, 78 Degrees of Wisdom: A Tarot Journey to Self-Awareness. You don’t have to spend very long in the world of learning tarot before someone recommends this book to you. Written as two books (one each about the major and minor arcana) in 1980, it has been through many reprints and updates and since combined into a single tome. I’m half way through it, and have been happily marking up my copy with a pencil, adding underscores, asterisks and even exclamation marks as various insights and connections hit home for me. I seriously love this book.
I have an entire series of blog posts that I would like to write one day, riffing off how this book is blowing my mind. Today, however, on a completely separate front, my mind was blown by her again. For all the times I’ve heard her mentioned or seen her work cited, I never before today realized that she’s transgender. (A lot of the references seem to say transsexual, but as that’s a term that’s fairly anachronistic now, I’ll assume she’d be okay with the more modern term transgender.) Since one of my kids is non-binary and several of my friends are trans, I’m equal parts surprised and delighted that this seems to be a non-issue when people talk about Rachel Pollack. I genuinely hope that this is a sign of trans acceptance in the world.
After a little googling, I pieced together that Rachel, born in 1945, came out as trans to her partner and students (she was a teacher at SUNY) in 1970 at age 25, and had gender-confirming surgery six years later. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to be out as trans at that time, when even being out as gay was a difficult road. (One of my pet projects at work is as a Positive Space facilitator, teaching workshops on the acceptance of gender and sexual diversity in the workplace, so I have some insight into societal acceptance and tolerance when it comes to LGBTQ folks.)
As if being a tarot goddess, accomplished writer and lecturer, and a trans elder weren’t enough to make her an absolutely fascinating human, she’s also apparently well-appreciated as a science fiction author and comic book artist, too. She’s known for a DC Comics book called Doom Patrol, where she introduced a trans character named Coagula to the storyline.
But wait, there’s more! If that weren’t cool enough, I stumbled across the fact that through DC Comics, she created a Tarot deck called Vertigo with illustrator named Dave McKean, and my all-time favourite author Neil (swoon!) Gaiman wrote the introduction for the accompanying book. My mind is so blown right now I’m having trouble deciding which thread to pull next!
All that to say, I’m now a card-carrying fan girl for Rachel Pollack. In the not-too-distant future, I’ll get a more coherent post out about all the things I love about 78 Degrees of Wisdom. Have you read it? What did you think?