From the back: “Offering an abundant array of new ideas mixed in with enlightening discussions about Tarot’s checkered past, this guidebook features innovative ways to interpret and use Tarot…All seventy-eight cards are explored from fresh angles: history, art, psychology, and a variety of spiritual and occult traditions, using cards from seven diverse decks so you can easily contrast and compare.”
Touted as the follow-up to “Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom”, in most ways I think this book actually goes way beyond the original. “Seventy-Eight Degrees” will remain a “bible” because it takes a clear look at the Rider Waite deck, while also examining psychological aspects and offering practical and insightful approaches to a number of spreads. “Tarot Wisdom”, though it is certainly accessible to the beginner, is more a book to grow with. There is much here even for the knowledgeable and experienced tarot reader.
The book is divided into four main sections: The Major Arcana, The Minor Arcana, The Court Cards, and Readings, as well as having a 25 page introduction. Each of the seventy eight cards is given from 2 pages (the Minors and Court cards) to 16 pages (for the Fool), with most of the Majors having at least 10 pages each.
As the blurb states, illustrations from seven different decks are shown, in black and white, to give a feel for the variety of meaning that has been expressed in each card. In fact, the same six decks are used to illustrate the majority of the Majors: the Marseille, Rider, Golden Dawn Ritual, Egyptian, Visconti and Shining Tribe (Rachel’s own deck). Meanwhile, the Minors are illustrated with the Marseille, Rider, Golden Dawn, Visconti, Sola Busca and Shining Tribe. The Sola Busca is considered the first deck historically to have had illustrated pips, so its inclusion for the Minors makes sense, trying to show the development over time of the meanings attributed to and illustrations used for them. Finally, the Court cards show the Marseille, Rider, Golden Dawn, Visconti and Shining Tribe. I love this aspect of the book – it’s not just academic information and lists, but also beautiful images and really seeing what she’s talking about, and perhaps making your own new connections in the light of these comparative images.
This use of multiple images matches up with the fact that the book gives a wide variety of attributions for each card, including, but not limited to: Astrological, Kabbalistic, Pythagorean, Picatrix (from an arabic esoteric text), Elemental, Sephirah, Golden Dawn Title (for the Courts), Rider physical quality (for the Courts), Rider theme and associated Majors (for the Minors).
The bulk of the book is made up of a discussion of each card – including history, esoteric aspects, personal anecdotes, some questions it may raise – a whole spread for each of the Majors, and a spread for each suit, as well as a spread for the Court cards. There are also a number of one card and two card spreads, and six multiple card more general spreads. “Tarot Wisdom” also talks about, and gives some examples of, wisdom readings. Basically, you use the tarot to ask philosophical questions – divination in the sense of talking with the divine – rather than simply trying to find out more about your own, or someone else’s life. This is a concept Rachel Pollack introduced in “The Forest of Souls”, and which I find quite profound – I’ve always gotten a lot out of the wisdom readings I’ve done.
As well as a general introduction, the book gives an introduction to each of the sections. For the Majors, this discusses the correspondences that Rachel Pollack chooses to highlight: it’s a non-systematic approach, focusing on what she personally considers most relevant. So, this may seem rather eclectic or opinionated to those who have a preferred system. However, this is partly explained by her discussion of the Majors as a path to spiritual enlightenment – as such it is a personal path, and also a mystery. The book is designed to give pointers to possible paths for different people, rather than claiming to give any definitive answers. In this respect, Pollack talks about the esoteric history of the Tarot, but argues for there being no “scientific” or correct interpretation. She explains her own structural approach to the Majors, dividing them into three lines of seven, representing three different phases in people’s lives, but also looking at these as columns of three – the common threads that return at different levels and in different ways at various times. Although she offers “divinatory” meanings, Pollack mainly wants to open up the interpretation of the cards, rather than narrow it down.
The Minor Arcana introduction has a sub-section on the suits: their history; mythological, biblical, kabbalistic and elemental attributions; their relation to the Majors and the Virtues. Another sub-section on numbers: general numerology; Rider Themes (comparing all the Rider aces, all the Rider twos etc); Pythagorean and Kabbalistic numerology; and astrological decans.
As for the Court cards, Pollack offers a number of ways to explore them, including drawing a house for each “family” and asking questions about what they’re like, where they’d live, and what it would be like if they swapped houses for the weekend with another Court (very a la Mary K.Greer – not surprising as they’ve been teaching together for nearly two decades). The section on “Permutations” uses a formula to create different “families” of the Court cards, for example Page of Cups, Knight of Swords, Queen of Pentacles, King of Wands, asking how this court would be different than if all the members were from the same suit, or from other permutations. There are also sections titled: “If Court Cards Are People, Who Are They?”, and a discussion of “Significators”, giving Waite’s approach, and Pollack’s own. Then, my favourite: “Movie Stars, Fairytales, Superheroes, and Noble Worthies” – exploring who each Court card could be from any area of interest, and suggesting a fun superhero quaternity method of looking at them (Hero, Partner, Nemesis, Sidekick). There are also sections on elemental attributions, the various name changes that have been made regarding the Courts (in particular by the Golden Dawn), and the Court Cards on the Tree of Life. Finally, she looks at the Courts as “A Progression of Qualities” – once again a structural, developmental approach. So, there’s plenty to help deepen understanding of the Courts – and that’s before we even get to the discussion of each card and related images!
As well as offering the spreads described above, the “Readings” chapter has a section discussing some “rules” about tarot reading – mainly to disclaim them. This was the most “beginner”ish section of the book, and one I feel it could have done without. However, I imagine it was felt necessary in order to be able to sell this as a book for every level.
Altogether, “Tarot Wisdom” is both academic and accessible, profound, yet profoundly readable. Whether you want to study it from cover to cover or dip in and out to find what you want at any given time, it’s a wonderful, fascinating book, full of insight, anecdote, and information.