Looking through my Word files I came across a poem I wrote some years ago and thought it would be nice to share it. It’s an alphabet poem, based on those kids’ poems of a word for each letter so they can learn their ABC’s.

My poem forms a kind of credo about some of my basic approaches to life and spirituality (hint–rebellion, desire, and mystery trump obedience, self-denial, and fear).

It was inspired by a more complex alphabetical work by the amazing Megan Guidry.

Rachel Pollack
for Meghan Guidry

A is for Abel, dead animal boy.
Vegetable Cain cracked his head like a toy.

B is for Bread, insufficient alone.
To live we need whispers, the endless unknown.

C is for Cathars, were they really that great?
Do we love them primarily for who chose them to hate?

D is for David, he sings and he kills,
Praising bright God with each life that he spills.

E is Ecstatic, a challenge to stand
Outside of ourselves, uninhabited land.

F is Forbidden, a very long list.
The more we desire, the more they insist.

G is for Guilt, a most useful tool,
For control more efficient than warm golden rules.

H is Hosanna, a shout to the sky.
Can you follow the voices, and learn how to fly?

I is for Instinct, refused and denied.
All rules and commands are excuses to hide.

J is for Judas, and Jesus, together,
A hard-working team, as jealous as brothers.

K is for Knowledge, a vast leafy tree,
With snakes and bright fruit to delight you and me.

L is for loss, it’s all that we know,
Lose love, and lose health, and hope, last to go.

M is for Mother, Virgin or Great,
She guides us and comforts our miserable state.

N is for Nothing, the ultimate goal.
Pour all our Somethings down a dark hole.

O is for Oh! a cry of delight,
Discovering joy in morning or night.

P is for Presence, indwelling and bright.
The lift of white wings to shelter our fright.

Q is Quiescent, a rare happy state,
The genuine thing so hard to create.

R is for Righteous, the model of good,
Replacing desire with long lists of should.

S is for Satiate, all yearning fulfilled.
Our actual state? Opportunities spilled.

T is for Teachers, whatever their cause.
Listen for love, be wary of laws.

U is unknown, hidden from sight.
Seek it forever, in darkness and light.

V is for Valley, and shadows, and death,
Where we call out “You there?” with each hesitant breath.

W—Wicks, white flames at their tips.
If only our words could burn from our lips.

X is Unknown, the true state of our Earth,
Every step a surprise, from the shock of our birth.

Y yearns for Yes, the end of all doubt,
To banish all No, in victorious rout.

Z is for Zeitgeist, the sum of us all.
Despite our best efforts, we rise and we fall.

Published in: on August 4, 2017 at 3:43 am  Comments (2)  

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Below is an article the omega Institute asked me to write for their website, to help publicize the two workshops I and Mary Greer will be leading this coming August. The first, August 4-6, is listed at This is actually a weekend Symposium with five teachers, Theresa Reed, Barbara Moore, Sasha Graham, and Barbara Moore, along with Mary and myself.

The second is our annual 5 day intensive, just me and Mary and a group of wonderful enthusiastic Tarotists. We’ve been doing this for 27 years, and it’s always a great experience.

Last night I watched the first episode of the new season of the world’s longest-running television drama, Dr. Who. The show is a light-hearted time travel story that, over its 55 years, has become more complex, more mysterious, and more rooted in the wonders of life, death, and identity. Afterward, I thought about the Tarot—what it has meant to me, what it gives us—and it struck me that Dr. Who and his strange time machine, the Tardis, have a lot in common with the Tarot and those of us who read the cards.

Dr. Who appears human, but is different. He has two hearts and can think further and deeper than anyone alive. These are the qualities—idealized—of a Tarot reader, because the Tarot changes us; it opens us and makes us more than what we were. Just as Dr. Who began as a simple children’s show, so the Tarot first entered the world as a game. A card game unlike any other, for it featured an enigmatic extra suit, filled with striking images called triumphs (now known as trumps, or collectively, the Major Arcana). These dramatic figures may have been clear to people at the time, but over the centuries they have become more symbolic, more filled with meaning, and at the same time more mysterious, allowing us to go ever deeper.

The title of the show refers to the fact that no one actually knows the doctor’s name; he is simply that, “the Doctor.” Similarly, we don’t know who created the first Tarot deck, though an artist named Bonifacio Bembo painted the earliest (almost) complete deck that has survived, done in 1450. Since then, there have been literally thousands of Tarots. People have argued over which one might represent the true, absolute deck. But this misses the point, for they are all the Tarot. The Tarot grows and changes with each new deck. This is why so many of us collect them—partly because it’s interesting to see all the new interpretations, but also because the Tarot, and our readings, become deeper and more meaningful with each new deck that touches our minds and hearts.

Similar to the proliferation of Tarot decks, the Doctor has in fact had many bodies—thirteen so far. That is, when one actor has played the Doctor for a period of time, the character seemingly dies, and his body gives off a blinding light, out of which a new figure emerges. Different actor, different clothes, and even though the basic qualities and the memories continue, each one brings his own unique flavor, some darker, some tougher, some more playful. In the same way, each of those thousands of Tarot decks add to what we might call “the eternal Tarot.”

The most famous thing about the Doctor is his “time machine,” a seeming wooden “Police Call Box” known as the Tardis. In the early 1960s (long before cell phones, of course), these sturdy blue phone booths could be found on British street corners. If you were in danger or witnessed a crime, you could dash into one of these booths and call the police.

The letters in Tardis stand for “Time And Relative Dimension In Space” (a nod, presumably, to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity). I have used the same letters for the title of this article, with “Space” meaning not the emptiness between planets, but the physical world itself. The great mystery of divination is that it reveals things about our actual lives, unwrapping the secrets of the past and pointing to the future.

In the show, the ordinary humans discover two things about the Tardis. First, and most famously, it’s “bigger on the inside.” People step into what seems to be a narrow wooden box and are stunned to see a vast chamber filled with marvels. The Tarot seems like a simple deck of cards, but as soon as we begin to study and use it we discover large and complex traditions, including astrology, alchemy, Freemasonry, and Kabbalah. I grew up in a traditional Jewish home but never even heard the word Kabbalah until I began to explore the Tarot. At the same time, you do not need to explore any of these traditions to read the cards. The images alone will still be “bigger on the inside,” and show you things about life and your own truth.

The second, more subtle, thing people discover about the Tardis is that it’s not really a box or a machine at all, but a living being. This is something we discover about the Tarot as well. When we mix it, and ask our questions, it seems to come to life. In a recent interview, Osvaldo Menegazzi, one of the world’s premier Tarot artists, said, “You may believe in it or not, but one thing is for sure: The cards speak.”

When I do readings for myself—contrary to popular belief, most Tarot readers read for themselves all the time—I do not try to uncover secrets or make predictions, but instead, seek the wisdom of the cards. Because they “speak” in pictures, we can ponder what they say for a long time. Here are three questions, simple yet challenging.

1. What do I know?

2. What have I forgotten?

3. What do I need to know and must never forget?

We will explore this deceptively simple 3 card “spread” during the 5 day intensive. As for my part in the weekend Symposium–I hope to lead everyone into what I call “Claiming Your Power As A Tarot Reader.” This will include absolute beginners as well as years-long professionals. Mary and I have always made our classes experiential, and open to all levels. Amazingly, this always works.

© 2017 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Published in: on June 1, 2017 at 12:33 am  Leave a Comment  



The arrival of the Raziel Tarot, created by Robert Place and myself, and based on 3000 years of Jewish myth, teachings and lore, has led me to think about Tarot and stories.

The Raziel Tarot: the Secret Book of Adam and Eve

There are many decks, especially in the modern era, based on stories, often from different cultures. There are several fairy tale decks, decks based on the mythologies of Ireland, Russia, China, India, Arthurian decks, decks based on games and television shows, and on and on.

The famous Rider deck of A. E. Waite and P. C. Smith strikes many people as scenes from stories, especially the Minor Arcana. Maybe the man in the 2 of Wands, looking out from a castle wall, has become bored with his life–or his marriage?–and is fantasizing leaving everything behind. The weeping woman in the 9 of Swords may be grieving the loss of a child, or perhaps that her 2 of Wands husband has run off and left her in the middle of the night.

Some of the Major Arcana cards in the Rider deck have specific story links. Waite describes the High Priestess as the Shkehinah, the female aspect of God in the Kabbalah (this connection becomes much more explicit in the Raziel Tarot). Many see the Magician card as the Greek God Hermes, God of magic, wisdom, and transformation (not to mention swindlers, thieves, and businessmen).

I have linked the Star card to the Greek Goddess Persephone, who was taken by Death (card 13) into the dark Underworld, and then returned for part of every year to her mother Demeter, Goddess of Life (card 3, the Empress).

Do I do this with every client? Some just want simple answers to questions. But suppose we based a whole reading style on the stories in the cards, and how they illuminate the person’s issues? This can be especially valuable with decks where the cards very specifically show tales or myths.

With the Raziel Tarot how might it open up our readings if we know that King Solomon is the Magician, or that his lover, the Queen of Sheba, is on the Strength card?

A person facing a challenge might get extra meaning from the Hermit card (shown above), knowing that it pictures Moses at the Burning Bush, where God tells Moses he must go to Egypt and confront the most powerful king in all the world. The story in this card challenges us to ask, “What mission or task am I called to accept? What is it that I cannot refuse, or pretend doesn’t exist?”

In the story, Moses asks what is God’s name (he knows that Pharaoh will ask this), and God says–in the standard English version–“I am that I am.” If we turn this question around to ourselves, we might ask “Who am I in this moment? What in my life right now cannot be denied or explained away?”

Interestingly, modern scholars tell us that what God says to Moses is more like “I will be what I will be,” or “I am becoming what I am becoming.” Here we might ask ourselves, “What is changing or growing in me, in my job, my life, my family? What am I becoming?

Sometimes the story in a card can powerfully affirm something important in a person’s life. About three years ago I discovered I had cancer–Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, to be precise. I was very sick by the time the disease was diagnosed and was not sure what would happen to me. But then the chemo took effect and I began to improve. After I received a report that the cacer was in remission I decided to do a Tarot reading.

I chose the Tarot of Delphi, in which each card is a 19th century painting from Greek or Roman mythology. Stores, beautifully rendered. The card that came out was the 8 of Wands. The painting shows the God Hermes–a favorite of mine, ax sell as the Magician–returning the Goddess Persephone–the Star, which is my birth card–from the dark world of the dead to the bright land of the living. There is no explanation, no fortune telling formula, no list of traditional meanings, that could have said more to me at that moment than that picture–that story–of life rescued from death.

Published in: on February 18, 2017 at 10:26 pm  Comments (4)  


Raziel Launch reading

Above is a reading I did in honor of the launch of the Indiegogo campaign for the Raziel Tarot Major Arcana special edition. The spread was a variant on Zoe Matoff’s Don’do/Do three-card spread, where the center card is first, then the card on the left, then the right, while the fourth card is the bottom of the deck. Zoe calls that “what’s at the bottom of this.”

The big difference here, however, is that the cards on either side of the center are not “don’t do” and “do,” but simply supporting energies for the central card, which represents the basic situation.

I actually looked at the bottom card, Strength, first, so I will discuss that first. The Strength card shows the Queen of Sheba, guarded by her lion, an animal associated with Goddesses throughout the ancient Mediterranean. There is an Ethiopian legend (the land of Sa’ba included parts of Ethiopia and the Arabian Peninsula) that King Solomon gave the Queen a ring engraved with the Lion of Judah, which then passed through the ages to Haile Selassie.

Sheba came to test Solomon’s legendary wisdom, and he surpassed all her expectations. Thus, part of this Strength card, as the root of the reading, is that the Raziel Tarot is a kind of treasure chest of wisdom and lore. I do not say this to brag about my or Robert Place’s great knowledge, but rather because the deck is based on the thousands of years of Jewish myth, mysticism (Kabbalah and other traditions), magic, and tradition.

The central card of the actual three card reading is The Sun, card 19. The image is based on the Tarot of Marseilles Sun card (compared to many other cards, such as The Lovers on the right, which are based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck). It shows two young people rising from the shards of a broken bowl and celebrating the light.

The idea comes from the Kabbalistic myth known as the “breaking of the vessels.” Very briefly, this teaches that at Creation, God’s light traveled through the ten “vessels” on the Tree of Life. Vessels 4-9, however, could not contain such power and broke, with the pieces falling into 10, the material world. Restoration comes when each of us liberates our own inner light. Publication of the deck is a kind of liberation of its inner light.

The Sun card also comes after a series of trials in the cards before it, and shows the joy of having passed the tests (helped by the wisdom and knowledge of Strength). For Robert and myself, of course, the publication of the Major Arcana cards is indeed a joyous event. The deck was a labor of love, but definitely labor, and for me, this period working on it has also seen me struggle with cancer. Recently I finished a very intense second round of chemo, so the publication of the Raziel Tarot is joyous on many levels.

To the left we see the Hanged Man. The image comes from a Jewish myth of an angel named Shemhazai, who suspends himself, upside-down, between Heaven and Earth, either (there are two versions) to atone for falling to temptation, or to offer himself as a kind of sacrifice to plead with God not to destroy all humanity in the Flood.

What strikes me most in this reading is the idea of a link between Heaven and Earth. The deck is based on stories and mystical teachings, and yet it is still a traditional Tarot deck, based in many ways on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Notice the stony ground at his feet. So many people come to the cards when we have troubles, when life feels like stones. But then there is the light beyond the face. Because the Raziel Tarot is linked to spiritual ideas and stories, it can bring us to a greater awareness, and a sense that readings about our personal problems can lead us to something beyond ourselves.

To the right we see The Lovers. The picture (inspired by the Rider Lovers) shows the central myth underlying the deck–that an angel named Raziel (“God is my secret”) gave a book–some say a magical stone–to Adam and Eve when they had to leave the Garden. This book of secrets revealed both the mysteries of the cosmos, and all future events. This is also the central myth of Tarot for at least 230 years–that it reveals the hidden structure of existence, yet also can be used for divination.

On one level, the card’s presence here simply marks the fact that Robert and I are giving this new deck to the world, the way Raziel gave the Book to our ancestors. On another, it celebrates the deck as a deck based in love as well as secrets.

Here is the link for the Indiegogo campaign for the deck:

Published in: on August 11, 2016 at 8:30 pm  Comments (2)  


As the Raziel Tarot Major Arcana edition approaches its launch date, we sent an advance copy of the book to Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin, founders of Tarot Professionals and Tarosophy. They were kind enough to give it a very thoughtful read and write a careful comment. I decided I wanted to share that here. It also can be found at, where we’ve just opened a page for the Raziel Tarot.

Here’s Marcus and Tali:

The Raziel Tarot is a stunning presentation of significant mystical narratives bound within the tarot deck. In the precise artwork of Robert Place, Rachel Pollack has re-told the tales of spiritual ascent and glorious unification, through the lens of Judaic myth. In doing so, these cards provide us an illustrated architecture of paradise through which we may ascend and descend in our own life story through every shuffle and spread.

Rachel writes that the deck deals with the “great theme” of genuine reunification and liberation; and also the Shekinah, the presence of god most often depicted as feminine. The leading Kabbalistic scholar Moshe Idel in his ‘Ascensions on High in Jewish Mysticism’ explores the process of reunification through spiritual ascent and this deck provides us a means of realising that ascent; it is indeed a “palace built for her [the divine spirit of Shekinah], namely a sanctuary for her holiness, sanctified and inscribed with all the inscriptions of the supernal sanctuary” (Sepher ha-Temunah).

Should a tarot deck work with Jewish themes? None other than the great Kabbalist and mystic Abulafia wrote “know that most of the visions of which Raziel saw are based on the Name of God and its gnosis” and scholar Gershom Scholem continues, “the identity of prophecy with the love of God also finds its proof in the mysticism of numbers” (Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 138). Rachel points out that divination does indeed come from the divine, and prophecy is an essential if occluded element of Jewish myth.

The story-telling element of both Judaism and the tarot is merged together and emphasized in Rachel’s text accompanying the deck. This provides ample opportunity for the reader to explore the midrash, or narrative, of the process of spiritual development through the kabbalistic framework naturally underpinning the deck. This kabbalah is woven lightly but powerfully through Robert’s illustrations and is an ideal gateway into the avenues and orchards of that profound subject.

A final note that Robert’s artwork again meets the challenge of presenting the most enigmatic of concepts in the most accessible manner; his World card, illustrating not only the “Bride of the Earth” but also “the King” with whom she is united, is a triumph of illustration.

Marcus Katz & Tali Goodwin
Authors; The Magister, The Magician’s Kabbalah, Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot, Abiding in the Sanctuary.

Published in: on August 4, 2016 at 1:12 am  Leave a Comment  


Recently I was having an email discussion with my nephew about science, and in particular Einstein. It reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago (around the time of “A Prayer For Art”–see below), in which I imagined that Einstein was a cartoonist and his great theories were a syndicated strip. The inspiration for this was the way his “gendanken-experimenten” (“thought experiments”) were sometimes shown in popular books about Relativity in a cartoon-like fashion.

Is there a connection to my usual subject matter? Well, in my book Forest Of Souls, I have a chapter in which I write about Special Relativity as the great Gnostic text of the twentieth century, based on the idea that only the speed of light is absolute, and therefore all the things we assume are real, such as matter, form, and time, are in fact, relative. And then I related this to the famous question in esoteric Tarot as to where the Fool goes, before all the other cards, or next to last.

Here’s the poem. I hope people enjoy it.


Cartoonist Al
Drew a feature for the Daily News.
Syndicated popups
Worming holes in scientific worlds.

Style a bit like Eisner’s,
Characters a lot like King Aroo—
Yup Yop in a spaceship
Going ninety per cent the speed of light.

“I’m one of those animals that never forgets,”
Says Mr. Elephant,
Flying backwards round the Sun,
Cranking his trunk
As he tries to remember
The images of soul
Expanding to infinity.

There was a young lady named Bright—

Hey, Einstein, where’s that Sunday feature,
The one about the schmuck
That flies to Betelgeuse
And comes back younger than his grandson?

Good work, Al,
But you gotta speed production
Or your mass will never make it to infinity.

He was working in a patent office,
Testing railroads, rocket ships, and elevators,
When he sold his strip to the Zurich Chronicle.

The Special Theory of Relativity,
Biggest thing since Peanuts.
If Lucy yanks away the football
At the speed of light—

On a ship jerking in a hurricane
Eddington counts the blackness
In the heart of Suns,
Sends a telegram to Einstein
At the comicbook convention:
Mercury is flying in an elevator!

Children swinging from his hair—
Flash bulbs leaping at his eyes—

He falls asleep in a railroad car,
Synchronizing watches with his brother
In the center of the Earth.

At the speed of darkness,
Vision expands to eternity.

They canceled that, you know,
Worried it would scare the kids.

So they ran an old Doonesbury,
Duke and Zonker swimming to Andromeda,
While Einstein rocked in Lurianic darkness,
Throwing dice with God.

Published in: on February 21, 2016 at 3:45 am  Comments (4)  


The Prayer For Art in Part One was both serious and tongue-in-cheek, a recognition of the sense that so many creative people have, of there never being enough time to do everything they would like to do (as well as a recognition of everything other people are doing).

The Blessing is more direct. I created it one night to express a deep sense of gratitude I felt after a breakthrough on a novella I’m writing, “The Fissure King.” I wanted a way to express that powerful experience virtually every creative person has (and I am using “creative” in the broadest possible sense), of something moving through them.

It is no accident that I drew on my Jewish background during the period I am working intensely with Robert Place to create The Raziel Tarot, based on Jewish lore and traditions.

The words, and the very idea, come directly from the Jewish tradition of saying blessings for pretty much everything. There’s a whole long list that observant Jews say every morning, and another list for during the day (especially at meals), and then another list for special occasions, and still more for particular situations.

The traditional Hebrew blessing begins B’ruchah Atah Adonai, Eloheynu, melech ha’olam usually translated as “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, king of the world,” followed by words for the particular situation.

(A quick comment about “Adonai.” This word, originally Ugaritic, is the plural of “Adon,” or “Lord,” in the same way that “Elohim” usually translated as God, actually is plural, “gods.” Adonai was originally a kind of substitute word for the most sacred Name, the so-called “Tetragrammaton,” YHVH. For traditional Jews, Adonai itself became so holy they do not say it or write it except in prayer. I mean no disrespect in using it here.)

In recent years, feminist Jews have created a kind of female version of this opening phrase, drawing on the idea of the Shekinah as the feminine aspect of God. We should recognize that while many Jews assume the God of the Torah is completely male, a Father and King, there is a very ancient tradition that sees God as encompassing female as well as male energy.

The term Shekhinah originally meant the “in-dwelling Presence,” the divine energy that went into the Ark of the Covenant. Over time, however, this word, especially in Kabbalah, came to mean the female aspect of the divine, sometimes called The Sabbath Bride.

In The Raziel Tarot she appears on several cards, envisioned as a woman in The High Priestess and the Justice card, and as a spirit coming to the aged Moses on the Death card.

One version of a female-centered blessing begins B’ruchah Ath Yah, Shekinah Ruach Ha-Olam, or “Blessed are You, Shekhinah [Presence], breath [or soul] of the world.” This is the opening I used for my own blessing of gratitude, for creativity–and for healing.

So, after that too long intro (!), here is my Blessing. it came to me as a gift, and in that spirit I offer it to any who might find it meaningful.

B’ruchah Ath Yah
Shekhinah Ruach ha-Olam

Blessed are you, God,
Presence, Breath of the World

Who has traveled through me,
And delivered me gifts.

Published in: on February 13, 2016 at 4:50 am  Comments (1)  


Recently, probably from working on The Raziel Tarot, with Robert Place, I came up with a blessing, part Hebrew and part English, that is actually an expression of gratitude for that experience that so many of us have had, doing creative work, or reading cards, or some other activity where we experience something moving through us.

And then last night, while looking through a folder of my poetry–some of it going back to the 70’s!–I came across a poem called Prayer For Art that is really about the sense so many of us feel when we are overwhelmed by all the things we want to do, and how little time there seems to be.

That’s certainly been going on with me recently. As well as creating The Raziel Tarot, and the great unfolding of ideas in my collaboration with Robert–and working on the book to go with the deck–I’ve been writing a novella featuring my recent hero, Jack Shade, and I just sent a novel-in-progress to my agent, who is as excited as I am about it (sorry, no details right now). Oh, and I’ve also been creating necklaces.

So–I’ll start with the poem, which is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but not really, and then, because the blessing requires more background, do that as Part Two.

The poem, called a “prayer” is a chant. I find that when I read it, especially out loud (softly, to myself) I move back and forth in rhythm with the lines. Try it.


There is so much work to be done
And so much work being done
And so much work not being done

And so much work to think of doing
And so much work done already

And so much work that will be done
And so much work that can be done
And so much work that cannot be done

And so much work that has never been done
And so much work that never will be done

Published in: on February 12, 2016 at 3:28 pm  Comments (4)  


Last Wednesday, which happened to be the day after Rosh HaShanah, I had my final chemo treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This was a good day to do this, since the Jewish New Year (which paradoxically takes place in the 7th month) traditionally marks the anniversary of Creation, and thus a renewal. It also marks the beginning of the ten Days of Awe leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and a very active spiritual time. I decided to take along my cards and do a reading while I was having the treatment. The deck was my personal copy of the Shining Tribe Art Deck, which is made from the original art, and hand-cut, and thus has no titles or borders. Here is a picture of the cards.

2015-09-17 23.07.27

Before I describe the cards I should explain the form. The top two cards are what I call “Teacher” cards, derived by cutting the deck and looking at the bottom of each pile. The first card was at the bottom when I finished shuffling, the second after I cut the deck and put the bottom pile on top.

The middle line is the basic reading, a spread created by Zoe Matoff that has become my favorite go-to spread, for matters large and small. The middle card goes first, then the card on the left, then the one on the right. 2 1 3

1. The situation, what is going on.
2. Don’t do. This card on the left represents an action or approach that would not help the situation. This is often the most valuable card, since it can reveal our inclination or habitual response.
3. Do. An action or approach that will benefit the situation.

These three are the reading as originally developed by Zoe. I often add a fourth card, the one shown here by itself, below the line of three. This card signifies what can result from this situation, how it might evolve.

The Teacher Cards
The Four of Rivers (on the left). This card is about renewal, letting go of an old self and consciously taking on a new and more meaningful life. It is also directly linked to Rosh HaShanah (notice the shofar, or ram’s horn on the upper left). There is a ceremony done on Rosh HaShanah called tashlich, in which people cast bread crumbs into a stream or river, to symbolize casting off, or releasing, their negative actions or emotions of the previous year. When I was creating the Shining Tribe deck I somehow had the idea that there was an earlier version of this ritual, in which people cast off an old worn-out garment and put on something new. Though I’ve never found any evidence of this, I drew it for the card. The figure has given up a torn, ragged robe, and put on a Jewish prayer shawl.

I’ve actually done this ritual, myself, and with others. When I led a group of people on a sacred journey in Greece some years ago I told everyone to bring some old article of clothing, and something white that they’d never worn before. We did an overnight ritual on the beach to Aphrodite, who was born out of the sea at dawn and clothed by the Hours. Each person took off their “something old” and entered the water. then when they emerged two others dressed them in the new clothing. (And yes, I am aware that Aphrodite is a Pagan Goddess! A friend, who’s an ordained minister, once told me how she had to write down her faith on a hospital form, and put “Druidic.” i wondered what I might put and instantly thought “Heresy.”)
As a Teacher card, the Four of Rivers told me it was time to cast off the torn garment of my year of sickness, and be renewed.

The World card (on the right). This is the ultimate card in the Major Arcana, the final integration and liberation of the spirit. Seen here it becomes more than a Teacher, it promises wholeness and healing. The World card is a personal emblem for me. It’s on the home page of my website,, and on my business card, and will be engraved on the barrel of a fountain pen that is being made for me to mark my 70th birthday (which took place on Aug. 17, almost exactly a month before the end of chemo).

The Three Cards
1 (in the middle). The Fool. The flying child in the Fool card signifies a complete new beginning, a return to freedom and instinct. At the opposite end of the Major Arcana from the World, it bears the number 0, from which all things are possible. In many ways, this is the perfect card to receive at the end of such a grueling treatment as six months of chemotherapy, which itself followed six months of illness.

2 (on the left, Don’t Do). The Ten of Stones (Ten of Pentacles, or Coins in traditional decks). While this card has its spiritual side, it speaks to me here, in the Don’t Do position, of being too concerned with the details of re-establishing my life, perhaps the economic issues. Even that spiritual aspect, shown in the totem images on the stones, can become a “Don’t Do,” if it becomes too obsessive, too caught up in details.

3. (on the right, Do). The Gift of Rivers (Queen of Cups). This is quite simply the gift of love, both emotional and spiritual. Two rivers merge into one, and where they meet we see a shining bowl that represents the Holy Grail of healing. So what I should do is quite simply acknowledge, and accept, the great gift of healing, and the love that sustained me. Also, be joyous. Do not do details, do joy.

The Fourth Card
4. (bottom row, by itself, what can come from this situation/moment). The Hanged Woman (Hanged Man). Many people see the Hanged Man in very negative terms, including being stuck, painful sacrifice, even treason (based on Renaissance Italy “shame paintings” of supposed traitors hanged upside down). For me, the Hanged Man has always been a deeply spiritual card, in some ways the very key to the Tarot’s message.

When I created my Hanged Woman I tried to make the picture deliberately playful to show there was not pain. The card is about attachment to the great Tree of existence, the Tree of Life, not as a Kabbalistic diagram, but as a living and vibrant connection with existence, a tree with its roots in the dark waters and its branches among the stars. Thus, it becomes a truly wonderful image for “what can come” from this moment of finishing the grueling months of chemotherapy–and all the fear surrounding it.

Two things worth noting about the card: 1. The posture is very much like the World dancer, but with the arms tucked in, and of course upside down, a kind of mirror image. 2. The Hanged Woman is card 12, the following card, 13, is Death. So, in the most literal meaning, what can come from this situation is not death, but life. And indeed, one of the “secrets” of the Hanged Man or Woman is that it is an image of birth, for we emerge from our mothers head first.

This blog post is dedicated to David Schaar

Published in: on September 23, 2015 at 3:03 am  Comments (4)