The Forest of Souls:
A Walk Through the Tarot by Rachel Pollack
Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this book, click here.
"[T]he pages of the Tarot are not bound in any real order. The cards appear to contain a linear message, for they come to us numbered and labeled, with such titles as "The High Priestess" or "Judgement." Many books describe the step-by-step development of this great message. But unlike sacred books, or the works of psychologist sages, the Tarot can change and become new every time we pick it up. This is because we can shuffle it." -- Rachel Pollack, The Forest of Souls, pp. xix-xx
When I became webmistress of this site, I decided to include a monthly "Tarot Passage", a quotation that I felt was pertinent or insightful on the subject of the tarot. It didn't have to be specifically about tarot, though it often ends up being so. I decided to seek diverse sources for these quotations: fiction, books on tarot, astrology, or other metaphysical subjects. Sometimes I would be all ready to update when I realized I hadn't found my monthly passage, and had to begin a mad hunt through my books to find something profound, some point that hadn't been made in an earlier passage, a pearl worthy of highlighting on this midnight blue background. And often it took a long time to find something I deemed worthy of inclusion.
Reading Rachel Pollack's The Forest of Souls: A Walk Through the Tarot was like striking gold in the area of revelatory quotations. I could mine this book for quotations for the next year, and still have plenty left over to ruminate upon at leisure. (Because I am still committed to seeking diverse sources, I won't. But I could. Note October 2002's Passage of the Month.)
Interestingly enough, Rachel begins her book with a "Gallery of Quotations" (something I only noticed after I finished the paragraph above). She, too, utilizes diverse sources--a Reconstructionist Jewish prayer book, personal correspondence, T.S. Eliot, and the Bible. And, of course, being a font of fabulous quotations, Pollack is also self-referential.
In the ensuing chapters, like the reverently irreverent Tracy Ullman, Pollack takes on such subjects as the Tarot's origins, wisdom questions (as opposed to asking, "Will X marry me," she asks, "What is marriage?"), Jewish and Kabbalistic thoughts as they pertain to the Tarot, and formulating new versions of the Fool's Journey. The author does a reading for God ("God's Reading") and finds Christian symbolism abounding in her own Shining Tribe deck when she performs "A Reading for the Resurrection: Easter 2001."
What do I mean by reverently irreverent? Some might call doing a spread for God irreverent. Yet Pollack's awe is reserved for what is truly profound, and part of that profundity is in pushing the limits of what we have done before or think we know. She pushes those limits not out of irreverence, but reverence for the truly infinite. And for the tarot, in what it can offer us in terms of infinite wisdom
Which leads us to another point about this book. You may as well just purchase a copy of Pollack's Shining Tribe Tarot when you get this book. Pollack uses her deck to illustrate so many of her readings that you'll want to have it nearby in order to follow along. Frankly, the book made me dig my copy of the Shining Tribe Tarot from a basket of decks I don't use very often and had me playing with it anew. If you were once immune to the charms and qualities of this deck, you will find yourself drawn to its depth and humor and wisdom as you read The Forest of Souls. I'm not too sympathetic about the additional money you'll have to spend; my book budget has been taxed immeasurably by the slew of books I now have to buy based on some of the quotations and concepts by other authors that Pollack uses in this book.
If you have been fortunate enough to attend a workshop with Rachel Pollack, you know that her style is humorous and digressive. She is widely read and thinks and speaks in an unconventional, intellectually searching voice. This voice is manifest in The Forest of Souls, far more than in her previous tarot writings. I could actually hear her in my head, alluding to Professor Irwin Cory and tales of her dog's exploits. The tone of the book has an immediacy and vitality that makes it easy to read, which is an amazing feat, as the concepts and thoughts are both complex and challenging.
They are also unique. I cannot think of another book like this in the tarot oeuvre. It is also demanding, particularly in its structure. While Pollack offers us a panoply of different ways in which we can use the tarot, this is no traditional workbook. She describes what she has done, but she certainly doesn't set up a format that we can follow by rote. She doesn't make it easy. One example is her approach to alternative Major Arcana journeys. I am excited by doing one of my own, but I must admit I would have preferred some step-by-step instructions, even as I feel challenged in a positive way. Pollack's Forest of Souls isn't a stop on the Carnival Tour. This isn't the Easily Digestible Approach to Tarot, but one of visionaries, dreamers, and explorers. Only mature tarot readers need apply.
On page 155, she writes, "Kabbalistic systems and ideas apply so well to Tarot, the two indeed seem made for each other." My favorite parts of the book are where Rachel works with the Tarot in terms of "Jewish Kabbalah" (I hate that term: it's like "Jewish Matzoh"). While there are many books that utilize the "Christian Qabala, few tarot books go to the source. It is my fervent wish that Pollack's next tarot book be devoted to that subject, since she finds it so rich and works with it in such an exciting, new way.
In high school, I read Elie Wiesel's The Gates of the Forest, a moving novel about the holocaust and Kabbalah. I remember being so engrossed in this book that I was shocked to feel something wet on my shoulder. It was a tear that had fallen without me even being aware that I was crying, so enmeshed was I in that compelling story. The title of that book, so similar to Rachel's, brought that memory back to me. The synchronicity of the subject matter seems to align with the magic of the Tarot, another inviting and complex forest for which we are blessed to have a guide like Rachel Pollack.
The Forest of Souls: A Walk Through the Tarot by Rachel Pollack
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
If you would like to purchase this book, click here.
Image and quotations cited © 2002 Llewellyn Worldwide
Page and review © 2002 Diane Wilkes