In Memoriam, Rachel Pollack  JIA (8/17/45 – 4/7/23) by Janet Maika’i Rudolph

How do you speak about someone who not only rocked your own world, but those of countless others? Whose fertile imagination and generous nature inspired and transformed so many lives? My friend, teacher, and mentor Rachel Pollack died in April. It’s hard to wrap my head around what a huge loss this is, not only for me, but for the world. She had an encyclopedic knowledge at her fingertips of mythology, tarot, historical trends, cultural trends, ancient civilizations. She was a storyteller at heart, using personal stories, universal stories to teach. She encouraged and guided each of us to discover and tell our own stories. Her stories won both the Arthur C. Clarke and the World Fantasy Awards. I call her the Grandmother of the Tarot because her work in that area has been so ground-breaking, far-reaching and depthful.

I write JIA, instead of RIP, special for Rachel. JIA means Journey In Adventure.  Rachel was adventurous to her core.  Rather than resting in peace I see her continuing her immensely adventurous journey just now on the other side of the veil. I see it as a continuing wondrous, magical ride that she has earned.

She wrote over 40 books in her lifetime, along with countless articles and short stories.  Rachel was so far ahead of her time that our culture still hasn’t caught up to her. She, herself, was trans in an era where it wasn’t commonly discussed. She created the first trans superhero for DC comics. You can read more about that here

She reminded us constantly that magic exists in the world and that we can and do tap into it. She had a childlike joy at the most mundane things.  I was so honored when she agreed to write the foreword to my Moses book.  While researching the book, she introduced me to her friend, Rabbi Jonathan Kligler.  As we sat outside his office waiting to meet with him, some people were walking down the hallway and discussing artwork to be mounted. One of the women said, “we’ve found a new way to do the hangings.” Rachel’s eyes lit up, her body vibrated with excitement. I fully expected her to write a story about hangings and new ways to do them. Had she lived longer, I imagine she would have.

Also in above noted article, author Hunter Felt wrote about a quote from Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, American Gods). Gaiman told about an experience with Rachel in his introduction to The Vertigo Tarot. Gaiman described a surreal experience when he accompanied Rachel Pollack on a visit to an esoteric shop in Camden to pick up a Tarot deck. Gaiman said, “[I was] feeling like I’d just gone into a record show with someone who, to my surprise, turned out to be one of the Beatles, as Rachel modestly admitted her identity to the lady behind the counter, and signed autographs.”

I so love this description because, to me, it encapsulates Rachel.  A towering presence who was approachable, personable, and caring. 

Rachel designed her own deck which I can’t recommend heartily enough.  It is called the Shining Tribe.  Instead of the usual suits of pentacles, wands, cups and swords, hers are stones, trees, rivers and birds. It is dripping with nature-based wisdom and mythological references.

Rachel developed and pioneered varying methods to do Tarot readings. At her workshops, she often did “wisdom readings.” In these readings she would ask questions such as “what is my soul?” “what does it demand of me?”  She writes about this process and some of the answers she received in her book Forest of Souls which has now just been re-issued under the name A Walk through the Forest of Souls.  She writes, “Our purpose here is to use the Tarot images as openings to spiritual wonder. (pg xxii). Achieved! She tells stories from her readings which entertain and illuminate.  The name of the book comes from a reading she did with the question What is the Tarot? Using her own Shining Tribe deck, she received the 6 of trees.  She writes, “we can see the Tarot as a guide through unknown and fearful territory.” (ps 48-50)

Rachel helped me in healing so profoundly, I still don’t understand all the elements of it. I went to her for Tarot readings when things got tough or at the final time when my life grew mysterious. At the beginning of 2021, strange things began happening in my life. People from my long past were showing up in the oddest ways.  As she did for others, she created a reading where we identified key moments of my life and then picked cards to give us more information. As some of you know, part of my journey has involved healing from rape. The card we picked for that experience was the star card.

This card is the image of Persephone It was Rachel who first pointed out to me the parallel themes between my life and Persephone’s. I had always loved the story of Persephone and her connection to the Eleusinian mysteries, and the Greek mystery schools.  Before this, however, I never consciously connected my experiences to those. Persephone is kidnapped (read raped) by Hades and taken to the Underworld. Her uncle, Hades had colluded with Zeus, Persephone’s father to take her. I was attacked in the building of my own father’s office and taken to a basement. Perhaps not the same collusion of Zeus but a synchronicity nevertheless. And a dark basement can be equated to the Underworld. When Persephone rises from the land of the dead, she becomes a guide, through those bleak lands which can metaphorically be seen as times in our lives when darkness overwhelms us. Persephone became a beacon for me to heal as She has for so many others. I believe that is why these myths have withstood the tests of time. They speak so deeply and honestly about the human condition. And it was Rachel who pointed me in this direction.  The template for my autobiography, Desperately Seeking Persephone, is inspired by this reading.  My book will be released tomorrow (5/19/23). 

When I wrote to Rachel’s wife (and fellow Tarorist) Zoe Matoff for permission to use the Shining Tribe images, she wrote back:  “I hope you can get across that Rachel wrote over so many genres and wanted to be remembered for her writing. But, of course, we remember her scope of knowledge, her wit, her laugh, her generosity with her time and imagination, her creativity, and her great acceptance and love of the world and the creatures within it. To the end, her heart was healing others, caring for those around her even as she moved closer to that final threshold in silence and some amazing jubilation.”

Zoe, I hope  I have conveyed the heart of Rachel’s essence. 

Rachel completed the foreword for my Moses book by writing, “Perhaps Questions are the ultimate Homeland for all of us.” Well, Rachel, you have certainly left me with lots of questions.  And for that I am both grateful and blessed. 

Two of Rachel’s books have been re-issued recently:

Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom. First published in 1980, it was reissued in 2020 as a 40th anniversary edition. It was the first book I had read about Tarot, long before I met Rachel. I was deeply affected by it. I still use it constantly for reference. My copy is dog-eared and well-worn.

You can find it here on Amazon

A Walk Through the Forest of Souls. I have just started re-reading this book for the third time.  I am constantly finding new layers of interest and meaning. This is an outstanding book. It was just re-released on May 1st. You can find it here.

The Body of the Goddess. I can’t complete this honoring without including this book, one of my favorites among so many of Rachel’s books. The subtitle is: “Sacred Wisdom in Myth, Landscape and Culture.” Unfortunately this is out of print and so it is difficult to get. This is another one of her books that I refer to constantly.

JIA, dear Rachel, JIA

Author: Janet Rudolph

Janet Maika’i Rudolph. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE QUEST.” I have walked the spirit path for over 25 years traveling to sacred sites around the world including Israel to do an Ulpan (Hebrew language studies while working on a Kibbutz), Eleusis and Delphi in Greece, Avebury and Glastonbury in England, Brodgar in Scotland, Machu Picchu in Peru, Teotihuacan in Mexico, and Giza in Egypt. Within these travels, I have participated in numerous shamanic rites and rituals, attended a mystery school based on the ancient Greek model, and studied with shamans around the world. I am twice initiated. The first as a shaman practitioner of a pathway known as Divine Humanity. The second ordination in 2016 was as an Alaka’i (a Hawaiian spiritual guide with Aloha International). I have written four books: When Moses Was a Shaman (soon to be available in Spanish), When Eve Was a Goddess, (now available in Spanish, Cuando Eva era una Diosa), One Gods. and my autobiography, Desperately Seeking Persephone.

15 thoughts on “In Memoriam, Rachel Pollack  JIA (8/17/45 – 4/7/23) by Janet Maika’i Rudolph”

  1. Congratulations on your book!
    Wonder tribute…Tarot is a powerful tool but I was struck forcibly by the tree image – NO ROOTS attach the trees to the Great Below… like you and so many others my alignment with Persephone has been operating all my life – abuse constellates this mythological archetype – a pattern of energy and information that we continue to live through – it’s been helpful to me knowing that my story is more than personal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I agree Sara. The Tarot is a powerful tool. And I have found that these universal stories and have person meaning.

      As to the 6 of trees. I think you need to look over Rachel’s cards as a whole. She has many that honor the roots and the connections of the Great Below. Each of her cards highlights different elements.


  2. Thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences of Rachel. I have read her work, but never met her, but now I feel as if I know her a little better. What an amazing person she was, and such a boon to the world. I’m so sorry for your loss of her as a friend and I’ll be thinking of you during this sad time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a beautiful tribute to your mentor! So sorry for your loss. I didn’t know of her work until I read this – much to my dismay. I look forward to reading her work now and will feel happy thinking of her as she experiences her ongoing JIA.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m both so glad to know this about you and so sorry for your loss of your mentor. Thank you for such a beautiful tribute to her life and work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing your memories Janet. I’ve never read Rachel but I now feel inspired to do so alongside your own experience of Seeking Persephone. I am sorry for your loss but what you have written is a description of a great Soul. What a joy it must have been to know her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Iona. It hasn’t only been a joy, it’s been an inspiration. I am so delighted you are also inspired to read her works. They are well worth it. And thank you for support of my own work. That means so much.


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