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78 Degrees of Wisdom

78 Degrees of Wisdom is a card by card study of the history, myths, psychology, symbols and deeper meaning of the tarot. Serious yet interesting, this book by Rachel Pollack should be an essential part of every tarot library.

By Rachel Pollack

Book - Published by Thorsons


Where to Buy · Amazon.com · Amazon.co.uk · Amazon.ca

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

Seventy-Eight Degrees Of Wisdom was one of those "from me, to me" presents this year. It has been a year of following through on many things Tarot that I have been wanting to do, and I have not been disappointed in any of them! The 1997 edition of Seventy-Eight Degrees Of Wisdom is the revised edition, with a new preface by Rachel Pollack.

The title is not remiss - this "is" a book of wisdom - the wisdom in the seventy-eight cards that comprise the Tarot as we know it. It has the potential to reach all levels of Tarot students - from beginner to advanced and beyond. What is beyond advanced? The ability to use the Tarot as a base for free thinking, for taking the basics of Tarot and expanding our own worlds - mundane and spiritual, spiritual and mundane.

It is a book written with humbleness and grace, one that honors all and talks down to none. What you take from this book is whatever resonates at the time that you read it - and this is one of those books that you will read more than once. It is part of the cycle of learning - read something, ponder it, place it in your life, learn from your experiences, then go back and read it again. There is no magic ink - nobody rewrote the book. The words are the same - our understanding of them goes to deeper levels as we work with them.

Rachel teaches by example - her book is filled with the wisdom of the oral tradition - the telling of stories that show the point. As we walk with her on her journey, we feel included in her life, and in the lives of those that she has touched. She honors the occult tradition of the Tarot, but brings it a humanistic touch (as she so graciously credits others in the field such as Mary Greer, Angeles Arrien, James Wanless and Gail Fairchild). 1

Throughout the book we find references to Kabbalah, as well as Carl Jung; to A. E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith - with the emphasis on the journey, and on the pictures that are presented within these seventy-eight cards. Rachel begins our journey with an exercise - as this is a book to be worked with, not to be read and set aside, not something to grace a table at just the right angle. From our decks we pull four cards: the Fool, the Magician, the High Priestess and the World. Here we will look at the concepts of unity and duality, and begin to get a feel for the flow of the Tarot.

The Major Arcana are described in three sets of seven cards, with the Fool set above them all. The three rows embody our journey through: (a) consciousness, the outer concerns of life and society; (b) subconsciousness, the inward search to find out who we really are; and (c) superconscious, the development of a spiritual awareness and a release of archetypal energy.

Rachel further defines these energies as:

- consciousness: concentrating on love, social authority and education
- subconsciousness: deals with withdrawal into self-awareness, followed by a symbolic death and rebirth
- superconsciousness: confronting the great forces of life and finding unity with them 2

Each card is presented in depth, so that it becomes "personalized" - it takes on an identity that we can understand. There are black and white graphics presented for each card - on the left hand side, the card from the Rider-Waite deck, on the right hand side a card from another deck - often one of the older decks, that lends to comparison and discussion, and shows the journey of the cards themselves, and how their identities have changed to reflect the times.

There is a very in depth presentation of the four suits, relating them to the four elements and to the Kabbalah, and discussing the energy behind the court cards and the numbers. From the book: 3

* King - social responsibility, power, success
* Queen - deep appreciation of the suit, creativity
* Knight - action, responsibility to others
* Page - exploration, study
* 10 - completion, the need to go beyond
* 9 - compromises, struggle
* 8 - movement
* 7 - victory
* 6 - communication
* 5 - loss, conflict
* 4 - structure
* 3 - full expression of the element
* 2 - union
* Ace - basic quality, root

In the section on doing readings, Rachel has presented the traditional Celtic Cross spread, with a sample reading. It is the spread after that which fascinated me. It begins with a small cross of two cards and continues with seven more cards placed in a line below it. This is also presented with a sample reading - and is well worth studying!

As a tool of personal study/growth, as a tool for group work, as a tool for understanding Kabbalah and the Tarot, and as a book to be kept at hand for reference - I highly recommend Seventy-Eight Degrees Of Wisdom.

Footnotes: 1. ibid. page XI, 2. ibid. page 22, 3. ibid. page 158

© Bonnie Cehovet

Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.


Review by Isthmus Nekoi

Prior to reading 78 Degrees, everything I'd read by Pollack made references to Jewish mysticism, germantia, the tree of life. This woman, I thought, must know her Sephira inside out. So I must admit, my expectations were rather high. However, 78 Degrees is more of a beginner's book and does not delve deeply into the relation between tarot and qabalah or any other system for that matter.

For novices, this is a great introductory text to whet the appetite and to inspire a reader towards deeper research and I'm surprised that it is being marketed as an in depth or advanced study. As an academic and someone who has studied the same topics Pollack engages - depth psychology, mythology, world religions etcetera - I found the content lacking and far from in depth. Pollack frequently laces her commentary with sweeping generalizations or random facts about the human condition without contextualizing them nor addressing their deep complexity. She'll derive quick conclusions about Western cultural values like free will and individualism without bothering to really analyze them. While there isn't any need to have extensive footnotes for any of these statements, writing about them as if they can be satisfactorily explained so simplistically and apolitically is problematic for anyone approaching with a more academic mindset or desiring a more substantial, challenging text. To be fair, I believe 78 Degrees was one of the firsts of its kind in terms of trying to bridge the esoteric/divinatory gap in the tarot community, and as such, it is not surprising that it should feel so basic. However, the watering down of complex spiritual and psychological issues is something of a disappointment.

Despite this, the book does have many strengths. For all its oversimplicity, Pollack does not fall into the trap of writing in an airy-fairy touchy-feely manner that plagues many a psuedo psychological text about "new age" topics. She takes the reader through the esoteric symbols of each card in the Rider Waite deck, explains them clearly and grounds them with practical examples. This works best with the minor arcana, in which she is more focused in her writing and does not dabble so much in other systems like depth psychology. Pollack also makes many notable card comparisons, and is a keen observer of structures and relationships - something that is often lacking in many tarot books. Her sample readings are also great tutorials, especially for beginners. The last section of the text devoted to learning to read tarot spreads is probably the strongest part of the book and filled with insightful, personal observations.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this book. Although it may be established as a "Tarot Bible", I feel it is too shallow for serious study or more advanced students. In comparison to other works I've read by Pollack, I know she is capable of something far more profound, demanding and stimulating.

A former moderator of the Astrology forum at Aeclectic Tarot, Isthmus has studied tarot and other esoteric systems since 2000.


Review by Bonnie Cehovet

Review of the 2007 Revised Edition

This is a 2007 reprinting of author Rachel Pollack’s seminal work on the Tarot. This appears to be a reprint of the 1997 version by Element, a Harper Collins imprint. The Major and Minor Arcana have been compiled in one volume (originally they were in separate volumes), revised and updated, with a new (1997) preface.

Rachel brings with her the wisdom of years of scholarly, as well as hands on, research. In this book are presented the many layers that is Tarot: associations with the Kabbalah, astrology, psychology, numerology, and esoteric traditions. Rachel’s work focuses not only on the potential carried within the cards, but the potential carried within each individual reader/Seeker.

In her (new as of 1997) preface, Rachel speaks about her introduction to the Tarot, and the individuals that she saw taking the Tarot in new directions (such as Mary Greer, James Wanless, Angeles Arrien, Gail Fairfield). In her introduction, Rachel talks about the history of Tarot, as well as individual cards, and what their symbolism might imply. Amongst other things, one comment stood out: was it possible that Tarot artist Bonifacio Bembo was himself an initiate into a secret tradition? Above all, Rachel leaves us with things to think about!

Also discussed was the move from Marseille style cards (with plain pips), to what is now considered a traditional style of illustrating the pips, brought into vogue by A.E.Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith. For reference within the scope of the book, Rachel chose the Waite-Smith (alternately know as the Rider-Waite) Tarot because a predominance of today’s decks are based on these illustrated cards.

There is a significant chapter in this book entitled the Four Card Pattern. While acknowledging that all of the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana encompass a psychological process of individual growth, she states that we need only look at four cards … four basic archetypes … to get an understanding of the whole. These four cards are the Fool, the World, the Magician, and the High Priestess. Arranged in a diamond pattern, with the Fool on top, the World on the bottom, the Magician on the left hand side, and the High Priestess on the right hand side. The horizontal line then shows a duality of opposites, while the vertical line shows a sense of unity.

In presenting the Major Arcana, Rachel notes that two basic approaches can be taken … viewing the cards as separate entities, or viewing them as a sequence. The sequence that Rachel has chosen to work with follows the 3X7 theory … three rows of seven cards, with the Fool standing alone and above the rest of the pack. The three rows embody our journey through life. The first row is seen as consciousness … the outer concerns of society, with a focus on love, social authority, and education. The second row is seen as sub-consciousness, the inward search to find out who we really are … a withdrawal into self-awareness that is followed by a symbolic death and rebirth. The third row is seen as super-consciousness, the development of a spiritual awareness with an accompanying release of archetypal energy … confronting the great forces of life and finding unity with them.

Each card is presented in depth, with black and white scans for each card … the Rider-Waite deck on the left hand side, with the same card from another deck on the right hand side, often from one of the older deck, lending itself to comparison and discussion, as well as showing how the identity of the cards has changed to reflect the times.

There is an in-depth presentation of the suits, Pips (numbered cards) and Court Cards. From the book:

King – social responsibility, power, success
Queen – deep appreciation of the suit, creativity
Knight – action, responsibility to others
Page – exploration, study
10 – completion, the need to go beyond
9 – compromises, struggles
8 – movement
7 – victory
6 – communication
5 – loss, conflict
4 – structure
3 – full expression of the element
2 – union
Ace – basic quality, root

Rachel presents the traditional Celtic Cross spread, along with a sample reading. She also presents a spread of her own making, entitled the Work Cycle, beginning with two crossed cards, as in the Celtic Cross spread. This is continued with a line of seven cards placed beneath it. This is also presented with a sample reading, and is well worth studying. Rachel notes that there are three innovations with this second spread: (1) the outlook for this spread leans towards giving advice, rather than being descriptive of what is going on, (2) it is open-ended, in that more cards can be drawn at the end of the reading, and (3) the cards in this spread are read in combination.

This book is filled with the wisdom of the oral tradition – the sharing of stories that make a point. Rachel honors the occult tradition of the Tarot, while graciously adding a humanistic touch. As a tool of personal growth/study, as a tool for group work, as a tool for understanding the Kabbalah and the Tarot, as a tool for visualization and meditation, and as an excellent reference book, I highly recommend “Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom”.

© Bonnie Cehovet

Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.



Where to Buy · Amazon.com · Amazon.co.uk · Amazon.ca




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