The Tarot of Perfection by Rachel Pollack

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Earlier this year, the fabulous Rachel Pollack released (via Magic Realist Press) The Tarot of Perfection: A Book of Tarot Tales.  I finally made time to read it over the long holiday weekend. I stayed up until 3:00 am to read it three times through, dreamt about it all night, and read it again in the morning.

The words that come to mind are: compelling, imaginative, and gothic (only in the case of two of the stories, “The Souls in the Trees” and “Simon Wisdom”). And, like all good literature, educational and enlightening while entertaining.

Rachel is known for the high quality of her writing, which is of course superb in this collection of short stories. Rachel is also known for her ability to take the known, the familiar, and tweak them ever so slightly to create something entirely original and surprising.

The theme throughout most of the stories is a deck known as the Tarot of Perfection (which, if Rachel creates, I will publish in a heartbeat).  The title story gives the history of the fictional deck’s creation by the character Joachim.  The deck’s next appearance in a story is in “The Souls in the Trees” – in a reading done by our very own Dr.  Apollo!

“Simon Wisdomis the longest story in the collection, and the spookiest. It features the Tarot of Perfection, magical squirrels who are enchanted siblings, popcorn, bullies, and one of the scariest villains in fiction.  He never commits an evil act directly on the page – rather, he emanates evil, and what we learn about him as we read is really more horrifying than reading a detailed description of an evil deed as it is committed. I’m not much for horror – I have nightmares all too easily – but this story was so well done that it spooked me thoroughly, but didn’t disturb my dreams.

A few stories don’t directly feature Tarot, but have magical elements which enliven the plot.  The tale of a pickpocket (“The Pickpocket’s Destiny”) had me laughing out loud. In a fantastic twist on the usual young-man-seeks-life-wisdom-from-elder, the hero of the story is advised by his guide to become a thief, then a burglar, then a bandit – not your typical career or spiritual development advice!   “The Girl Who Went to the Rich Neighborhood” is a magical tale of a poor young woman on a quest to seek aid for her family.  She receives it, but not from whom – or in the manner in which – she expected when she set out.  Remember: be kind to everyone you meet.

My favorite non-Tarot story, “Carolina in the Morning”, features Caroline, a brave young woman who takes on the Devil.  However, unlike a typical Dark Lord, this Devil buys souls on eBay and keeps them in a computer file – fiendishly clever!

The last story, “Master Matyas”, brings the book full circle, back to the Tarot of Perfection.  As Rachel recounts in her blog, she took the name from an inscription on one of the fountain pens she uses to write.  Matyas is a young country boy who escapes his dull life to become a wizard, and learns that there’s more to life than knowing everything.

I love this book of tales, and I wish I’d made the time to read it sooner!  If you haven’t read it, or if you haven’t read it in a while – pick it up and start reading!

2 Responses to “The Tarot of Perfection by Rachel Pollack”

  1. Wow! This book sounds amazing, I’m going to go get a copy and read it right now! Do you suppose the magic squirrels in the story are the secret source of the Happy Squirrel card that’s appeared in several recent decks? Or maybe it’s the other way around, that the author (what was her name again?) was inspired by the cards. there has to be a connection, right? I mean, Happy Squirrel Tarot card, Tarot stories with magical talking squirrels, it can’t just be a coincidence.
    What was her name again?

  2. I think it’s that the author has tapped deeply into the collective psyche and retrieved this wonderful avatar of squirrel-ness to embody society’s current hyperactive, seemingly random yet single-minded, pursuit of activity which may or may not be productive, but is entertaining for others to watch, and the arising of the Happy Squirrel Card and other Tarot-related squirrel appearances are a reflection of other writers’ instinctive understanding of this author’s keen insight and wisdom.