The Forest of Souls by Rachel Pollack


This is a book review of the Forest of Souls: A walk through the tarot, by Rachel Pollack. It comes highly recommend by the AT board…

Let me start out by saying that while it was an interesting read, it wasn’t really worth the money for me. It reads as an eclectic gathering of someone’s notes or thoughts, and the spreads that are used/discussed throughout the book were irrelevant or useless for my daily practice.

The beginning of the book is a section of quotes, and I found a few of these very nice (from pages XVI and XVII).

“The Common Language: bone, fabric, song, dream– Avigayil Landsman.”
“There are no rules except discovery. There is no tradition except invention– from Unquenchable Fire.”

I also really liked the closing of the preface: “I offer this book to all playful seekers, all those who would travel through the tunnel to the garden of delight.” (XXIV)

Chapter 1 is titled “Myths of Origin.” On page 2 she writes about Campbell and the myth of the garden of Eden, which is always a good thing. I truly enjoyed the section on the myth of the primitive human. This question really hit home for me: “Can we play with myth rather than believe in it?” (page 4)

Chapter 2 is gambling with the Moon. I underlined this phrase: “we suffocate in a box that limits us to one degree of who we can become” (page 19). I really like the idea on page 20 about using Tarot to find out what question to ask. The method seems unique, and would be useful for periods where you sense that you need guidance, but aren’t entirely sure where the
is needed.

Chapter 3 is titled “The Instrument of our Wisdom.” I really enjoyed this line: “Tarot is the tool that teaches us, but also the means to find our own wisdom and then to express it, to ourselves and to others” (page 27). I also was really interested by the Renaissance tradition of the Art of Memory described on page 29– it really reminded me of the movie inception as well as some of the books that use a technique similar to that as a form of psychic defense.

Chapter 4 is a reading on divination. I found this chapter useless.

Chapter 5 is “Some Jewish Thoughts on Tarot.” While interesting, I don’t really follow the Kabbalah, so yeah…

Chapter 6 is “The Tarot Before Creation,” was pretty much a dud as well… I did, however, star a passage on page 83 about the elements. It has some interesting examples of the elements.

Chapter 7 is titled “God’s Reading.” The use of a spiral shape for a reading is refreshingly different. I also liked the idea of the Tower card as the big bang of the Universe (page 114), as well as this: “Physics identifies four forces that hold everything together: the strong and weak forces within the atom, plus electromagnetism and gravity” (page 115).

Chapter 8 is an Easter reading that I found useless.

Chapter 9 is an even more random chapter about Kabbalah and dreams. I starred a passage on page 189 about the way the tarot is malleable and shape-shifts through all the decks. I also starred a passage on page 153 about the high priestess card, but mainly because I liked the flow of the prose she chose to describe the card and its secret.

Chapter 10: “Becoming a Reader.” While a decently interesting chapter, the only thing I found of significance was on page 163: “They [participants in a ritual] might walk a labyrinth laid out on the ground and in the center come to a veiled priestess with a fanned-out deck of cards who invites them to choose a card for what they need to release, and one for what they want to take with them.” I really liked this idea. I could totally see myself using this in a future group ritual with the focus being things one needs to release, and bringing the card to the center of the circle or what have you along with an offering to free you of that burden.

Chapter 11 is “Tarot, tarot, let down your hair” and relates the tarot to the rapunzel fairy tale. While certainly applicable for the cards chosen and a very unique view on these, it didn’t really have any gems in it.

Chapter 12 is titled “The woman with the camel” and relates a biblical tale to the high priestess card. Intriguing chapter with one thing in particular that I found useful– the method of taking a dream symbol (like a camel), and deriving its meaning from the first 3 things your mind associates with it.

Chapter 13 is about opening up the heart and is one of the only layouts I found may actually be useful. I also found certain lines really nice: “spiritual justice requires that we examine ourselves and our lives with absolute honesty and no looking away (page 207), as well as this: “The Tarot adapts itself so well to so many esoteric traditions because it describes the process needed to move to spiritual transformation” (page 213). As well as, “The initiate now follows a path so different from most of society that she or he will seem the wrong way around (in reference to the hanged man)” (page 215), and finally “We cannot discover our true selves until we have embraced this great trio, to love with all our hearts, to give ourselves to death, and to awaken to light” (page 231). I have the layout from this chapter bookmarked to try (hopefully soon-ish, I’ll update with results).

Chapter 14 is “A short leap to the place of the fool” and an interesting discourse on the positioning of the fool card (before, after, or between a few other cards).

And finally, Chapter 15 is titled “A final gamble.” It contains a sequence of cards that is a form of layout that could be really useful (is also on my to-try list– update with results/descriptions later <3)

Overall, not a bad read. Not entirely useful either though. I tried some of the readings in the beginning of the book and they were… pointless. The last 2 though look promising. There are certainly gems here to be taken, but this is definitely far from a handbook or guide for tarot.

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