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06 December 2011

Rachel Pollack (1945 - 2023) novelist, poet, Tarot grand master.

Pollack was raised Jewish in Brooklyn, New York. He did a BA in English at New York University and a masters at Claremont Graduate School in California.

In 1971 Pollack declared herself as a transsexual, and as a lesbian (an almost unknown position at that time). Rachel, and her wife Edith, moved to London and Rachel became the contact person for the Gay Liberation Front TV/TS group, which is how she met Roz Kaveney, and together they formed a transvestite presence at the GLF meetings. Rachel and Edith were misunderstood in different ways by both GLF and the political lesbians, but raised issues by their very presence. In line with the magical reality of her fiction, Rachel challenged the biological definition of women. Edith was active in the Women’s Liberation Front.

Rachel moved on to Amsterdam, where she started on hormones and then had surgery from Philip Lamaker in 1976. This was done without counselling in that she obviously knew what she was doing.

She returned to the US and has successfully pursued a career as a writer. Her Unquenchable Fire won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best novel of the year 1989.

In 1990 at age 45 she had a bat mitzvah, 30 years after her bar mitzvah.

In 1992 she wrote “Abandonment to the Body’s Desire” in Rites of Passage:
"the trance-sexual woman sacrifices her social identity as a male, her personal history, and finally the very shape of her body to a knowledge, a desire, which overpowers all rational understanding and proof".
Her emphasis has been and remains that transsexuality is a passion, and certainly not a sickness. In 1993 Rachel spoke on trans issues to the Council of Europe, and also at the International Conference of the Harry Benjamin Association.

From 1993-5 she revived the Doom Patrol comic book and introduced, Coagula, a trans character.

She was a contributor to TransSisters: The Journal of Transsexual Feminism. In a 1997 paper for the Transsexual New Telegraph (as Rites of Passage had become), she wrote:
“What sense does it make to label some people as true transsexuals, and others as secondary, or confused, or imitation? Whom does such an attitude serve? I can think of no one but the gatekeepers, those who would seize the power of life and death by demanding that transsexuals satisfy an arbitrary standard. To accept such standards, to rank ourselves and others according to a hierarchy of true transsexuality, to try to recast our own histories to make sure they fit the approved model, can only tear us down, all of us, even the ones lucky enough to match that model.”
Rachel’s Godmother Night won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, 1997.

Anne Lawrence cites Rachel as a major influence and includes two essays on her site, and Catherine Platine quotes her “words of wisdom” from her “Archetypal Transsexuality”:
"Transsexuality comes to us with all the power of a divine force who will not be denied. If we recognize it and accept it as a true vision of the self from the deepest part of the psyche, if we carry the Goddess with us .....then we may find it opens us to a life of spirituality and joy. If we try to deny or belittle it, or explain it away, it can destroy us. Knowing ignorance is strength. Ignoring knowledge is sickness. If one is sick of sickness, then one is not sick.".
Her 2002 novel, A Secret Woman, has a police detective who is both trans and Jewish.

In 2003 she published The Body of the Goddess: Sacred Wisdom in Myth, Landscape and Culture.

She is an expert on the tarot, and has written many books on its interpretation. She wrote the text for the tarot decks of Salvador Dali and Hermann Haindl, has designed her own tarot deck, and worked with Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman on the Vertigo Tarot Deck.

She suffered for some years from  Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and died from it at age 77. 
  • Rachel Pollack. “Abandonment to the Body’s Desire”. Rites of Passage, 1992. Reprinted: Reprinted again in Noach Dzmura (ed). Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in the Jewish Community. North Atlantic Books, 2010.
  • Rachel Pollack. “Archetypal Transsexuality”. 1995.
  • Rachel Pollack. “Aphrodite: Transsexual Goddess of Passion”. Journal of Archetypal Psychology, Spring 1995.
  • Rachel Pollack. “What is to be done? A Commentary on the Recommended Guidelines” In Gianna E. Israel & Donald E. Tarver. Transgender Care: Recommended Guidelines, Practical Information, and Personal Accounts. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997: 229-35, 269.
  • Rachel Pollack. “The Varieties of Transsexual Experience”, 7 Transsexual News Telegraph 18, 20, 1997.
  • “Transgender Jews”. Lilith, Spring 2002.
  • Rachel Pollack. “The Transsexual Book of the Dead: Osiris and the Trance Man”. In Dean Kotula. The Phallus Palace: Female to Male Transsexuals. Los Angeles, Calif: Alyson Publications, 2002.
  • Cathryn Platine. “The Wisdom of Direct Knowledge”. 2003.
  • Rachel Pollack. The Body of the Goddess. London: Vega, 2003.
  • Mair Davies. “Rachel Pollack” in W11 in the 1970s, 2006.
  • Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong.  "Writer Rachel Pollack, who reimagined the practice of tarot, dies at 77".  NPR, April 19, 2023.  Online.

EN.Wikipedia    Tarotpedia


  1. Lily Alexandre5/5/23 14:14

    Rachel died last month at 77. She made so many wonderful contributions to this world. I only heard about her work this week, wish I had sooner!

    1. Are you the Lily Alexandre from youtube?


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