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Writer Rachel Pollack, who reimagined the practice of tarot, dies at 77

Rachel Pollack authored more than 40 books across several genres, and helped transform tarot into a contemporary practice.
Rubi Rose Photography
Rachel Pollack authored more than 40 books across several genres, and helped transform tarot into a contemporary practice.

Science fiction and comic book writer Rachel Pollack, who died April 7 at age 77, transformed tarot – from a practice once dismissed as an esoteric parlor trick, into a means of connection that felt personal, political and rooted in community. "We were trying to break the tarot free from what it had been, and open up a whole new way of being," Pollack said in a 2019 interview with Masters of the Tarot.

Her 1980 book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom was named for the number of cards in a tarot deck. In it, Pollack explored archetypes that hadn't been updated much since their creation in the 1400s. Based on rigid gender and class stereotypes, traditional tarot left little space for reinterpretation. Pollack reimagined it through the lens of feminism, and saw it as a path to the divine. She wrote a book exploring Salvador Dali's tarot and even created a deck of her own called the Shining Tribe tarot.

Sales of tarot cards have doubled in recent years – artists and activists such as Cristy C. Road, theSlow Holler Collective and adrienne maree brown have embraced tarot as a means for building queer community as well as advancing movements.

Pollack also delighted in challenging norms of gender and sexuality in the world of comics. In 1993 she took over the DC Comics Doom Patrol series, where she created one of the first transgender superheroes. Her name was Coagula, and her superpower was alchemy: an ability to dissolve and coagulate substances at will. She tried to join the Justice League, but was rejected – presumably for being unabashedly, politically herself (the character's first appearance includes a pin with the slogan "Put A Transsexual Lesbian on the Supreme Court").

Pollack poked fun at the limited career options available to many trans folks in the 80s – Coagula's past professions were as a computer programmer and a sexworker. But she also deeply plumbed the psyche of the public obsession with sexuality and the gender binary. Coagula's first foil was a villain named Codpiece,who used a multipurpose robotic crotch gun to rob banks and otherwise demand respect. (Yes, really.)

"Since Codpiece's whole issue is being ashamed of himself and ashamed of his sexuality: I should have someone who's overcome shame,"said Pollack in 2019 of Coagula's origin story.

Over the years, Pollack authoredmore than 40 booksacross several genres. Her science fiction novels Godmother Night and Unquenchable Fire won World Fantasy and Arthur C. Clarke awards, respectively, and the book Temporary Agency was nominated for a Nebula. Her fiction dabbled in Kabbalah, goddess worship and revolution. The worlds she created were both gleefully bizarre and deeply spiritual – a refuge for weirdos, without shame.

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Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong