~by Rachel Pollack
When I first started pursuing my interest in tarot, I made sure to ask around for book recommendations. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom was probably the most often to be mentioned. Even though I almost immediately found a copy for myself, it wasn't until several years later that I finally got around to reading the book. It really is a shame that I took so long because it definitely would have been worth reading sooner; there's a reason it was so frequently recommended--it's a fantastic resource.
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom was originally published in two separate volumes. The first volume consisted of Part One (Major Arcana) while the second volume contained both Part Two and Part Three (Minor Arcana and Readings, respectively). The single volume edition, compiled and revised in 1997, also includes a new preface, a bibliography and an index. Pollack primarily uses the Rider-Waite deck imagery--among the most popular and prevalent in tarot decks--as the basis for the text and includes an abundance of black and white, photographic card reproductions. Unfortunately, although very useful to have, some illustrations end up strangely placed; the page layout and design sometimes leaves quite a bit to be desired. While not necessary, I would recommend having a tarot deck on hand to read along with in order to minimize page flipping and just to get a feel of working with the cards.
In Part One and Part Two, Pollack examines the symbolism and meanings behind each card. The major arcana receive the most in-depth treatment, and I found the section to be very enlightening and enjoyable to read. The minor arcana are subject to a more uneven treatment--some cards have extensive entries while others are fairly brief. Additionally, they aren't cross-referenced very well. If you want all the information about a particular card, make sure to check the entries for the others of the same value in other suits and take a glance at the index because otherwise you might miss something without even knowing it. One thing that Pollack emphasizes throughout the book is the relationships and common characteristics between the individual cards instead of simply focusing on each in a vacuum.
Pollack extensively covers three different spreads in Part Three: Readings. First is the Celtic Cross--probably one of the most commonly used and popular spreads. The second, Work Cycle, was actually created and designed by Pollack. I really liked the thoughts and explanations behind this spread and will definitely try it out at some point. Finally, Pollack presents a very complicated spread based on Kabbalah and the Tree of Life that uses the entire deck in a single reading. Detailed sample readings are provided for each of these spreads. In addition, Pollack explores the reasons, methods, and uses of tarot readings, including meditation.
It's wonderful to have both of the original volumes of Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom under one cover. Unfortunately, the formatting issues and prevalent typos really detract from the package as a whole. I don't know if these problems were also found in the original publications or if they somehow snuck in during the process of compilation, but it can be rather distracting. Looking past it's presentation, the content itself is marvelous. Pollack's writing is very accessible, but what I particularly appreciate is that intuitiveness is encouraged while still providing a strong basis to start with for those of us who are sorely lacking in that particular skill area. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom definitely has earned its place as the "tarot bible" for a variety of reasons. It was one of the first books of its kind in terms of comprehensiveness and the exploration of card and deck variants. Pollack seems to have created a tarot tradition and interpretation a little different from anything that came before. While much is drawn from personal experience, established schools also had a significant influence in its creation. Pollack's tradition is one that I like--it has a sense of truth and wisdom for me--and is commonly accepted. Newcomers to tarot will find Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom to be a good introduction while more experienced devotees will still find plenty to hold their interest. I know I found it to be very useful and will be keeping the book close by; I'm sure I'll be revisiting it frequently in the future.