I recently discovered who Rachel Pollack was shortly before her death. I did not know it at the time, but Rachel Pollack was an influential person in both pagan spaces and the LBGTQIA+ community. Today, as part of my challenge entry for Weekly Witchy CHALLENGE- The Veil Between Worlds, I wanted to take the time to write about who Rachel was and how we can remember her as a common ancestor.
Born on August 17, 1945, in New York City, Rachel Pollack was a trans woman and vocal trans activist. She was also a comic book writer and the first to bring trans characters to DC Comics via Coagula, an out and proud transgender lesbian who joined The Doom Patrol after being rejected from The Justice League.
Pollack was also an avid tarot reader, writing several books and pieces for publications all over the world. One of her books, 78 Degrees of Wisdom, is one of the most recommended tarot books I have come across online. I have not read it myself, but it is one that has been on my to-be-read list for a very long time. Pollack even created her own tarot deck called Shining Woman Tarot (later called Shining Tribe Tarot) and consulted with Neil Gaiman on the tarot for his stories.
In July of 2022, Rachel revealed that she had been diagnosed with a form of lymphoma – after battling a different variation years before – and would be undergoing chemotherapy. However, in August 2022, Rachel went into the intensive care unit for her disease and did not appear to get better. By March 2023, Rachel went home on hospice in the care of her wife, Zoe, and passed on April 7th at the age of 77.
I first came across the idea of common ancestors in a book written by Fire Lyte (now Don Martin) called The Dabbler’s Guide to Witchcraft. In it, he discusses ancestor work from the perspective of a gay man with an estranged relationship with his family. Instead, he talks about how ancestors aren’t just blood relatives. I don’t think he used the phrase “ancestors in spirit”, but that’s the phrase I am using.
To me, an ancestor in spirit is someone that I have a connection to outside of blood. This may be through skills, education, land ties, or something else. For example, I have an ancestor in spirit with the people around the world that have passed that crochet or do any sort of fiber art. We are connected through our skill as fiber artists. When I need inspiration or assistance, I can call on my ancestors in spirit for help with the skill we all share.
That is how I view Rachel Pollack now. Though we are not connected by blood, nor by relationship or acquaintance, Rachel Pollack – and many of you – share a common skill. Any time you read tarot or pick up your cards, we share a connection with Rachel Pollack and all of her wisdom, should she choose to share it. Now, I am not advocating for calling on the spirit of Rachel Pollack for help right now, especially so close to her passing. This is just a thought for the future, and a way to maybe expand your thinking when it comes to the idea of ancestors.
While I can never do her writing justice, nor do I claim to know all about Rachel Pollack, I know that her wisdom will live on with those that have learned from her and whose lives she has touched.
Recently I was thinking about what epitaph I might want if I had a tombstone (sounds morbid, but it’s actually a kind of fun exercise—trust me). At first I thought of a line from a Gabon Pygmy song celebrating life and consciousness—All lives, all dances, and all is loud. Then I recalled a line I love from the book Awakening Osiris, Normandi Ellis’s poetic translation of “The Egyptian Book of the Dead”—Give me not words of consolation. Give me magic.
Then finally I came to something more simple and more personal—Story. It’s all story…