PM Press Blog

Rachel Pollack, Transgender Activist and Authority on Tarot, Dies at 77

Her science fiction writing won awards. Her tarot books won her a devoted following. And she created DC Comics’ first transgender superhero.

Photo by Rubi Rose

By George Gene Gustines
New York Times
April 13th, 2023

Rachel Pollack, a transgender activist and writer who was an expert on interpreting tarot and created the first transgender superheroine for DC Comics, died on April 7 at her home in Rhinebeck, N.Y. She was 77.

Her wife, Zoe Matoff, said the cause was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Ms. Pollack’s professional writing career began in 1971, when she sold her first short story, “Pandora’s Bust,” which was featured in New Worlds, a quarterly science-fiction anthology edited by the author Michael Moorcock. But she soon became better known for her writings on tarot cards, to which she had been introduced a year earlier. She was immediately drawn in.

“Each card seemed a frozen moment in a story,” Ms. Pollack wrote in a 2015 essay for the Tarosophy Tarot Association. “The cards originated as images, not doctrines or the set of meanings we attach to them. This allows them to pull together strands and possibilities, to create stories that are meaningful in people’s lives.”

She parlayed her passion for the cards, which are used to provide life guidance to believers, into “Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom,” a modern guide to the history and interpretation of tarot. Originally published in two parts, in 1980 and 1983, and later combined into one volume, it became a widely used resource and earned her recognition as a tarot authority.

Her “Salvador Dalí’s Tarot,” a guidebook to tarot paintings by Dalí that were commissioned for the James Bond film “Live and Let Die” (the deal fell through, but Dalí completed the work), was published in 1985 and brought her to the attention of Neil Gaiman. Mr. Gaiman, who would soon become a well-known fantasy author, was then a journalist and interviewed her for the British newspaper Today. In 1990, when Mr. Gaiman wanted to include a tarot reading in a comic book he was writing, he asked Ms. Pollack for help.

The two of them visited Mysteries, a New Age bookstore in London, in search of a deck to use. “What fascinated me,” Mr. Gaiman said in an interview, “was the point where they realized this was Rachel Pollack; I was in the shop with a rock star. I had not realized until that moment how important Rachel’s writing was.”

Five years later, Ms. Pollack, Mr. Gaiman and the artist Dave McKean joined forces to create “Vertigo Tarot,” a guidebook and a set of cards featuring many of DC Comics’ mystical characters.

The writer Susie Bright worked with Ms. Pollack to record the audio version of “Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom,” which was released in 2021. But the women had been aware of each other long before that. In the 1990s, they admired each other’s work: Ms. Bright was a contributor to the lesbian sex publication On Our Backs (and eventually as its editor in chief), and Ms. Pollack was a regular contributor to TransSisters: The Journal of Transsexual Feminism.