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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Everything Wrong with New Age Thought

Christ in Majesty source
The World card from tarot.
Note the influence of Christ in Majesty on this card.
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack's tarot guide.
This book epitomizes everything that's wrong with New Age thought. 
Taking a break from talking about cancer and trying to sell my book – hey, go buy my book, Save Send Delete!

I just read an astoundingly crappy book, and I want to post my review of it here because this book is not random in its crappiness. Rather, this book epitomizes all that is wrong in New Age thought – thought that has penetrated public schools, even Christian churches, and far too many of our minds.


Rachel Pollack's tarot book "Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom" epitomizes the errors of New Age thought.

Writing clearly is thinking clearly. Clarity is non-existent in Pollack's book. Her constant fudging of consensus reality is typical of New Age thought.

If one wanted to use tarot for divination, it would be necessary to assign clear meanings to each card. Pollack doesn't provide that. She provides rambling stream of consciousness. An example: her "explanation" of the Chariot card. Here's a paraphrase: "The Chariot could be about death, because, after all, in India people associate horses with death and funerals. And John F. Kennedy was assassinated while traveling in a limo! So maybe this card is really all about the soul's triumph over mortality! The Chariot might signify destruction because Shiva destroys the world while conducting a chariot. The Chariot could signify lingams, or yonis. But you know Freud relates horses to the libido. So maybe this card is all about sex! But forget Freud. What would Jung say? Maybe the Chariot is about the Jungian persona. Or maybe not. Maybe it's all about human speech. Only humans possess language – although we have taught chimps to communicate!" (pages 64-9).

Pollack's attempt to assign numeric values to cards is equally risible. If she doesn't like the number a card has, she divides the number, multiplies it, adds to it or subtracts from it, or places it in the context of an alternative numbering system, for example that used in ancient Sumer, thus coming up with a new number (page 120). "This card takes any number I assign to it" becomes "It's true because I say it's true. It's true because it feels true to me," Pollack's narcissistic measure of truth. An image of salamanders with their tails in their mouths means one thing on one card (164) and a completely different thing on another card (169).

At every turn, Pollack tosses out random, undeveloped references to material conventionally assumed to be "deep" and "profound": allusions to Greek and Hindu mythology, Kabbalah, Shakespeare, and televised science specials starring Carl Sagan (really). Here's the thing – Pollack exhibits no engaged understanding of any of the systems to which she alludes – it was Alexander Oparin, not Carl Sagan, who developed the theory Pollack credits to Sagan. Pollack repeats urban legends, for example the widely believed but false notion that full moons increase criminal activity (126). "Michelangelo's famous painting shows a spark leaping from God's finger to Adam's" (161). No, it does not.

Pollack's misrepresentations, in several cases, are not random. Rather, they are part of the received dogma of New Age thought. These are:

1.) Christianity is an oppressive, totalitarian, violent, misogynist, destructive system.

2.) Before the evil Christians showed up, people around the world enjoyed peaceful goddess worship (46)

3.) All over the world, once a year, priestesses representing the goddess would kill and dismember the male leader of the tribe (50, 84-5).

4.) All religions have at their core the same truth: people must transcend ego and join with the one.

None of the above postulates are true. In spite of their falsity, Many New Agers uphold them as dogma.

The Goddess belief was thoroughly debunked by Cynthia Eller in her book "The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future."

James Frazer's "Golden Bough," the source of the dying and rising God belief, has also been debunked.

Pollack has a problem with masculinity and "patriarchal society." She provides negative interpretations for tarot cards depicting male characters, even cards usually perceived as positive. The Emperor card represents the best in essential masculinity. Pollack reads it as a negative card referencing "force, aggression and war" an old, stiff, rigid, lifeless, barren scene, society and its laws, people who have never realized that their father is just a human being, people who surrender control of their lives to their lovers. Compare this to her reading of the Queen of Cups, depicting an emotional and spiritual woman. Most interpretations acknowledge that this woman has her failings; she can be overcome by her heart. Pollack, though, reads this feminine card as almost all positive, while reading the male Knight of Cups and King of Cups as almost all negative.

Again and again, Pollack insists that the pinnacle of the Tarot is to become a hermaphrodite. This is not true – tarot is a powerfully and traditionally gendered system depicting nurturing, maternal females and active, horse-riding and sword-wielding males. But Pollack herself identifies as a transsexual. The message: I am transsexual; therefore, everyone else should aspire to be a hermaphrodite.

Forget the church; rather, read comic books for your spiritual guidance (26). Pollack is a comic book author. Schizophrenics are misunderstood by rigid, Christian society. Schizophrenics are really shamans (34-5). The Christian church crushed women (36). Pollack has never heard of, or doesn't want you to know about, 2,000 years of Christian women from Mary Magdalene to Junia to Hildegard to Teresa to Dorothy Day.

Pollack's hostility to, falsification of, and envious, power-hungry  insistence on supplanting Christianity with the High Church of Rachel Pollack renders her incompetent to explain tarot to anyone. Tarot cards are rife with Christian symbols. One example on a card Pollack mentions frequently: the World. This card represents the pinnacle of success and satisfaction. It depicts a central figure surrounded by a victory wreath and four animals: an angel, a lion, an ox, and an eagle.

The World card is based on a very common Christian motif: Christ in Majesty. The four animals in the corners of the image symbolize Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the authors of the four Gospels. You would think that a book that purports to explain tarot would mention the very close relationship between the World card and the Christ in Majesty motif. It doesn't suit Pollack's purposes to do so, so she does not mention it. Like a Soviet-era photographer, she merely airbrushes out of her revisionist history anything that does not suit her purpose.

Pollack tells us that all religions have as their goal each person transcending himself through his own effort, and uniting with an impersonal New Age super-soul. Differences between religions can be fudged in order to create the new Rachel Pollack church. Hinduism justifies suffering with the concept of reincarnation. You do a bad thing in your past life; you are reincarnated as an untouchable, and you are treated badly. That's okay, because you did bad things in your past life, and you deserve to suffer. This is just like the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit, Pollack insists, bizarrely (86). Paul meeting Christ on the road to Damascus is just like Buddha achieving enlightenment (119). No, these events and concepts from three different belief systems are not equivalent, and attempting to hijack and misrepresent them for Pollack's new church insults these traditions and misleads naïve readers.

Pollack says that the tarot's Death card rides a white horse because white symbolizes purity (103). One of the most well-recognized lines from the New Testament states, "Behold a pale horse…his name that sat on him was Death." Pollack appears to be unaware of some of the most famous scriptural lines and artistic motifs, cultural material that is essential to understanding how tarot cards come to appear the way they do.

Tarot has undeniable value: artists create their own decks; users dialogue with their inner selves; decks provide cultural data for anthropologist and ethnographers. There are fun, thought-provoking books out there that reflect on tarot. One of the best is Joan Bunning's "Learning the Tarot."

1 comment:

  1. I think New Age thought is very Old Age thought indeed. If we can see past the smokescreen of evolution for a moment, we can think about what Genesis tells us about what happened in Eden.

    Satan said to Eve that she would not die if she ate of the forbidden fruit. And he also said: "For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad."

    Wasn't he saying to her: "Find the goddess within Eve"?

    He was telling that she didn't need to follow her Creator's standards of good and bad, but could be like God herself - a goddess - and set her own standards.

    She ate. She fatally damaged herself - and us, her unborn children. And she died. She returned to the dust from which she had been created.