It is no surprise that a collaboration between Rachel Pollack and Robert Place creates a powerful deck for divination and they are working together again to create the Raziel Tarot. This spring, I had the good fortune of exploring the deck and doing a wisdom reading with Rachel using the Raziel. It follows as an example of what the Raziel wants to teach us.
A note: Wisdom Readings are one of Rachel’s many innovations with the Tarot in which we use the cards to ask not just personal questions, but also to explore collective, philosophical, and spiritual questions. We pulled cards from the Raziel as a response to what is fate, destiny, and fortune. We also pulled support cards for each area. Rachel calls them Teacher cards. I tend to think of them as the deeper foundation that influences the meaning of the primary card.
A Wisdom Reading for Fate, Destiny, and Fortune
Our fate is Death.
Our Destiny is to stand before something greater than ourselves.
And our Fortune is not ours at all, but the interaction, collision, and alignment of forces and events beyond our control.
Our Fate is Death
We don’t have a choice about Death’s place in our life, but we do have a choice in the relationship that we make with Death. So much of the language of Death is filled with the metaphor of battle, but when we make Death our enemy we will fail. We will never conquer Death.
Making Death our enemy closes us off from what we might learn from its dark transitions. Each card in this reading had a deeper teacher card below. The Empress in the form of Miriam of the Waters flowed below Death as our Fate.
Miriam is Moses’ sister who saves him from Death by hiding him at the water’s edge when the Pharaoh orders all infant boys of the enslaved Hebrews be killed. When the grown Moses succeeds in leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, she raises her timbrel to lead a victory song that may be some of the oldest text in the Bible: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” Miriam’s waters are not always gentle; sometimes they bring Death. Miriam herself dies as the Hebrews wander in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, but from the place where she is buried a spring of life-sustaining water opens.
Life and Death are intertwined in Miriam’s story. She saves the infant Moses from Death but celebrates the deaths of the Egyptian forces that would have re-enslaved her people. When her death comes it gives rise to water in the dessert. She flows with cycles of Life-Death-Life, and her example invites us to recognize how these forces are linked together. Death can feed Life. Life serves Death.
Unlike his sister, Moses’ burial place is a mystery in to the Bible. The rabbinical literature fills this gap with the story that inspired the Raziel’s image of Death. Here as he approaches his death, Moses stands in the embrace of the Shekhinah, the Divine Feminine. He faces the unknown and takes a step forward held and supported by the Shekninah’s wings. In one version of the story, Moses is kissed by the Shekinah and his body lifts away. There was no burial; Moses ascended on the wings of the Divine as a reward for his faithful service to God and his people.
Moses’ face is serious. He is looking into the unknown with a certain watchfulness. He may not know what to do next, but he is paying attention so he can meet what is coming. While we are unwise to make Death our enemy, we don’t know Death well enough to make It our friend. We know our friends so can be familiar with them. We won’t know Death until we cross Its threshold. Moses’ attitude in this image shows a way to make that crossing: by paying attention to the unknown coming so that It can be given a proper greeting.
Our Destiny is to stand before something greater than ourselves.
In this card to of Destiny, Aaron as the first High Priest is shown with the Ark of the Covenant, which was created from instructions given by God to hold the 10 Commandments, the Divine law. The Ark becomes a physical representation of God’s presence and the High Priests play a special role in to tending this treasure.
The Hebrews gave God a name that could not be spoken to recognize God’s greatness beyond measure. Other traditions have given the Divine evocative names: Ra, Shining Ones, Qian Yin, Aphrodite, Green Man, Jesus, Spider Woman. Each culture reaches toward its own naming of what is unnamable. And as we humans strive to find that name to call out to, we also connect with practices, places, or objects that help us meet and stand in relationship with something of the Greater Than in our individual lives. Not everyone believes in a Deity, but the forces of that natural world are awesome, too, and in the end we all stand before Death. Like Aaron before the Ark, our Destiny is to stand before something greater than ourselves.
When we talk about Destiny, we are often referencing a specific role that we believe we are called to play. Aaron in the image stands solidly in his role as High Priest. When stepping into a role we have sought, we may feel our destiny is achieved. But what about what about those areas in which we do not realize our visions? What about the inevitable failures that come along with any life?
The deeper teacher for Destiny is The Sun. Here youthful innocents arise from a broken jar, which represents the inherent brokenness of the world. But each child – each one of us – brings a unique light into the world and can play a part in its repair. This repair is known as tikkun olam, which in its earliest meaning called for religious practices (repair of the soul) and now is equated popularly with contributing to social justice (repair of the physical world and its institutions). In neither meaning is a specific role required to participate in tikkun olam. In fact, the nakedness of the Raziel’s children is a symbol of their freedom from roles that so often comes with prescriptions on what to wear and how to appear.
As we move through our lives standing before the Greater Than, we will step into certain roles that can be a container for the expression of the important work we are called to do, our destiny. But The Sun as the deeper teacher reminds us that even when those roles fall away, we still have that light of being to be offered to the world as a contribution toward its repair.
And our Fortune is not ours at all.
With chaos as a central feature of Fortune, this card is a wake up call for our ego-protecting selves with the reminder: we are not in control. The writer Annie Dillard says it this way: “We are most deeply asleep at the switch when we fancy we control any of the switches at all.” When we fall into such a sleep Fortune wakes us.
The Raziel Tarot shows us the wakeup calls that came to the Israelites when their temple was destroyed not just once but twice (586 BCE and 70 CE) . And each destruction was connected to a period of exile for the Israelites. The human and physical destruction was enormous. Descriptors such as chaos and tragedy are not exaggerations for these historical events.
A people do not emerge from such an experience unchanged. In religious life, the rabbis, who were the teachers, became the spiritual leaders replacing the High Priests after the second destruction. This shift led to an emphasis on study of the Torah and Jewish law rather than Temple practices and political governance. Midrash, which are stories told by rabbis to fill in the gaps of the Torah, became a lively practice and gifted the world with a rich wisdom tradition.
The pain of the destruction Fortune brings is often enormous, at times seems unbearable. But once the structures destroyed by Fortune have fallen, we are invited to work with what has changed, to find the new gestating in what remains.
The deeper teacher of Fortune is the Hanged Man. Here the fallen angel Sheimhazai continues an ongoing process of descent. First, Sheimhazai surrendered being an angel to become a man, then he surrendered his place on earth as an act of repentance to save humanity from the great flood. But the flood came any way. He is falling still, but if you look at the image, you will see that, at last, the ropes that tie him are loosening. He is surrendering to the falling and failing, and it seems as if this is what will set him free.
The Hanged Man invites us to surrender to the losses of Fortune, and when we do, we shift our perspective to see what new light that can liberated from destruction. In the image, the menorah remains in front of the Temple. Although the nine-branched menorah is better known because of its modern use at Chanukah, the original menorah was seven-branched. Seven is number of alchemical transformation that turns the base and most difficult realities of destruction into powerful new creations that liberate us from what limits us.
Thanks to Bob for letting me use these glorious images in this post and to Rachel for all her wisdom offered in her words and works and laughter. Even before I met her, she was my Tarot teacher through her books and since then I have been able to study with her in-person. Let me tell you, it is a treat. I’ve absorbed a lot from her, and all the wisdom that flows through the word above have some source in what I’ve learned from her … though she might deny it as she rather likes to be the anti-guru.