Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Rachel Pollack's Concept of Gate Cards

Gate Cards One

A Deeply Fascinating Concept, the Gate Cards

By Viv Dulac

Amongst Tarot aficionados, Rachel Pollack hardly requires introduction. She has written many books with us as her target audience, and her monumental Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, published for the first time in 1980, has become a significant milestone.

Much can be said about that book; but I am only going to touch upon one rather fascinating concept that she introduces in it... it's a concept that in my opinion has seen far too little attention; perhaps that's because it is scattered throughout many chapters. I am talking about the concept of Gate cards. It perplexes me that such an illuminating concept is not referred to in the table of contents. It is, thankfully, in the Index.

Pollack begins by asserting that "joining ourselves meditatively to particular cards in the four suits will bring experiences reaching beyond the cards’ specific meanings." "I call these cards Gates," continues Pollack, "because of the way in which they open a path from the ordinary world to the inner level of archetypal experiences. […] They all share certain characteristics: complex, often contradictory meanings, and a myth-like strangeness which no allegorical interpretation can completely penetrate."

Gate Cards Two

These are the nine minor arcana cards that Pollack identifies as Gate cards:

Three of Wands
Eight of Cups
Five of Cups
Eight of Swords
Six of Swords
Ten of Pentacles
Six of Pentacles
Five of Pentacles
Ace of Pentacles

Upon first reading the book, I took these cards out and arranged them side by side to meditate on them as she says - first in the order in which she talks about them, and later inverting that order. Either way, I felt there was a narrative there, like another Fool’s Journey (the passage through life that can be traced throughout the major arcana) hidden away inside the minors: the journey of the person in the Three of Wands until reaching his/her Ithaca, the Ace of Pentacles - or, conversely, the passage from the walled garden in the Ace of Pentacles to the solitary, Hermit-like figure in the Three of Wands.

Gate Cards Two

In either case, as a starting point we end up gazing into the distance. There's the sea, that according to Pollack evokes "a sense of the vastness and mystery of the universe," or the mountain range espied through the arbor of the Ace, which encourages us to go beyond the walled garden - to in essence traverse from "that wild vibrant universe existing in the very center of the ordinary," to the higher knowledge symbolized by those faraway mountains. In this sense, they are the same mountains being climbed by the also Hermit-like figure in the Eight of Cups.

It bears mentioning that Pollack’s concept of Gate cards is specifically tied to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and therefore to A.E. Waite’s vision. Such a caveat may be implied when she says: "By choosing certain cards to fulfill this function I do not mean to imply that no others will do so, but only that in my experience these cards in particular do act in this way" (italics mine).

However, it too stands to reason that every Tarot deck worth its salt should contain its share of such cards. One way or another, treating every single card laid before you as if it were a gate - open to infinite meanings - is probably the key to a deeper and fuller understanding of Tarot.


  1. I added myself to the scene of the Three of Wands thru visualization. After a few minutes an image flashed for a moment of a black sheet between two poles that had a face it spoke of the many fears I have and it was frightening for a few seconds. This happens to be true my early life was ruled by fear, there were constantly experiences that were fearful.

  2. Hi there, I stumbled upon this while reading 78 Degrees and trying to find a list of the Gates. I was wondering if there are only 9, because in the 9 of Pentacles she mentions "and an entry through the Gate of this card..." Might it just be a turn of phrase or a wayward capitalisation I wonder?

    1. I do not believe it's a typo.

      Throughout history 9 has been a mystical number. In ancient Egypt, 9 related to the Ennead. Today in demonolatry it relates to the 9 Gatekeepers. Trinities are considered powerful, and the number nine contains the potential to hold three. I do not yet know if the Gatekeepers consider themselves three trinities, but if they do it makes sense.

      Whether or not someone regards demonolatry, the Gatekeepers were once the only Gods, and they exist in every faith. In faiths where they are shown as demons, they are in fact tri-aspected. One aspect is light energy and one is dark (for balance); then there's a third, which is the optimized being that contains both. Whether or not someone regards any faith, everyone is their own god, and they contain these nine gateways to their most powerful self.

      3, 6, and 9 are the most powerful numbers in manifestation. For this reason, nine is significant in that it contains the other two most powerful digits.

    2. My point in offering that last bit of insight, is that there is good reason that there are 9 gates, rather than 8 or 10.


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