Archives For Rachel Pollack

The Rider-Waite tarot deck, also known as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck to honor illustrator Pamela Colman Smith, is cited by many as the most popular tarot deck in the English-speaking world. Most of the popular tarot decks around today reference, or pay homage to, its designs and structure. The deck has been a perennial money maker for U.S. Games, who publish the Rider-Waite deck and several variations of it (Universal Waite, Radiant Rider-Waite, etc). Now, starting in 2013, all works by scholar and mystic Arthur Edward Waite are supposed to be entering the public domain, but it’s very likely the Rider-Waite tarot he co-created will remain on hazy copyright grounds for another decade.

Pamela Colman Smith & A.E. Waite

Pamela Colman Smith & A.E. Waite

For the UK, the European Union, Russia, and most of the world, copyright lasts the life of the creator plus 70 years. Which means that Waite’s oeuvre enters the public domain in most of the world starting on January 1st, 2013. Here in the United States, we do things differently, but any works published before 1923 are in the public domain, which in theory includes the Rider-Waite deck, originally published in 1909. Despite the deck technically being in the public domain in the United States, that hasn’t stopped U.S. Games from aggressively policing their rights to the deck here.

“According to correspondence from various parties, US Games is currently still, as of 2003, enforcing its copyright vigorously, charging licensing fees that can range from several hundred dollars a year and up to use the RWS Tarot deck, including similar or related images.

Starting in 2013 the primary question will rest on what rights, if any, deck illustrator Pamela Colman Smith had to the work. Were they work for hire, or is Smith to be considered a co-author, blocking the deck from entering the public domain? In the past U.S. Games itself has acknowledged that their copyright claims rest with Waite, and that it all ends in 2012.

“The Rider-Waite Tarot works (cards and books) have 70 years from date of death of the author. A. E. Waite commissioned the drawings from Pamela Colman-Smith and under the old UK Act the copyright owner is the person who commissions the drawings. Therefore, copyright will expire 70 years from A. E. Waite’s date of death. He died in 1942 so copyright will expire in 2012.” - U.S. Games

However, a 2008 interview that folklorist Stephen Winick conducted with U.S. Games founder Stuart Kaplan makes it very plain that the company has changed course and now believes their rights extend until 70 years after the 1951 death of Smith.

“The copyright protection on the Rider-Waite Tarot runs to 2021, which is seventy years after the date of death of the artist, [Pamela Colman Smith],” he said.  The only way to test this understanding would be in court, but Kaplan doesn’t recommend this approach:  “In the past several years, U.S. Games Systems has had to sue two large companies for copyright infringement,” he said. “In both instances we were successful, and received full reimbursement of substantial legal costs. U.S. Games Systems and its partners actively monitor and seek to protect all of its intellectual property rights.”  If you want to use the artwork from the Rider-Waite Tarot, the simplest approach is to contact U.S. Games Systems and discuss licensing possibilities.

This new position on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck’s copyright was on full display in 2009 when they sent a letter to Mystic Games about their “Popular 1910 Tarot” (In essence the original Rider-Waite deck).

1909 original (left) and 1971 revisions (right) of the Rider-Waite tarot.

1909 original (left) and 1971 revisions (right) of the Rider-Waite tarot.

“You are using the Rider-Waite illustrations without permission from US Games Systems who legally hold the copyright and trademark.  We ask you to cease and desist telling customers that the images are in the public domain.  Mystic Games does not have authorization to use the images on their site.  The images are only to be used with proper authorization so please contact me.  Pamela Colman Smith, the artist, died in 1951 and the deck does not go into public domain until 2021, 70 years after the artist’s death.” 

In talking with some contacts in the field of copyright law, the consensus seemed to be that, quote, “the public domain isn’t 100 percent legally sacrosanct and contracts are messy.” In short, the only way the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is entering the public domain before 2021 it through a long and expensive (and possibly international) lawsuit with U.S. Games. Kaplan intentionally uses fear-mongering in talking about the copyright by invoking successful lawsuits against “large companies.” What isn’t said is that those lawsuits didn’t happen after the works of A.E. Waite passed into the public domain. Still, what company is going to spend their resources in order to wrest U.S. Games’ prized possession away from them? I don’t see it happening.

I’m personally ambivalent on this matter. On one hand, I think Pamela Colman Smith should be credited as a co-creator of the Rider-Waite deck, it is her images that made Waite’s deck immortal, that helped revolutionize tarot itself. However, I also think that the public domain is vitally important to the growth of the arts, and the efforts by corporations and companies to keep works out of it, long after the creators have passed, hinders the natural ecosystem of ideas. If these illustrations were indeed work-for-hire, which they do seem to be from all accounts I could find, then the original tarot deck created by Waite and Smith should be free and available for all to use starting in 2013. Further enriching U.S. Games does not honor Smith in any appreciable way, and their control only stifles the art form.

So, while Waite’s works are passing into the public domain, I would be cautious about assuming the same concerning his most famous (co-)creation. I’ll be watching with great interest in the years ahead to see if any significant challenges to U.S. Game’s control emerge.

I’d like to thank Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack for their input and resources in the shaping of this story.

First off, welcome to Patheos everyone! I’m still getting used to the new digs, but so far the hitches seem to be relatively minor. One thing, the comments from Intense Debate are still in the process of being exported to Disqus, our new commenting system. The comments themselves are safe, but it may take a bit before they all appear. So please be patient as we get that worked out. Now then, let’s start off with a few quick notes shall we?

Peg Aloi Talks Medieval Horror: Over at TheoFantastique Pagan media/movie critic Peg Aloi has a podcast chat with  John Morehead about religious themes in the film Black Death.

TheoFantastique Podcast 2.2 for 2011 is now available. In this edition my special guest is Peg Aloi, a religion scholar and film critic and who maintains her own blog at The Witching Hour, who engages me about the film Black Death directed by Christopher Smith. In this interview and dialogue, Peg and I discuss the film cinematically, as well as its religious elements (bringing together our different religious traditions, an idea I first suggested at The Wild Hunt), and how this film may, in the words of Smith, function as a dark parable for our times. TheoFantastique Podcast 2.2 can be listened to by clicking this link, and downloaded here.”

Peg’s work is always worth checking out, whether she’s interviewing exorcists or doing scholarly reviews, so head over to TheoFantastique and listen in.

Rachel Pollack on Tarot: In advance of the upcoming Omega Institute Tarot Conference Mary K. Greer interviews famed Tarot expert Rachel Pollack (of Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom fame) about her career, and how she keep the subject of Tarot fresh after 40 years.

“I have never walled Tarot off into its own corner.  To me, Tarot is the world, so as I learn more about anything I think of how it can apply to Tarot.  For instance, just yesterday I read an intriguing idea about the story in Genesis that God took a rib from Adam and made Eve.  At first glance, this seems very sexist, and has been used  to describe women as inferior.  But the writer I was reading looked at the fact that chimpanzees have 13 ribs and humans have 12.  Thus the creation of woman was the evolutionary change from ape to human.  Women can be said to introduce human consciousness.  How does this affect Tarot?  Well, for one thing we find Adam and Eve in the Rider version of the Lovers, so now we can consider new and interesting points about that card.  But it also opens up the relationship between the male and female cards, such as the Magician and the High Priestess, or the Empress and the Emperor.”

The whole thing is certainly worth a read. I had the privilege of  interviewing both Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack last year, talking about psychic services and the law.

The Extremism of Michelle Bachmann: Michelle Goldberg at Newsweek/Daily Beast does a profile of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “unrivaled extremism.” Paying special attention to her history of opposition to gay marriage.

Lots of politicians talk about a sinister homosexual agenda. Bachmann, who has made opposition to gay rights a cornerstone of her career, seems genuinely to believe in one. Her conviction trumps even her once close relationship with her lesbian stepsister. “What an amazing imagination,” marvels Arnold. “Her ideology is so powerful that she can construct a reality just on a moment’s notice.”

Of course, she isn’t just extreme in her opposition to LGBTQ equality,  I’ve covered at some length her unfortunate views regarding the equal treatment and rights of minority religions as well, culminating in her support for pseudo-historian David Barton. Now that Bachmann seems to be holding pole position as the Christian conservative candidate to beat after her performance at the recent Republican presidential candidate debate in New Hampshire we’ll have to take seriously the possibility that she could be on the ticket in 2012.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

The issue of how local governments regulate psychic and divinatory services has been slowly bubbling up into the mainstream consciousness. These efforts have gone beyond the simple business licences that other industries routinely apply for to include background checks, letters of reference, fingerprinting, and other personal information. Some places, like Chesterfield County, Virginia, limit shops to the “red light” district of town (next to the adult bookstores, pawn shops, and scrap yards), and for some areas obtaining a licence, even if you clear the hurdles, is ultimately down to a judgement of your “good moral character”. When questioned on these ordinances local politicians and officials say it’s to prevent fraud and will point to a con-artist who managed to bilk thousands out of his or her trusting clients. But are those news-making scam-artists the norm? Is there a greater level of fraud within the divination industry than there is in other industries?

Recently, Time Magazine featured an article on a wave of new regulations across the country on businesses that provide divinatory and psychic services. The only psychic practitioner they could get to speak on the record half-favored stronger regulations, while the rest “refused to discuss their practices” on the record. I didn’t think this lack of voice from those who practice divination was adequate considering how many individuals within our interconnected communities are engaged in the practice. So I’ve started a new series called Psychic Services and the Law to get perspectives on regulation from prominent individuals whose voices should be heard as this issue is debated and litigated. In the first installment I talked with tarot expert Mary K. Greer, and this time I’m honored to present a short interview with Rachel Pollack.

Rachel Pollack is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the modern interpretation of the Tarot. She has published 12 books on the Tarot, including “78 Degrees of Wisdom”, considered a modern classic and the Bible of Tarot reading. She has been conferred the title of Tarot Grand Master by the Tarot Certification Board, an independent body located in Las Vegas, Nevada. In addition, she’s a celebrated author of fiction and poetry. Rachel also maintains a blog where she discusses issues related to tarot, writing, and inspiration.


Rachel Pollack

Do you feel that the practice of divination should be a government regulated industry complete with background checks, fingerprinting, letters of reference, and other measures?

No, I do not see any need for such regulation. If people are using the guise of divination to defraud or steal from people I would think current laws cover that. It’s not divination that is a problem it’s con artists. If con artists pretend to be doctors in order to trick people out of large sums of money, should we be fingerprinting doctors? Con artists who pretend to be diviners are just the same.

Do you think fraud by psychics is a serious problem, or do you feel it has been overblown by local politicians? Do you have any theories as to why the regulation of those who provide divination or psychic services is still such a popular topic?

Well, I was not aware it was a popular topic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a news article about it on any of the news web sites I frequent, just on Tarot sites. I really have no way to know how many fake psychic con men there are, compared to people who actually are psychic, or would like to think they are. The actions of con men are very different from psychics, including bad psychics. People who practice fraud are not psychics, they’re crooks.

Many local ordinances dealing with fortune telling have been overturned on the grounds of freedom of religion (in fact, in one case a local reader tried to circumvent the law by arguing she was a “spiritual counselor” rather than a psychic). However, a recent case in Maryland overturned an anti-fortune-telling ordinance on broader Free Speech grounds. Have we been taking the wrong tack in arguing from a religious standpoint? Can the business of tarot reading also be a religious practice?

I agree strongly that free speech is a better grounds than freedom of religion. While many Tarot readers and/or psychics see what they do as religious in some way, I’m sure others don’t.

As a member of several tarot guilds, do you think tarot readers should do more to regulate themselves (as several other industries do)? Is such a move even practical?

I don’t really see how guilds or other groups could regulate readers who don’t want to be regulated. That is, we could have a certification system, but that works only insofar as customers look for it and want readers to have that piece of paper. And what would prevent someone from passing the test, getting the piece of paper to display, and then ignoring all the guidelines they pretended to follow?

As someone who has written several important texts on the tarot, where do you see the practice of tarot reading heading? Do you think it will ever escape the cultural and religious baggage that has haunted it for so many generations?

To be honest, I find it very hard to say where readings might be heading. I do think that we need some sort of breakthrough presentation that would change the societal view of Tarot reading, as bizarre, hokey, and somewhat ridiculous. Tarot needs to come more into public view so that it gets seriously examined. This may happen through some book or movie or through videos…who knows?

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I’d like to thank Rachel Pollack for taking the time to speak on this issue, and hope you’ll stay tuned to further installments of the Psychic Services and the Law series. This is an issue that has become intertwined with many modern Pagan individuals and businesses and it behooves us to stay informed and engaged.

It’s In the Cards

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 27, 2008 — 1 Comment

Enterprise News has published a remarkably even-keeled article on tarot cards by Kathryn Rem. No doubt the quality of this piece was helped immensely by the fact that she interviews tarot author and expert Rachel Pollack (who has a blog, by the way).

“‘I loved the idea that there was a story involved with each card,’ said [Rachel] Pollack of Rhinebeck, N.Y., an authority on tarot and the author of 30 books, including “Tarot Wisdom” (Llewellyn, 2008) and “Tarot of Perfection” (Magic Realist Press, 2008). “The two biggest areas that people want to know about are love and work,” Pollack said. ‘Some readers focus on future events. But modern readers help people look inside. It’s a tool for self-awareness.’”


The Tower. Art by Pamela Colman Smith.

But if talking to a respected tarot scholar isn’t exactly what you had in mind for a Halloween-season story, Penn State’s student paper The Collegian gives you a more typical “interview with a tarot reader” piece.

“She pauses. “I thought everyone felt what I felt,” she said. “You feel something, they ask you, you tell them. You don’t see CinemaScope, Dolby Sound — it’s abstract. Some puzzle pieces don’t fit.” With her gift and her tools, she said, she can give people insight — perspective into themselves, into their future, into the people around them. She tells her customers to concentrate on three questions during tarot card readings, and by the end of the session, she does her best to answer them.”

Still a bit too mundane for you? Not enough salacious sensationalism? How about the arrest of a fraudulent teenage “tarot master”, who scammed the ex-president of Taiwan?

“The 16-year-old teenager surnamed Huang, who claimed telling fortune with tarot cards for Taiwan former president Chen Shui-bian, got arrested for forgery of documents last night in a motel in Taipei County … Huang caught media’s attention when he said he was the tarot master who had told fortune and pray for blessings for Chen Shui-bian in Huang’s office … Huang confessed that he tricked Chen in his blog article on the 23rd. He said he only learned tarot from reading books and that the three lamas in the blessing ritual were also fake.”

Now we’re talking! Sadly, since it happened in Taiwan, it will most likely get a pass from the Western media. Of course no U.S. president would risk such embarrassment (they like to stick to astrology).

So there you have it, three stories involving tarot cards, ranging from respectable to sensationalistic. A journalistic buffet catering to all tastes regarding “occult” subject matter. I personally hope for more like the Pollack article, but I fear that anyone peering into the future can expect more stereotypical fare as well.