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Review of The Nigel Jackson Tarot
This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on October 17, 2008
Summary: A unique crossover between older classical designs and the Rider-Waite-Smith pattern, giving it a feeling of antiquity but the familiarity of modern standards. The book itself, with it information on the history of the Tarot and the impact of the Pythagorean concepts of the deck is worth the price of admission. Great for Renaissance fairs and for people who like Nigel Jackson’s evocative watercolors that crossover between recreation of medieval styles and modern realism.
Name of deck: The Nigel Jackson Tarot
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications
Creator’s name: Nigel Jackson
Brief biography: Nigel Jackson, born in 1963, lives in Manchester, England and is a well-known artist and illustrator specializing in the symbolism of Western Esoteric Tradition: he is deeply immersed in the traditional Tarot of 15th century Italy, the magical teachings of medieval-renaissance astrological magicians such as Ficino, Agrippa and Bruno and in bringing to life the talismanic images inherited from ancient sources of arcane lore such as the Arabian grimoire The Picatrix. He has worked intensively in researching the magical system of the 28 Mansions of the Moon. Nigel has been involved for the last quarter of a century in pursuing the inner wisdom of the hermetic mysteries and in expressing the symbolic "language of the gods" through his visual art which he views as a living "alchemy of the imagination."
Name of accompanying mini-book: The Nigel Jackson Tarot
Number of pages of mini-book: 160
Author of mini-book: Nigel Jackson
Available in a boxed kit?: It comes in a "mini-kit, consisting of a boxed Tarot deck and a book in the same format as the deck combined in a slipcase.
Magical Uses: Meditation. Pathworking
Reading Uses: General, Past Lives, Romance
Ethnic Focus: French/Italian
Artistic Style: Recreation of Medieval/Renaissance styles
Original Medium: Watercolor
Theme: Medieval/Renaissance combined with Pythagorean Numerology
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: For the most part, but combined with earlier tradition
Does it have extra cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: Yes, it follows the earlier tradition. Thus:
The Magician becomes The Juggler
The High Priestess becomes The Popess
The Hierophant becomes The Pope
Strength becomes Fortitude
Also, it follows the older pattern where card 8 is Justice and card 11 is Fortitude (Strength).
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits?: Yes. Wands are Staves. Curiously, staves (the plural of staff) should be something like a walking stick or a rod used as a symbol of authority. Instead, the staves here are all illustrated as arrows. Another change is that the Pentacles are called Coins.
Why was deck created?: The deck reflects Jackson’s research into Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance occult symbolism combined with a new theory connecting the Tarot and Pythagorean numerology.
The Ultimate "Crossover" Tarot
The first thing you’ll notice about this deck is that it’s slightly larger than most Tarot decks (5-1/8" tall by 3-3/8" wide). If you have smaller hands, this may be a bit uncomfortable, but because of the art, it’s certainly worth the effort of using it.
In the beginning of the Tarot, there was little standardization. Finally, a standard Tarot developed, but this was changed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn to fit their needs. Waite and Smith, members of the Golden Dawn, based their deck (published by Rider) on the Golden Dawn designs with some references to the earlier tradition. Now the RWS deck has become its own tradition due to popularity. What Jackson has done is create the ultimate crossover deck, combining the older traditions with the RWS pattern.
The older or classical tradition had only numerical pip cards. Jackson follows the RWS pattern by making all of the cards pictorial. That great for us, especially if you like Jackson’s art…and I do. The watercolors are clearly done by a skilled artists but in the style of Medieval/Renaissance art. An easy way to see this is on the first card, The Fool. He wears medieval garb. His face is oddly (to my 21st century mind) two-dimensional. The use of three dimensions was a later artistic development. The stick carrying the sack over his shoulder appears somewhat flat, although moving toward dimensionality. Now look down at The Fool’s feet. There you will find a realistic, fully three-dimensional, black-and-white cat (as opposed to the traditional dog). Definitely a crossover from the ancient to the new.
I have to say that I keep getting drawn back to the art. One of the things that happens with many Tarot decks is that each card is simply awash with images and there is no focus. But as you go through the Major Arcana you’ll see that the faces of the figures draw you to them. You see their feelings and emotions and read what is in their hearts. It’s a powerful and useful technique.
The order of the Major Arcana cards, have the earlier French-Milanese-Marseilles numerical order, reversing Justice and Fortitude as found in the RWS. The court cards and pip cards seem to be based on somewhat later decks, which were reflected in the RWS.
While the cards are familiar enough to be used by anyone who uses an RWS deck, the book includes some unique and exciting concepts, specifically the relationship between the Tarot and Pythagorean concepts that I’ve not seen explained before. Befitting this, rather than yet another explanation of the Celtic Cross spread, the book, beside including theory and history of the Tarot, features the four-card Key of Hermes spread, ten-card Pythagorean method (based around the diagram known as the Tetraktys), spreads using 11 and 12 cards, plus a very unique spread in an "X" pattern called the Eastern Cross layout. It has a surprising method of dividing the deck into smaller packs in order to find the cards for the layout. Although you spread out a dozen cards face down, you only turn up and interpret four of the cards.
Due to the size of the book included in this set, there is even more information included. For example, it also share the meanings indicated when certain combinations of cards appear in a reading. I have been using this type of information from the Golden Dawn system and it really adds a lot to a reading. The book also includes meditation and pathworking techniques.
As always, the bottom line working with any deck is how well it works for you. In all honesty, I didn’t find the pathworking very effective. That may be due to my experience with pathworking and that this style is not what I’m used to.
However, when it comes to readings, I have had a great deal of success. I have found it very evocative. If you are giving readings at a Renaissance fair, and they are not too focused on exact reproductions (and as they bring in more and more money it seems like those fairs are less and less formal), this deck can be of great value. The art appears "olde" but the similarity with the RWS deck makes it easy to use.
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