Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The cover of the box that this deck, with its accompanying 143 page book, come in aptly tells the story of what is inside. The midnight blue background and white stars lend a feeling of softness, perhaps even "other worldliness" to the atmosphere, while the depiction of the Ace of Cups shows the depth of esoteric imagery involved. Nigel Jackson is an extraordinary artist, as well as historian (a la the late Brian WIlliams).
The Nigel Jackson Tarot reflects artwork done in the medieval/Renaissance mode through the use of black ink drawings that are colored in with soft, pastel watercolors. Greens, purples and blues predominate, with some of the sky's reflect a brighter orange/red coloring. The quality of the work in uniform throughout this deck, with esoteric symbolism blending into the illustrations, rather than calling undue attention to itself.
The 143 page, 3 1/2" by 5 1/2" book that accompanies the deck is somewhere between a standard LWB (Little White Book) and an expanded book. The book and deck, along with a black organdy bag, fit nicely into their storage box, which opens the long way (and is currently my favorite type of box for the deck/book kits). Jackson does a credible job of developing the history of Tarot from the 15th century on, hitting on the high points of Court de Gebelin's theories to pre-Christian Celtic origins and the woodcuts of the 18th and 19th centuries.
From here Jackson goes into the background of Tarot symbolism and origins. He makes these times sound so wonderful that it makes one yearn to be part of them! Jackson posits that Tarot as we recognize it today is based on the "so called" Venetian-Piedmontese Tarocchi, as well as influences from Gnosticism and Hermeticism.
In this vein, Jackson places great import on numerology as influencing the Major Arcana, vis a vie the Pythagorean theory. There is a more than adequate discussion along these lines, leading into a description/explanation of the ancient Pythagorean Tetraktys symbol that Jackson calls the "Key to the Tarot". For those interested in numerology, there is a section on the Pythagorean Dekad, representing the first ten cards of the Major Arcana. Cards XI through XX (Fool = 0/22) represent the doubling of the Dekad, the cosmic cycles of outgoing evolution and ingoing return represented by the Lemnescate sign of infinity. Part of this section includes the magical meanings of the Major Arcana. From the book:
0 - The Fool
The Fool is the unnumbered card of the Greater Trumps and can be equally well placed at the beginning or the end, as it represents Zero, the Divine Void, the radiant Emptiness at the heart of Reality. The Fool walking along a high precipice in the early morning brilliance with his cat at his heels, bearing a staff twined about with the vine and grapes of ecstasy and an air filled bladder on a stick can be interpreted as the youthful Dionysus-Zagreus with his panther and thyrsus-wand, as "Green George" the mediaeval Woodwoose or Wildman (representing unfallen, innocent humanity in ecclesiastical symbolism) and even as the mysterious "Green Wanderer" of Arab lore, Al Khidir, whose mythos seeped into Europe after the Crusades. He is the Pure Spirit in the "Age of Gold," the transcendent paradaisal Aeon of Saturnas, which is the abundance of Divine Mind, the boundless Pleroma of the Gnostics. As Pure Spirit, the Fool is poised prior to his "fall" into the realm of experience. The Fool symbolizes the invisible, limitless, divine "breath" (Pneuma), the "Human of Spirit" (Pneumatikos), and corresponds with the "Air of the Wise".
Jackson presents the sequence of the Major Arcana as the unfolding of the Gnostic myth of the journey of the Spirit from innocence through evolving states of consciousness (traditionally referred to as the Fool's Journey). The accompanying book presents a black and white scan for each card, along with upright and reversed meanings. From the book (and also acting as a comparison to the magical meaning above):
0 - The Fool
The inexplicable factor; the spiritual wanderer and seeker of experience; anarchic freedom from conventional standards; enthusiasm; intoxication and "divine madness"; numinous wisdom and genius which is a "law unto itself"; the incalculable, transcendent element that challenges "conventional wisdom" and eludes worldly strictures; childlike spontaneity; ecstasy.
(Reversed: Stupidity; folly; unwise behavior; lack of self-restraint; irresponsible excess.)
At the end of the book, Jackson presents five spreads: the five card Key of Hermes spread, the ten card Pythagorean Method (which I have seen presented elsewhere as the Tetrakytes Spread), the eleven card Method of the Seventh Card, the twelve card Royal Road spread, and the twelve card Eastern Cross spread. These are relatively in-depth spreads, which need to be done in a very exacting manner. The book can be set aside here, and these gorgeous cards used with any spread (but please do remember the elemental assignment - Swords = Fire, Staves=Air.
The cards themselves are rather large - 3 1/4" by 5 1/4", making shuffling difficult for smaller hands (but never impossible!). They are on high quality, glossy cardstock, that will hold up well with continued usage. The backs have a blue border with white stars, surrounding a blue and white "wave" pattern with a circle in the middle of it, containing a central Lemnescate. The faces contain 1/4" white borders surrounding the illustration. For the Major Arcana, the number and title are across the bottom of the card. For the Pips, the number and suit are across the bottom of the card, and for the court cards, the title and suit are across the bottom of the deck.
Jackson brings together, with a great deal of authority, symbolism from medieval cultures combined with a hefty dose of Pythagorean numerology. This is both a simple and a complex deck - it follows traditional lines, so can be used by any level of reader, yet the symbolism, which is there if one looks, adds incredible depth to the interpretation. Also in the back of the book are sections on card combinations and exercises dealing with magical meditation.
I was impressed with all of the cards in this deck - but I only get to talk about a few. One of the most interesting is the Popess (High Priestess). In the background, we see a well done combination of quarter and full moon. The Popess is seated, wearing a blue gown with a lavender cape. Behind here are green curtains (veils), with a red curtain (veil) showing behind her head. She is shown wearing a triple crown, and holding a book (of knowledge) in her lap, with a pheasant at her feet.
Death is an incredible cool card - a dancing skeleton, shown drumming a red drum, with a red sky as background. Oh, yes - he is in a cemetery, dancing beside an open grave, with his scythe and a crown at his feet.
The Ace of Swords is representative of all Aces - a hand coming out of the clouds, holding an upward turned sword with its Latin title swirling around it and a crown at its tip. (Notice the triangle also - I love the way the esoteric symbols are so much a part of the picture that you have to look for them!)
The Queen of Cups shown a female, seated, wearing a red dress with a white collar, a blue head covering, and holding an upright cup in her hand. Behind her we see a green screen, with three seashells adorning it. In the background of the picture we see green grass and waterfalls.
The Three of Staves is another interesting illustration because of its complexity. At a glance, we see a masted ship at sea, with three stave above it, wound around with a white banner. Look closely, and you will also see three fish swimming in the water, three white masts on the ship and three yellow banners streaming from them.
The Nigel Jackson Tarot is a deck that can be used by any level of student, for multiple purposes. For beginning students, I highly recommend using other sources to help define the cards, coming back to the book with an eye to more advanced studies.
© September 2004
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.