The Nigel Jackson Tarot Deck                                                       Review by Michele Jackson

If you would like to purchase the mini-book/deck kit, click here.

If one were to go back and read my previous reviews of Llewellyn decks, one could get the impression that I had a low opinion of them. This impression would be fortified by reading some of the fan mail I have received from Llewellyn deck creators. I am therefore very happy to report that Llewellyn has published a deck/book set that I like. Hallelujah.

To begin with, the art is very good. The style is rather unique. Jackson used finely detailed lines to soften the look of his images. The colors are exquisite, with a wonderful mix of pastels and brighter hues. The scenes are detailed with beautiful background imagery. There are a few oddities, like the purple hair in Justice and the pink hair in the Five of Swords, but they seem somehow to fit. The cards are slightly larger than average at 3 3/8" X 5 1/8". The backs are reversible. The Major Arcana retain the traditional names with the exception of the Juggler (Magician), The Popess (High Priestess) and Fortitude (Strength). Justice is eight and Fortitude is 11. The suits are Swords, Cups, Staves and Coins which correspond to Fire, Water, Air and Earth, respectively. The corresponding elements are written on each Ace in Latin. The court consists of Page, Knight, Queen and King.

In the Minor Arcana, Jackson makes prominent use of the suit number symbols, but I would not call the Minors "pips," by any means. They are beautifully illustrated, and often bring to mind the work of Pamela Colman Smith. Examples include the Three, Six and Eight of Swords, Three of Cups, Five of Cups, Ten of Coins, and a few others. Some of the cards that do not draw directly from Pixie Smith's work use slightly different scenes to convey Waite-like meanings:  the nightmare in the Nine of Swords, the ennui of the Four of Cups, and the swiftness of the Eight of Staves. While some card scenes are quite original, overall, the Minor Arcana images put me in mind of the Rider Waite deck more often than not.

The Major Arcana are more of a mixed bag, combining imagery from early printed decks like the Marseilles, with more modern symbolism from the Golden Dawn and other sources, as well as the artist's personal vision for the deck. The artist's talents are such that he is able to mix these somewhat disparate elements into a cohesive whole which is both rich in symbolism and pleasing to the eye - no small feat. Some of my favorite Major Arcana cards are The Popess, The Chariot, Temperance, The Star, Judgement and the World. Please note that while these cards stand out in my mind, I found every card in this deck attractive, without exception. Some are more attractive than others, but I can honestly say that there is not a single card that I really dislike. This is a rare occurrence. 

The book that accompanies this deck is too robust at 143 pages and in its larger size to call a "little white book."   Chapter One starts off well enough with a brief history of the earliest tarot cards, but quickly veers off into statements like, "The Greater Arcana are, in essence founded upon ancient numerological teachings. This gives a clue as to the actual historical origin of the Tarot trumps for around 530 B.C.E."   In fact, as one continues to read, one is strongly reminded of The Underground Stream by Christine Payne-Towler. Both authors theorize that tarot preserves secret symbols, esoteric lore, and secret initiatory information from the ancient past and both tend to blur the lines between historical fact and surmises. In Jackson's defense, I note that he did not have as much space as Payne-Towler did to explain himself. Once we get past this section, we begin an all-too-brief discussion of Pythagoreanism, specifically what the author describes as "The Pythagorean Dekad: The Tetraktys and the "Gods of Number." Descriptions and correspondences are given for each number from one to ten. This is followed by a description of how this number scale corresponds to the I through X of the Major Arcana, with the XI through XX representing the "doubling of the Dekad." The Majors are described in pairs, for example:

I - The Juggler/ XI - Fortitude: Mind as sovereign over lower Nature; the source of Magical Mastery.

II- The Popess/XII - The Hanged Man: Holy Wisdom obtained by introversion and sacrifice.

I found these descriptions rather interesting and wish that the author had spent more time describing these ideas. The author then tells us that this system is combined with a secondary scheme of Esoteric Astrology and Elemental Dignities, though he does not provide specifics, preferring to regale us further with speculation on how the Arabian star occultists and sorcerers of Harran perhaps fed this information into the trumps arrangement within Hermetic circles in the 14th and 15th centuries. Frankly, I could have done without much of this chapter, which encompasses 68 of the 143 pages. Either the size of the book did not allow for the author to fully develop or document his ideas and theories, or he was poorly edited with basic explanations of his ideas  cut in favor of speculative theory. I left this section feeling that there was much more that I needed to know to understand and/or employ the author's system. I could tell he was excited about his ideas, and I wanted to get excited too.  Unfortunately, I couldn't, because I did not have enough documentation to feel comfortable with the the author's theories, nor did I have enough nuts and bolts information about his system. The final sections of this chapter provide additional descriptions for the Major Arcana that relate the cards to various myths, folklore and esoteric ideas. 

In Chapter Two, we are given divinatory meanings (upright and reversed), advice on what the author calls "Fortunetelling with the Tarot," and several spreads. The card meanings are similar to Waite's for the most part, though there are some differences, particularly in the reversed meanings. Descriptions of card combinations are provided - Four Aces..., Three Aces..., etc. Again,  these are often similar to the meanings provided by Waite, but not always. There are six spreads, including one based on the Pythagorean Tetraktys. Chapter Three discusses the use of tarot in magick and meditating with the Tarot. There is a Glossary and Bibliography. 

The book does contain some useful and interesting information. Some of the spreads are unusual, including one that only uses the Minor Arcana and another spread of 12 cards where you read only four, leaving the remaining eight face down and unread, "...as they are those secret processes of our fate that we are not meant to see at work." The meditation exercises are well described and include a basic meditation exercise for acquainting yourself with the cards, as well as exercises for deepening your understanding. Overall, I think the author would have been better served had he been allowed to produce a longer book. I don't doubt that he could have come up with several hundred pages of ideas and descriptions, and a larger, longer format would have allowed him room to fully explain his theories and better document his sources. Even if there were no book, the beauty of the artwork and the excellent use of symbolism make this deck eminently readable right out of the box for anyone who has read with the Waite deck, one of its clones, or any other Golden Dawn-based tarot deck. 

The deck comes in its own box and a sleeve is provided to hold the boxed deck and the book in the style of many Japanese deck sets, only smaller. I recommend this deck for just about anyone. Experienced readers will find the softer colors and style a soothing change from the starker lines of the Waite deck and many of its clones. Beginners will find the images and meanings close enough to the Golden Dawn meanings to make a future transition to another Golden Dawn-based deck not traumatic, although there is enough symbolism in this deck to provide many hours of study as well, if one is so inclined. I would recommend that beginners and those not familiar with tarot history read the background information in the book with a wary eye and that they compare what the author says with other available historical information. Links to information on tarot history provided at the end of this review.  Collectors will find the beautiful artwork and attractive packaging a boon to their collections. Highly recommended.

If you would like to purchase the mini-book/deck kit, click here.

The Nigel Jackson Tarot
Publisher: Llewellyn
ISBN: 1-56718-365-4

Historical information on the Tarot can be read online at the following links:

The Tarot-l History Information Sheet

The Evolution of the Tarot by Tom Tadfor Little

Images Copyright 2000 Nigel Jackson

Review Copyright 2000 Michele Jackson

Page Copyright 2000 Diane Wilkes