Archive for the ‘The Flowering of Nigel’ category

Armenia Sails To Byzantium

December 11, 2011

Daily Draw December 11th, 2011

Since I finished reading the book Armenian Golgotha about the Armenian genocide that took place shortly before and during the first World War, I keep seeing references to Armenia in a kind of synchronistic urgency. Last night I was watching House Hunters International on television and a young couple were moving from Boston to Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. It was interesting to see how they are improving the Armenian economy and renovating old buildings after the fall of the Soviet Union.

I couldn’t help but notice how the country has shrunk from its ancestral lands. They were a vital part of the Byzanytine and Sassanid Empires, a vital culture in Europe up until they were slaughtered in the 20th century into a half-remembered society of darkly handsome people from an obscure republic, instead of the kingdom they really were.

There is something about that word “Byzantium.” Perhaps it’s a romantic echo of the poem Sailing to Byzantium by Yeats and a rather ethereal story by Robert Silverberg of the same name that I studied about eight years ago on a reading list. I remember getting all fired up about the Byzantine Empire and going to a lot of trouble to hunt up a travel book by Osbert Lancaster, the British illustrator, that was called Sailing to Byzantium: An Architectural Companion. Here is the book with some sample illustrations by Lancaster.

I continued my interest in the Byzantine Empire through my study of Constantine and his mother Helena in the Tarot of the Saints, as well as Sophia on the The World card in that deck. I have wanted a copy of a television series that John Romer did for The Learning Channel called Byzantium: The Lost Empire. It finally came back in stock online so I have bought it for Christmas. I was overjoyed to be able to finally get this history DVD after all these years. Apart from seeing the Hagia Sophia back in the 1970s in Kenneth Clark’s series Civilisation, I was awed by the church when John Romer’s television series Testament featured it. It is a magical place.

There is something very satisfying when all your interests and old threads of imagination come together. That’s how I felt today.


From the glorious Nigel Jackson Tarot:

We seat ourselves in the enormous room of imagination and warm ourselves at the fire of history, eyes closed dreaming of Byzantium. The torch of history and the staff of pilgrimage rest by the hearth while light bathes the drowsy Emperor off the hammered shields on the wall of ages.

Comfort and wealth come from much more than monetary gain, they come from the mind as well.

Sailing To Byzantium
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

William Butler Yeats


The Flowering of Nigel in Gothic Architecture and Anger Management

June 23, 2011

Daily Draw June 23rd, 2011

I felt like a ramble through the The Nigel Jackson Tarot and the book I use with it, The Flowering of the Middle Ages, edited by Joan Evans.



Someone has been defeated, and he’s thinking “How did this happen?” I don’t know fella, you have skill and talent and training, maybe that other guy just had a plume in his hat today and pulled it off because he was feeling unconquerable, not to mention fashionable. Nigel mentions in the book that it was anger and the loss of his temper that caused his defeat, the unspoken reasoning being that some practice in controlling his anger would help prepare him for the next battle.

And to go with this, a passage from the book:

“The other document is far more explicit: it consists in a manuscript Compendium of Architecture of 1681, written by Simón García, a Spanish architect of Salamanca. In his own work García luckily incorporated the rules of the Gothic builders which had come down to him in an earlier manuscript compiled by Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón. Rodrigo Gil, who was already at work in 1521 and died in 1577, was the last of a notable family of Spanish architects, responsible for several of the largest cathedrals.”

His father built the Segovia Cathedral and Rodrigo continued to finish that building after his father’s death. Rodrigo also built the cathedral at Salamanca, started by his father, as well as other notable Spanish buildings in a decorative style known as Plateresque (Silversmith-like), for its highly detailed facades that looked like the work of a silversmith (Plateros.) Some 20th century Spanish architects were influenced by this style too. Here is the facade of the old Alcala University that Rodrigo built.

It is like many things in history, the practical knowledge and mathematical systems of how to build medieval cathedrals was partially lost. It is thought that technical drawings might have been traced on fresh plaster and destroyed after building, but at some point Rodrigo Gil thought it essential to preserve some of the principles in manuscript form, which is a good thing for later builders and historians today. It is not known if his work accurately reflects real medieval technique or is an adaptation of them for the 16th century. Likewise, Garc­ía’s work might add his own 17th century ideas onto the tradition written down by Gil. We don’t know. This reminds me of tarot history where there is a lack of documentation from the period of creation and everyone extrapolates their own ideas.

Training is built from older sources of knowledge; frustration and anger can also come from not having a good foundation, or from having a lack of documentation. Sometimes you simply have to make up your own mind how to do things or experiment to re-learn things. And that reminds me of fiddling with my camera and being defeated, but every day I try a bit more and see if I can add to my poor foundation of knowledge.

I laughed because in the Power Tarot book she says for this card “Don’t expect to sit around on your duff and have freedom handed to you on a silver platter.” A tie-in to the Plateros if I ever saw one!

The Flowering of Nigel in Complementary Tones of the Season

December 5, 2010

Daily Draw December 5th, 2010


I usually work this deck with a book I bought on Medieval history, but no time this month, I’ve got a million projects to make.

The Knight of Staves (or Wands) is not a card I draw too often if at all. His arrow is pointing upward and that jaunty feather complements his lilac clothing beautifully. I think of colour lending fire to the day and uplifting him.

Here our chap is all about stability and good economic sense with a dash of the right colours in complementary tones. Hmmm, I don’t know about that as I spent too much money yesterday trying to get Christmas stuff for the family, but perhaps he is simply telling me that is good economy and makes sense?

Okay, I’ll buy that. He’s also off on his travels, so I’ll get on with creative projects and the adventure. I thought of a Christmas-related digital graphic I could make and share with some digital jigsaw people so I might work on that today between my knitting or sewing adventures. Keep the goals, keep on the move.



Jeez, I just can’t do it. The setup is for me to have a quote from the book too. Okay, here we go, a random snippet from the book The Flowering of the Middle Ages:

The Middle Ages saw a proliferation of monastic Orders, each specializing in a particular mission.

That’s right, this Knight is on a particular mission, a mission to clothe the world in complementary colours.


The Flowering of Nigel and the Antiques Roadshow

December 20, 2009

Daily Draw December 20th, 2009

Of course, what better time to draw a card from The Nigel Jackson Tarot than when the British version of the Antiques Roadshow is on. It’s a nice, quiet, sensual Sunday, perfect for the. . .


As usual, Nigel Jackson has an interesting take on archetype. The faint suggestion here of self-flagellation and the word of God on fire, while people meekly submit in the foreground. Do as you’re told and the world will be sunny and bright, or Sunday and bright perhaps.

The slight danger of “established power becoming oppressive” in Nigel’s words. Martyrs and missionaries, burning in flame. I always think of this as a happy card, but maybe that’s because success to me lies in thinking for myself rather than being oppressed by the ideas or rules of others.

I was telling someone about a handbag pattern I am using and how I was surprised that I’ve seen people online clambering to buy exactly the same fabric as they’ve seen other people using for the bag. One would think, given the enormous scope in fabrics today, that people would get wildly excited about choosing their own particular fabric combinations instead of just copying what someone else did.

And to clarify this I pick a Random Passage from The Flowering of the Middle Ages edited by Joan Evans.

“The Cluniac reform inspired, sometimes indirectly, reforms in other countries.”

I’ll leave it at that. Similar to memes, it only takes one step, one person to think differently, to start a new pattern. The Cluniac pattern was to spend huge amounts of time every day in excessive ceremony and rigid timetabling of chanting, prayers, responses, and such. Not surprisingly, the order declined eventually, pickled in oppressive ritual. How much more interesting to greet the day as it comes, rather than squishing it into a formulaic, deadening ritual.

Look at these poor people, the life sucked out of them.

The Flowering of Nigel at the Tomb of the Joigny Comtesse

September 24, 2009

Daily Draw September 25th, 2009

Today’s passage from The Flowering of the Middle Ages:

“The daughter of the comtesse de Joigny (above left) gazes sadly down, one hand in the band of her cloak.”

Which see:


This is from the Chapter on Death and the way it was viewed in the Middle Ages. Death is always with us, and no one did up a tomb like the Europeans of the Middle Ages. Fraught with symbolism and depictions of loved ones mourning, carved and shaped into poignant memorials, whispering in the depths of churches.

I was intrigued by who the Comtesse de Joigny might be, as St. Vincent de Paul also came from Joigny. Joigny is located in France in Burgundy, about 80 miles southeast of Paris, and is part of the wine growing region. As well as wine, the region was noted for lumber and there are many old half-timbered houses in the area. It has a Renaissance castle and some narrow, cobbled streets from the medieval period. The Abbey of Fontenay is a short distance away, and there are many churches in the town, it’s all very Gothic.

During the French Revolution, destruction of churches and monuments took place all over the country. If the church was destroyed, as was the case with the medieval church that harboured this tomb, the sepulchres were often removed if possible and thus preserved. The tomb of Adélais (sometimes spelled Aelis), countess of Joigny (d. after 1195) formerly in the church of the Abbey of Dilo, is now in the church of Saint-Jean in Joigny.

The counts of Joigny were associated with the Premonstratensian (also known as the Norbertine) cloister at Dilo, which was about twenty km northeast of their castle at Joigny, hence the initial burial of the Countess there. Her tomb seems to have been carved at a later date, maybe about twenty years later. This is the tomb that is referenced in my book and there are several statues on her tomb. The two lords and two ladies sheltered in the relief at the front are thought to represent her children: Guillaume, who succeeded his father as the Count of Joigny, and also took part in the Third Crusade with Count Henry II of Champagne; plus Agnès, Hélissent (also spelled Hellesende), and the last son Gaucher. I am assuming this daughter on the relief seen in the photograph is the younger girl Hélissent if the statues are in order. Hélissent was the countess of Bar-sur-Seine and wife of Milon IV, the count of Bar-sur-Seine. Originally in Burgundy, Bar became part of Champagne after the death of Milon IV, who died in the Fifth Crusade in 1219. Hélissent probably lived in the first basic form of the famous Chateau there, which was eventually destroyed in the 16th century.


And now to the Nigel Jackson Tarot:

I love this deck the cards are so BIG, and I love big cards.


Is he a straight arrow, or what? Perhaps it is the spectre of young Gaucher, the son of our heroine of the tomb Hélissent, named after her brother perhaps, contemplating the Chateau he grew up in and the ways of God, musing on a suitable tomb for himself and his father after they were both killed on Crusade in Damietta. Gaucher was killed in July and his father after him in August. It would be so like the young Page of Wands to go on a Crusade with his righteous straight arrow enthusiasm and adventurous fire of the mind.

This Page is supposed to be the bearer of good news, and perhaps in those days, following his father on crusade would be pleasing news. The purple majesty of kings and leadership unto death for the heroic cause of Christ in the Holy Land was an honour for many. Hélissent, at her mother’s tomb, might see the shadows of her own life and the deaths of her loved ones, and try to accept it, as she gazes down fussing with her clothes while her mother prays above her.


The Flowering of Nigel in a Cistercian Abbey

July 6, 2009

Daily Draw July 6th, 2009

It’s time again for The Nigel Jackson Tarot and a passage from the book The Flowering of the Middle Ages.

Today’s relevant Flowering passage:

“The close ties between Cîteaux and England during the early 12th century were probably due to the personal taste of the Abbot Stephen Harding, himself an Englishman.”

When I opened the book, I stuck my finger on an illustration of an initial from a Josephus manuscript made at Canterbury between 1120 and 1140. This initial shares, with other bits of art and architecture from both England and Cîteaux, a distinctive dragon with pointed ears, a ridged spine, three claws and a spur on its feet, a tail that ends with a bunch of leaves, and rows of beading along his back and wings.


What is a Josephus manuscript you ask? Flavius Josephus (Joseph Ben Mathias) was a Jewish scholar and historian from Jerusalem in the first century AD. who wrote several books on Judaism, which also contained background on early Christianity and the society and customs of his time, and thus it was felt important to copy his writings into manuscripts in the 12th century, to preserve and study his teaching. If you’re interested, much of his writing can be found online at Project Gutenberg.

Here is another initial, from a manuscript of Josephus’s Antiquitates iudaicae (Antiquities of the Jews) that was made in Canterbury, so you can see the colours that were used.


Stephen Harding was an English monk who left to became a travelling scholar, studying in Paris and Rome, and landed in the abbey of Molesme in Burgundy, which was a Cistercian order, where he and others eventually left because they felt the monks and leadership there were lax. They founded an abbey at Cîteaux, and Stephen later became the third abbot there and served for 25 years. His leadership and that of St. Bernard, caused rapid growth of the order, and he founded 13 monasteries before his death. Stephen is now Saint Stephen Harding; over twenty of the abbots of Cîteaux became saints.

Cistercians strictly followed the rule of St. Benedict and were an enclosed order devoted to manual labour, particularly that of agriculture, and spread to hundreds of monasteries over Europe in the Middle Ages. In modern times they have split into groups according to how moderate in austerity and manual labour they are, reflecting the Benedictine order in some cases, and in strict observance they are what we now call Trappist monks. I often find it difficult to understand the difference between various Orders, but this is a basic overview.

Cîteaux Abbey is located south of Dijon, France, and after being sold and bought back over the centuries, it is now a Trappist monastery. They make and sell cheese, honey candies and other products. There aren’t too many monks there now, but it attracts tourists. They have special spiritual visits where people can see the lives of the monks, visit the library and old scriptorium, and have a guided tour into the private areas. You can also visit in a more public way, simply to view the beautiful architecture and grounds.



Terra, Terra, I hold you in my hand.

Nigel Jackson refers to this as the Monad of Earth; a monad being an indestructible unit, or simple and indivisible substance in the Universe, often God. Pythagorean number theory uses the term as did Giordano Bruno and Van Helmont (who based his monadology on the thoughts of Paracelsus.) Leibniz then used this term and popularized it in his book Monadology, and then Kant got hold of that and elaborated on it as did Goethe and Lotze.

It seems the philosophy expanded like Cistercian monasteries. Monad, monastery: both alone units and indivisible substances, yet coordinated with others. The metaphysics of simple substances; the primal aspect of God in Earth. In Gnosticism, the supreme being is the Monad, the One, the highest God, the Absolute, the Perfect Aeon. The emanations of the One are called Aeons and the One is an Aeon.

The Rider-Waite Aces all show the hand of God or perhaps angels, hence the Gnostic and philosophic reference in this card, which is rather a perfect tie-in to earthy dragons with leaf tails and the eons/aeons of Cistercian history. I love a play on words and a play with history.


The Monad of Earth

The Flowering of Nigel in a Frequency Ratio of Two

June 13, 2009

Daily Draw June 13th, 2009

I took The Nigel Jackson Tarot down to use it with a book I recently bought from a used bookstore called The Flowering of the Middle Ages by Joan Evans, editor. I’ve been looking for something to do with that book and I like this idea.

Yes, another one of the random book studies I have going in the Eccentric Studies section of this blog. There are several that get toted out including: Tolkien and the Poetic Edda; Dante and the Tao and anything else; Symbolist Art and the Via Tarot; The Book of Silk and random decks; The Towers visual journal I made to study favourite Tower cards in my collection, and my ongoing study of the entire Tarot of the Saints deck.

The Flowering of the Middle Ages is a great book originally published in the 1960s. The edition I have is a reprint from 1985 and it’s filled with photographs, maps, and illustrations. The book has rather intriguing chapters with general information about medieval society, but also specific discussions on the monastic world, architecture, court life, chivalry, universities and learning, morality and death, and trade and industry.



I seem to have nicknames for several tarot cards and this one has always been the Parlay Card to me. I like the way the swords are balanced in the painting, neither one is dominant. In this deck Swords are connected to the element of Fire rather than Air as is usual for me. Darn, I don’t get to attend the Fire Wand Circus but I get my equilibrium restored and friendship in adversity.

The Flowering passage of the day is:

“Renewed interest in science, based on Greek, Arabic and Jewish sources, was one of the significant trends in mediaeval learning. Among the greatest mathematicians and mechanicians was Nicole Oresme (c. 1323-82), shown with his armillary sphere, a mediaeval mechanical device used for teaching astronomy and for plotting celestial longitude and latitude.”

Longitude and latitude remind me of the two swords on the tarot card.

Nicole Oresme was also called Nicholas. Shades of Raymond Lull, Ramon Llull, Raymond Lully etc. or the man of a thousand spellings. My Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion refers to Oresme as a French ecclesiastic and scientist. He anticipated Galileo’s mean-speed and distance theorems, and in mathematics he arrived at the concept of an irrational exponent. He was a mathematician, physicist, astronomer, philosopher, musicologist, theologian and a proponent of modern science.

An armillary sphere has a ball for the earth (later models use the sun), at its centre and shows how the planets or stars move around the earth. It is thought that the Chinese first came up with a primitive gizmo like this around the 4th century BC, and then it was improved upon until Muslim astronomers in the 8th century got hold of it and then it bounced around Europe. The interesting thing about it is that as a mechanical device it took some thinking to get it to work right and this fiddling created knowledge that was applied to all mechanical devices. Here is a picture of Nicole Oresme feverishly studying and writing with his armillary sphere in front of him.


This device is also depicted on the present flag of Portugal where it has been a national symbol since the 16th century.


Here is an armillary sphere from the book Stamping Through Mathematics. The device was made in China in 1437:


An irrational exponent. . . . can be used in algebra but is better suited to calculus I believe. You take an irrational number (one that can’t be written as a simple fraction–in decimal terms it goes on forever.) Easier to understand for me: a rational number is one that can be written as a ratio, and an irrational number cannot be written as a ratio. An exponent is “to the power of,” like 8² where ² is the exponent.

Now, the world opens up doesn’t it when you can use an irrational number as an exponent? How on earth could you even get an answer? Well, I would need calculus. Imagine Nicole Oresme in the 14th century arriving at this idea and being able to test and verify it. He apparently got the idea from music, because the way tunings are designated in Pythagorean intervals like 8/9, 1/2, 3/4, or 2/3 is sometimes awkward, he wanted to hear different tones in the tuning or smooth out the sound in the tuning, so he thought up what they call equal temperament, where an octave is divided equally. It’s all about ratios, and how they fit into an octave and make different tones when you tune with different systems or ratios, and thus Oresme’s mind made the leap to mathematics and irrational exponents.

The current designation for equal temperament divides an octave into twelve equal steps and since an octave has a frequency ratio of two, the frequency ratio between adjacent notes is then the twelfth root of two, 2¹´¹²  See, that 1/12 exponent repeats as a decimal, so is an irrational exponent, but it works. Well, it works better or more smoothly than using Pythagorean intervals which are not equal when divided into an octave, and allow dissonant notes in the tuning. I find this somewhat confusing but Oresme didn’t, and that’s what got him thinking back in the 14th century.

Interestingly, the balancing of exponents in equations is much like the balancing of chemical formulas to find out what chemical you get from the reaction. You juggle around and add the exponents or atoms. Like two swords, one up, one down, like the subscript in chemical formulas and the superscript in mathematical exponents! The word parlay comes from the Latin par, which means equal, like equal temperaments in music or equal temperaments in discussion, resulting in equilibrium, a frequency ratio of two, and friendship, like the card.

Do you ever get the feeling that the Universe is having a big old chuckle?