Ace of Pentacles/Coins Across Decks

I saw in my statistics page that someone had come to my site searching for images of the Ace of Coins. I thought to myself that this might make an excellent study.

Danger, danger, hours later after searching through dozens of decks and scanning, adjusting, rotating and labelling in Photoshop, I’m a bit punchy. When you’re in a funk, nothing helps like a bit of sorting, categorization, and organization. This was more than a bit, but hey it made for a keenly interesting day.

Dealing mostly with the Rider-Waite model (here used in the Universal Waite deck) I decided that there were three kinds of imagery with this card: the classic “hand of God” approach; the figurative approach related to the theme like in the Golden Tarot; and the pattern and shape decorated or changed similar to a pip in transformation playing cards, like in this marvelous Ace of Pentacles in the Sun and Moon.

In this study I am ignoring the figurative approach, and looking more at the other two.






I don’t see too many people using the Fradella deck but it’s one of my favourites.

















I’ve talked about that Universal Fantasy card before, it reminds me so much of an old brooch.

So that’s it, about 8 hours of work and 39 decks!




In the Ground with Wheat

The house depicted on this card is probably from one of the 625 pages in the Luttrell Psalter but I don’t have an visual example of it. The British Library has a few pages scanned from the book and there is both an out-of-print facsimile edition that is expensive, and an eBook you can buy on iTunes for £6.99 that is not expensive.

One of the things the dreadful fundamentalists have not ruined are the beautiful and uplifting 150 psalms from the Christian bible. I admit that the idea of having a facsimile of an illustrated manuscript of a psalter such as this is appealing.



I’m on the ground today at last! Enjoying the smell of growing wheat and the warmth of sun, the light of the sky.

The circular item might be a platter, the type of platter popular for the wealthy in Medieval times. It also reminds me of the glass platter that Laura Ingalls Wilder saved when her house burned down during the early years of her marriage. It depicted wheat and made reference to daily bread.

The ultimate material card, the Ace of Coins is about prosperity, but I like to think today it’s about the day-to-day and better choices in focus and living.



The Flowering of Nigel in a Cistercian Abbey

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


Originally written by me in December 2006.


Part of my reason for studying this deck is to learn a bit about the sacred art of the Catholic Church. I find the artwork arising from the faith of people to be very interesting, no matter what the religion.

So when I went online to find comparisons for this card I was discouraged to see that the depiction of the “blood of the lamb” is often mawkish to the point of being tacky. I really had a reaction of feeling sick to some of this artwork and had to flee the Internet wishing to avoid further encounters with it.

This is one reason why I appreciate Robert Place’s illustration for this card. The clean lines and colour, the grounded architectural element of the altar, and the realistic representation of the sacrificial lamb were clear but not sickening. I can lose myself in contemplation of the age-old symbols without feeling awash in the maudlin symbolism I saw elsewhere.

The cup on the card is the chalice of wine used during mass that represents Christ’s blood that washes away sin. This portrays the invigorating renewal and forgiveness that enervates the souls of people.

In this way it reflects the general message of all the Aces, and echoes the image of the monstrance used during mass that is on the Ace of Coins. Vessels for the mass and the renewal of communion seem appropriate for the Aces in the Tarot of the Saints.

This is a personal reaction, but for this deck, perhaps the negative of this card is an attachment to a type of lurid, simpering faith? Not renewal but a way of miring yourself in a bowl of sickly sweet treacle and not seeing things as they are, not seeing the real power in faith, but getting overly emotional and sentimental and losing out on harnessing true spirituality and attaining purpose.

Spirituality is not mawkish artwork and platitudes, it is an empowering renewal. That’s what this card says to me.


This is one of my favourite cards in decks because I like the raw energy of it, the energy of possibilities and soaring thoughts and ideas.

I’m used to seeing the sword depicted with the point upward, but here Robert Place has it turned down so that the hilt is up and looks like a cross. So it turns from a weapon into a symbol of love and sacrifice. I really like his idea on controlling your thoughts too–the sword is also grounded downward in my mind because this Ace can get away with your mind quite easily as you take off and become all wrapped up in intellect and ideas and forget to come down out of the clouds for a bit of real life.

But here, he speaks of controlling that. The sword is a vehicle of ascent, but in a still, calm, joyful way, and it is grounded too–that stillness of the confident Self open to possibilities but not out of control. This is something I often lose track of with this card because it has so much energy for me, but I liked contemplating his different positioning. For such a plain looking card, it holds a deeper meaning for me and yet still holds that energy of fresh starts and new beginnings.


This shows a monstrance with the IHS symbol–the first three letters of Christ’s name in Greek. The word “monstrance” comes from the Latin for “to show.” Due to my unfamiliarity with the attendant equipment of the Catholic mass, I had a bit of trouble understanding the difference between the monstrance and the pyx or ciborium, until I looked up the root of the word. Another name for this vessel is the ostensorium which comes from the French for “to show.”So the monstrance holds one wafer to show on the altar, and the pyx or ciborium holds the quantity of wafers that the priest gives the congregation during communion. Consequently, the monstrance is a very decorative vessel, and sometimes they were also used to hold small relics. I thought this was a nice way of showing the relics on the altar during mass for people to see–a great ritualistic show.

The pattern used is often a solar cross and I’m posting a picture of various monstrances so you can see how creative people are with fashioning the rays. There are much larger monstrances that are altar-sized rather than table-top models but I chose to focus on the smaller ones and their variety. My favourite is the modern one an assemblage artist made from cogs and sprockety things–so inventive.

One site I was reading made the connection between the solar cross of the monstrance and pagan sun worship. Obviously pagan sun worship was discouraged and yet the Church seems to have swallowed a bit of the imagery and morphed it to their means. The page I was reading was denigrating the Church for this, but I think it shows a flexibility in the early days, although unacknowledged, to let people keep their favourite symbols in the new religion of Christianity. I like that, and it reminds me of the pagan worship of Mithras which became the basis for when we hold Christmas, and Mithras was also identified with the sun.

I’m afraid the dogmatists would be horrified with me, but if people want to keep some old ways in the new religion, why not? I think it’s comforting and brings extra meaning to the ritual and symbols by including the old mysteries, not just the new ones.

As I mentioned with the Ace of Cups, I like the way these two cards tie together with their communion symbols, and this card also reflects the meaning of cleansing and new beginnings.


Beautifully done. The shepherd’s crook becomes the Bishop’s staff, called the crosier or crozier, an obvious reference to the shepherd leading the flock and keeping the sheep on the right path.

The Agnus Dei or Lamb of God is carved in the centre which also ties in with the lamb on the Ace of Cups. The serpent represent the limits of the physical world. For me it also represents the serpent waiting in the tree to talk to Eve, which led to a new beginning for Adam and Eve. Newfound passion and direction like the crook nudging you along. I can see the newness of the other Aces and the possibilities in the road ahead.

I couldn’t resist finding some examples online of various ways this ceremonial staff is made and decorated. Silver and silver-gilt, ivory, semi-precious stones, hand carved wood, painted surfaces and many shapes. More crosiers than you can shake a stick at.

Asso in Sassanian

Daily Draw September 12th, 2008

“A dossal or altar cloth from the Treasury of St. Francis of Assisi. The yellow silk was finely embroidered with gold thread in the royal workshops in Sicily on the 12th or 13th century. Griffins and hawks are paired within roundels reminiscent of Sassanian design. The rosettes, or roundels on the birds’ wings would become a typical feature of silks woven in Lucca.”

There is a full-page reproduction of this fabric which I have photographed as best I could.

Some clarification of terms:

– Dossal – The word is a variation of the word “dorsalis” which means “of the back” and comes from the Latin “dorsum.” These hangings or altar cloths were also called “dosser” which comes from the French “dos” or “back” via the same Latin dorsum. They were draped on the back of the altar, hence the name.

– Royal workshops of Sicily – The Royal Palace in Palermo also housed the royal art and crafts workshop, where crowns, jewels, precious furnishings and ceremonial clothes were made. “Roger II (of the Norman Hauteville dynasty) was the first to introduce an elaborate court etiquette modeled on that of the imperial court at Byzantium, and to support a flowering of the arts by patronising the royal workshops, the Ergasterion (or Nobiles Officinae in Latin). In the Nobiles Officinae, Moslems (Saracens) and both Greek-Orthodox and Roman-Catholic Christians were employed side by side. And just as they should probably all be classed as ‘local artists’, the art produced at the court of the Norman kings of Sicily was able to rise to such uniquely spectacular heights because of this exceptional heterogenous cultural mixture.”

– Sassanian design – “Sassanian Dynasty is the name used for the third Iranian dynasty and the second Persian empire. The Sassanid Empire’s traditional territory encompassed all of today’s Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Afghanistan, eastern parts of Turkey, and parts of Syria, Pakistan, Caucasia, Central Asia and Arabia. The Sassanid era, encompassing the length of the late antiquity period, (224-651 CE), is considered to be one of Iran’s most important and influential historical periods. In many ways the Sassanid period witnessed the highest achievement of Persian Civilization, and constituted the last great Iranian Empire before the adoption of Islam. Persia influenced Roman civilization considerably during the Sassanids’ times, and the Romans reserved for the Sassanid Persians alone the status of equals, exemplified in the letters written by the Roman Emperor to the Persian Shahanshah. Their cultural influence extended far beyond the empire’s territorial borders, reaching as far as Western Europe, Africa, China and India and played a prominent role in the formation of both European and Asiatic medieval art.”

– Lucca – Lucca is a city in Tuscany, it is famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls (although the city has expanded beyond the wall.) It was founded by the Etruscans and became a Roman colony in 150 B.C. It became prosperous through the silk trade that began in the 11th century, and came to rival the silks of Byzantium.

Shall we all sail to Byzantium Mr. Yeats? I have never heard of the Sassanid era, although I did know of Persia’s many contributions to the world, notably in literature and mathematics. I have several stamps in my Stamping Through Mathematics book that feature Persian contribution and discovery. I also had no idea that there were ever Norman kings in Sicily. All these conquests and switching of rulers have contributed to European languages as well as art.

I can’t do the 12th century but I can do something antique looking. I love this deck La Corte dei Tarocchi by the artist Anna Maria D’onofrio that was produced and printed by Il Meneghello in 1999. The cards feel like watercolour paper and the shape reminds me of antique cards.


What a perfect card for this, it even has a dragon to go with the hawks and griffons on the silk altar cloth, and picks up the yellow colour. Gold threads cost denari, and the Ace of Denari carries that business-like energy of the whole suit. Coins are gifts, we earn them with our work, and we embroider with our finest skill to make ourselves prosperous. Like the Ace of Swords, this card, has a reach for the sky feeling of thrusting upward, pushing out energy and moving upward, and getting paid for it too.

I’ll take that for tomorrow!