The Rose Tarot was published by Llewellyn in May 2021, and is presented as a boxed set containing the deck and a detailed book. The deck is the creation of artist Nigel Jackson, whose previous tarot deck, the Nigel Jackson tarot, is now long out of print and, much to my dismay, commanding some ridiculous prices on tarot market groups, on the rare occasions that I have seen it advertised.
I personally have a soft spot for hand-drawn cards (as opposed to digital ones), so naturally this is a deck I love and continue to use on a regular basis. Nigel's style achieves a vision richly infused with colour, yet not overwhelmingly so; the cards contain symbols from various occult traditions, yet they do not clutter or subtract from the essence of each card.
The Major Arcana in particular is the highlight of the deck, each card a world onto itself with many layers and delicate details. The softer colour palette is somewhat reminiscent of fairytale stories, perhaps hinting at the magic of wisdom contained within. The Major Arcana largely follows the Rider Smith tradition, noting that Justice is assigned number 8, and Strength is 11.
The minor Arcana, however, contrasts sharply from the rest of the deck with its smaller images, surrounded by Marseille-style elemental pips, so that unfortunately a good portion of each card is blank. While I understand the intent of the deck is to blend both Rider Smith and Marseille styles and symbols, I don't think I am alone in wishing that the minor arcana was just as fully illustrated as the Major.
It is worth noting that while some minor arcana follow the Rider Smith tradition in imagery (for example, 6 of Swords below) , many do not, although they may do so in overall meaning, such as the 5 of Swords below, where the meaning of defeat is captured in the imagery of Icarus flying too close to the sun. In a good way, this both challenges and freshens the intuition of an experienced reader. However, other cards such as the 4 of Batons above show imagery that may be challenging for newer readers to decipher, in comparison to the Rider Smith version which in my opinion leaves no ambiguity as to its meaning of celebration and happiness.
This is where the accompanying book is of great help in understanding the meaning and justification behind the minor arcana imagery. The book offers keywords for divinatory meanings that are true to the origins of Rider Smith, while presenting a more elaborate discussion on the esoteric, alchemical, hermetic or Cabalistic imagery chosen for each card.
Take for example the 5 of Coins, whose stated divinatory meanings include the familiar "economic insecurity, material difficulties require clarity, poverty, loss, restrictions, adversity precedes real betterment." Yet we also have a descriptive meaning of the image contained, which tells us, "The 5 of Coins shows the image of the wandering mendicant-friar, personification of apostolic and hermetic poverty. His renunciation of material riches is not a privation. lack or indigence in the ordinary sense of common poverty. Rather, it is an emptying (kenosis), a voiding of the ego in pursuit of nonattachment; as A. D. Freher wrote, 'Light floweth forth into what is empty, things that are filled receive it not'"...
As with any deck, it has its own idiosyncrasies, such as the fact that each character, be it from the Major Arcana or the court cards, has blue eyes, except for the Hierophant. Even more obvious though, are the names assigned to each court card, except for the knights. In part, this can give the court characters depth and personable human traits that make it easier for the reader to describe or associate with them, especially those based on historical characters (such as Julius Caesar below). In equal part, however, this may distance some readers due to those very associations, since some are taken from religious stories or cultural myths, such as the Queen of Coins below, who is associated with the biblical Rachel, wife of Jacob.
The accompanying book introduces the deck as "designed to put you in touch with the symbols and concepts of hermetic theosophia, or divine wisdom." Thus, while it is a beautifully illustrated deck, it is one I would recommend to more experienced readers, tarot enthusiasts, and students of the occult arts, rather than new readers. This is largely due to the imagery contained in the minor arcana which, as noted above, deviates in presentation from its Rider Smith counterparts, and includes many references to various occult schools of thought or theories that new students may find distracting, confusing or challenging . In saying that, as a somewhat seasoned reader, I do find this deck refreshing and a welcome addition to my collection.
A few notes on the card stock: the cards are a standard size, 7 by 11.5cm, meaning even those with smaller hands can shuffle them easily. They are a bit on the thin side, yet heavily laminated, so stand up well to regular shuffling. Personally I would have preferred a more natural, matte feeling, for both tactile and environmental reasons.
Overall, I consider this a wonderful deck for intermediate or advanced readers, yet I can't help but feel that it is let down by the minor arcana - not because it is different from the Rider Smith tradition, but because it is not fully illustrated. Perhaps this is just me wishing for a fully illustrated minor arcana due to missing out on its predecessor, the Nigel Jackson tarot, though I have a feeling I am not alone on this matter. In all honesty though, if anyone from Llewellyn is reading this, please consider re-issuing future editions of the Rose Tarot with a fully illustrated minor arcana, and maybe, just maybe, re-publishing the Nigel Jackson tarot! It is coming up to Christmas, after all :)