Arcus Arcanum Tarot
Deck review by Floris Wijers
The Arcus Arcanum Tarot is the product of a happy and mutually stimulating
collaboration of Günter Hager and Hansrudi Wäscher. The first is a German
who was responsible for starting the project and who conceived this deck
and wrote a book about it as well. Hansrudi Wäscher is a Swiss comic strip
illustator whose career goes back as long as the early fifties!
Freely translated 'Arcus Arcanum' means 'Bow of secrets' or 'Mysterious
bow'. "Just as the bow is the connection of two poles or sides, tarot makes
it possible to connect the unconscious with the conscious". The booklet
that comes with the deck is larger than most and does not have the usual
tiny print that almost calls for a magnifying glass to work through it.
Luckily in this case, because the contents are more than worthwhile. The
symbolism and scenes are described in a very down-to-earth manner, as are
the meanings of the cards. This Tarot was not intended to use with reversed
card meanings, but this shouldn't prevent anybody from doing so all the
same. After the description of the Major Arcana, two spreads with sample
readings are presented: 'The Tau cross' (sweet and simple) and the
'Sequence of questions' spread that I find rather cumbersome, but may
appeal to others. The booklet continues with the minors and gives the
Celtic Cross at the end.
This deck has inspired a group of young German artists to produce a musical
based on some of the Arcus Arcanum characters. More information about this
unusual musical can be found on
The designer of the cards is a well-known comic strip illustrator. Maybe
therefore the images are all lively and the characters very well defined.
Dress and settings are medieval. What is most striking is the imagery on
the minors, that has been achieved with both insight and great creativity.
Moreover, the use of colour is consistent and supports the element
attributed to each suit; red, yellow and oranges for Wands (fire), blue,
turquoise and light green for Cups (water), brown and dark green for Disks
(earth) and grey, purple and dark blue for Swords (air). The pictures were
first drawn with pencil and black ink and then painted with bright but not
bold colour. The execution is brilliant.
Major Arcana
The scenery and symbolism on the Major Arcana cards are traditional for the
most. Cards have slim white borders and a simple rectangle center bottom
with roman numeral and the name of the card on it. Strength is eleven,
Justice eight (as opposed to Waite and his 'followers' but faithful to the
more traditional order - but what is traditional. The oldest cards did not
have numbers on them at all). Some remarkable cards are:
The Fool. A young guy is cheerfully striding towards a cliffend, looking
over his shoulder and not seeing the abyss. Tied to the rod over his
shoulder a bunch of flowers with butterflies around it and his knapsack.
Not a dog, but a black cat is accompanying him. It's not scratching his
leg, but is standing in front of him and looks up to the Fool. It can be
interpreted that the cat is trying to warn the Fool not to fall (as the
booklet wants us to believe), but personally I think the cat is checking if
the Fool is following him and he's kind of looking forward to the ride. In
the distance a rainbow, a waterfall and a castle.
The Lovers card is far from traditional but shows us love, partnership,
upcoming encounters and the choices involved with all of these. Actually
all the themes comprised in traditional pictures, too, but the scene is
different. We're looking at a crossroad. A man and woman, hand in hand, are
arriving and at the same time from the left another woman, and from the
right another man is approaching. They're inevitably going to meet in the
center because they're all heading each other's way. But what is happening
from there?
The Hermit card features a lamp in his hand, but also an hour-glass on it's
side on the ground. The hour-glass actually was the Hermit's original
attribute and not the lamp. The hour-glass on it's side, as in this deck,
is a very dramatic symbol though: Time has lost its importance, has come to
a standstill. The Hermit stepped out of the normal daily routine and
'regular' time is not relevant here.
The moon is unusual because it features a human being (a lady dressed in
white - moon goddess?) who invites us to continue down the road.
The world is a beautiful picture of a woman dancing while a green
ourobouros (snake biting his own tail) circles around her. The four usual
symbols - lion, bull, eagle and human or angel, are hovering around her.
Each of these carries a suit symbol. Purists of Tarot or astrology will
notice that the attributions here are not in line. The eagle is carrying a
sword (air) in his claws, but the eagle is the transformed (or sublimated)
form of scorpio; a water sign. And the man holding a cup stands for
aquarius the water bearer but, admittedly quite confusing, aquarius is an
air sign. Thus, from an astrological point of view the suits are not placed
in the right hands. But then again; it's from a historical point of view
quite arbitrary that 'once upon a time' the desert dweller scorpio was
assigned the element of water and the waterbearer aquarius air.
Court Cards
These are very traditional. Kings and Queens on thrones, knights on horses
and children for pages . Even the colour of their hair follows the old-time
catagorization; sword people black hair, disks brown, cups are blond and
wands red. All carry the symbol of their suit.
Minor Arcana
The minors are the most interesting part of the Arcus Arcanum Tarot. The
'pip' cards have pictures, but these are not the usual Rider-Waite ones.
The meanings are very much in line though and the surprising thing is that
the scenes illustrate these meanings well.
There are only a few small differences from usual meanings but they are
well explained and blend in with the rest of the suit.
Personal evaluation
The Arcus Arcanum Tarot is definately one of my favourite decks, if not my
number one. It has appealing art and powerful imagery on both the Major and
Minor Arcana cards. I have found the images on the Minors in many cases
even more evocative than those of the Rider-Waite. When I first got
acquinted with this deck (which was relatively long after I got to know the
Rider-Waite and its many clones like the Hanson-Roberts and the
Morgan-Greer), I had the feeling I suddenly better understood some of the
art of the good ol' Rider-Waite because of the lucidity of the Arcus
Arcanum Tarot.
The deck combines many aspects: It has good art, it's playful and serious
at the same time and it's not pretentious or conceited. It conveys a very
clear understanding of the Tarot. This is a deck that means a lot to me
Publishing data:
Arcus Arcanum Tarot
First Published in 1986 by AGMüller, Neuhausen, Switzerland (in a German
and an English edition).
Conceived by Günter Hager and painted by Hansrudi Wäscher.
Book by Günter Hager, "Tarot - Wege zum Leben" (Tarot - way of life),
Urania Verlag AG (dept. of AGMüller, Neuhausen, Switzerland).
Both the deck and book are readily available throughout Europe. The items
are either sold seperately or in a deck/book set. In the United States the
deck is distributed by US Games Systems Inc. I am not sure if the book is
available in the US at all, since I have never seen it advertised there.
Floris Wijers, The Netherlands
Review Copyright 2000 Floris Wijers
          Page Copyright 2000 Diane Wilkes

Copyright 1996/97 Michele Jackson