New Century Tarot by Rolf Eichelmann
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

US Games, the largest publisher of tarot decks in the world, hasn't released any really exciting decks in some time, but, based on the New Century Tarot and the upcoming Golden and Transformational Tarots, I think they are in the midst of a comeback.

The New Century Tarot is the brainchild of artist Rolf Eichelmann, who was inspired by Stuart Kaplan's book, Tarot Classic. He began sketching the deck on one of the Canary Islands, completing the deck in his native land, Germany. While not a Rider-Waite-Smith clone by any stretch of the imagination, readers familiar with that deck should have no problem reading with it.

The deck is immediately engaging, with its vivid colors and sometimes-surrealistic, sometimes-cubist artwork. The Major Arcana pictures all share a nature-based setting. The upper half of all of the cards contains identical trees the color of cinnabar; the lower part of the cards feature a central image, along with differing plants. Gold ink accents the images as the color of the inner borders; there is a larger outer border of royal purple.

Europeans tend to be less prudish than Americans, and the New Century Tarot reflects that openness without emphasizing the prurient. The High Priestess, for example, is naked beneath a red, gauzy curtain, which literally veils her secret self.  If you place the Empress and Emperor side by side, they face one another, yet each has their gaze focused elsewhere; the Empress stares at a white eagle, the Emperor is mesmerized by the crystal globe in his hand. Eichelmann refers to this globe as the "apple of the empire" in the little white booklet (LWB). Each wears oversized flowing clothes, with huge bell sleeves (these dramatic sleeves seem to be an Eichelmann feature, as most of the Major Arcana figures sport them). The figures on the Lovers have no sleeves at all--it shows two women doing a kind of mirror dance in front of a priest, who resembles a god with his bright headdress and white robes.

The Wheel of Fortune has a carnival aspect to it, with a half-woman, half-leopard sphinx gracing the center, and misshapen, horned creatures clinging to each side of the wheel. The Hanged Man is particularly dramatic, surrounded by a bright orange, pointy aura. His feet are pointy, too, and the sharp angles of the card, combined with the falling flakes of snow, give this card an unusually dynamic aspect. Temperance, on the other hand, seems frozen, carved from ice--even her hair looks like almost-dead, thin tree branches.

The Tower revisits the angularity of the Hanged Man, and the sense of chaos and movement in this card could engender motion sickness, an instinctive response to the initial Tower experience. The women awaiting Judgment are not passive, but test the flowing waters, rising up to respond to the Angel who dives into the scene with a lot of fire power.

Eichelmann utilizes the suit symbols in each card, but they are not always part of the interpretive scene. In the Three of Swords, they adorn a banner, but our focus is on the woman whose pose and shadowed face ooze tristesse as the red bird of happiness flies on by her wistful self. The Four of Swords is unique; it depicts an image of a woman floating in the air. The four swords and the levitating lady evoke magic without the k, but the booklet interpretation is more mundane, speaking of standstills and seclusion. The Ten of Swords shows two mummified women, each standing in their own fog. The largest, most dominant sword in the image has a red stone embedded in the hilt, a sign of life in death.

While many of the cards evoke the Rider-Waite-Smith, some are quite different. The Seven of Cups doesn't have different items emerging from the different vessels, but instead, shows a woman standing in the middle of a river, forcing it to adjust to her. She carries a mask and wears another, symbolizing illusion and delusion. Additionally, two of the cups are smaller than the others, yet they initially appear to all be the same size. The Two of Pentacles shows a troubadour, playing his guitar and dancing upon a flowery landscape simultaneously. He has a romantic, Fool-like quality.

The Cup court cards are also very romantic; in fact, all the court cards have an air of otherworldly fantasy about them. In part, this is due to the whimsical and imaginative artwork, but it is also because one can't really see faces very clearly in this deck, due to the miniaturized main images. The fullness of the background and foreground limits the size of the central figure(s). The Page of Wands has a hat bedecked with purple flowers and his cape is filmy and white, giving him a feminine, dreamy look. The Queen's wand is topped with a delicate flower.

The Minor Arcana and court cards each have a particular sky color, depending on the suit. Wands and Swords are both blue, but Wands is more of a green blue, Cups are red, and Pentacles are yellow. The cards are a heavy, matte cardstock and are wider and slightly shorter than standard. The width factor makes them harder to shuffle. The card backs depict a reversible abstract pattern that is primarily purple, but has other colors, as well.

The LWB is 35 pages long and contains a description of and meaning for each card. Interestingly, there is no general information on reading or layouts. Perhaps the assumption is that the purchaser will already know these things if he or she is obtaining a deck other than the Rider-Waite-Smith. The Major and Minor Arcana get equal time, in terms of the length of the card descriptions, which were written by the deck's creator and translated from German into English.

This deck is excellent for reading or meditation; because of the power and depth of the images, they are interesting cards to enter. I recommend this deck for anyone looking for an easy-to-read, evocative, and powerful deck that offers new insights with vividness and imagination.

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

New Century Tarot by Rolf Eichelmann
Publisher: US Games
ISBN#: 157281411X

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI X  
Color Images X  
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana X  
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Disks) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions X  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                      
Smaller than standard                                            
Larger than standard
(approx. 4 1/2 " x 3 1/2 ")                                             

Images 2003 US Games
Review and page 2003 Diane Wilkes