When I was tempted into getting the New Century Tarot (U.S. Games, 2003) all I saw of it were a few colourful images with slightly surreal characters. Unboxing it, I realised a number of peculiarities, some of which I liked straight off, others of which I was less sure about.
What I liked straight away was the colour palette, and the fact that the Minors combined ‘pips’ with little illustrated vignettes. What I was less sure about was the common backgrounds and the colour choices for the suits.
Having worked with it for a while now, and having also tried out a Celtic Cross to see how the cards read in a larger spread, I’m pleasantly impressed. As you can hopefully see from the photo, the predominance of Wands in this reading shows up quite clearly from the “backdrop cloths”.
Looking at the different elements of the deck closer up, the Majors all have a certain commonality to their backgrounds, with those red trees in the background. The plants (or lack of) on the brown earth beneath them varies a lot, depending on the card’s context. As for the figures, they have an odd chunkiness to them, with a lot of nudity, as shown in the World. There are quite a lot of alchemical symbols – the red eagle/dragon and the white figure. And I like how in this World card there is a lamb and a lion, a direct biblical reference. She is less of a dancer, but does suggest the idea of completion and perfection. I also like that there is a balance of elements: fire and air, water and earth.
The Court cards are quite simple. Still, with their backdrop cloths, suit elements, clothing and posture they do give the reader something to work with. For instance, this Queen of Swords holds her blade up perfectly straight: when she makes a decision, she will be absolutely fair. Unlike the RWS version, she sits looking straight ahead – she is a straight talker, direct and to-the-point. Her dress is light on one side, darker on the other, as she balances up all sides of whatever matter she is faced with.
The Aces continue the simplicity, with no hand holding them in place. Still, as the Ace of Swords shows, there is still a crown over the tip of the sword – truth will win the day. And the backdrop has a diaphonous white veil added over it, with explosive red highlights: the sword cuts through any obfuscation, bringing clarity, though sometimes without tact.
The Minors are a particular strength of the deck, combining ‘pip’ elements with additional imagery. So, in the Three of Cups, we see an owl and a snake above and below the cups respectively. Wisdom and transformation come when two sets of emotion combine into a third. While this isn’t as clearly about celebration or friendship as RWS imagery, it does speak to creating more from combining things. And what friendship is not more than the sum of its parts. I have also seen some versions of this card which suggest childbirth, and that would certainly be a possible interpretation here: the two cups combine their fluid in the third, around which the snake twines. Transformation, healing, and new and wondrous emotions. Just look, there is a face in the more textured water that pours from the front cup…
All told, the New Century Tarot is a vibrant, attractive deck that reads well, especially if you are happy with semi-illustrated pips.