Fractal Firebird Tarot by R.M. Kruse             Review by Diane Wilkes

This is one of the more unique decks in my collection.  Certainly, it is one of the most abstract.  Maria Kruse, the artist, has designed a deck using fractals, which are, according to the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, "a complicated irregular line or pattern in mathematics built from simple, repeated shapes that are reduced in size every time they are repeated."  

Fractals are also used in computer graphics.  In the companion booklet, Kruse briefly explains why she chose to create her tarot deck using fractals: "Fractals represent the order that one finds in apparent chaos."  Kruse believes that "the Tarot contains a deep sense of order in what appears to be random chance," hence, her artistic choice of fractals flows holistically into her vision of the tarot.

She recommends that the deck user "meditate on each card for a time to open the deeper meanings that are buried in [the]...mind waiting to be awakened."  The meanings are described as "ever changing and meaningful."  I agree with Kruse on both counts.  This is not a deck I would ever give a reading with, per se, though it could be done.  I'm not sure if I'd call it a tarot reading or a search for personal meaning, though.  

Because that's what these cards do...they offer a glimpse into the recesses of your mind, coupling intuition and psychic flashes with your mental, academic understanding of the tarot.  These mostly-abstract images jimmy your habitual beliefs of what individual cards mean and what tarot is, and by presenting completely unfamiliar and amorphous images,  unlock the chains of  intellectual memory, allowing you to tap directly into your intuition.

I approach the tarot with the dual engines of intellect and intuition, and am uncomfortable using only one of them.  Hence, the cards that offer images that can even loosely be seen as representing literal symbols or people are the ones that resonate the deepest for me.  An example of this is the Judgment card, where you can see a golden child reaching out to an equally golden angel.  Between them flow alchemical energies that evoke thoughts of the Temperance Angel's magical elixir, blended to perfection.  I could stare at the High Priestess (above) for quite a while, as she seems to radiate light that is rippled with shuttering darkness--too perfect.  

Other cards that seem dramatically literal are the Nine of Swords, where all sorts of stresses get played out beneath an upside-down woman's head, turning into a scary monster, the Nine of Wands, where someone seems to be spreading his or her arms outward to stave off the encroaching flames, and the Hermit, who seems to be Buddha-in-abstract, meditating and manifesting balls of light.  I could name and show several others, but there are at least as many cards that are completely inscrutable to me.   Instead of finding that debilitating, it kind of excites me.  If every card was easy to define and label, meditation would be a very short process indeed.

People often compare using the cards to working with Rorschach imagery.  This tarot deck is the closest thing I've seen that bears out that resemblance.  You can find all sorts of things hidden in these cards, and I find that fascinating.

Still, I recognize this deck isn't for everyone.  And I have one major criticism to make, as well.  It has to do with the little booklet that comes with the deck.  It's beautifully and professionally done (as is the deck, which even comes in a pretty green pouch).  However, the majority of the 12 page booklet is devoted to traditional interpretations of the cards, with predominantly negative meanings for reversals.  The meanings and the cards don't link up at all, and can only be valuable to a complete tarot novice--the individual least likely to avail him- or herself of this deck!  I would so much have preferred Kruse's take on her cards than this regurgitation of stale meanings.

As I mentioned earlier, this self-published deck has been thoughtfully and meticulously crafted in every aspect of production.  While I don't like the content of the booklet, it is easy-to-read and carefully prepared, with a lovely cover (you know--the thing you can't judge a book by).  The backs are marblized and lovely.  The deck itself seems to be hand cut and I suspect by the thickness of the cards that the backs were pasted onto the scans.  I have the large version (three by five inches), but the artist has made them available in two smaller sizes as well.  Because I see this deck's primary use as meditation, I believe the largest size is the most efficacious.   

I received the Book of Chaos Tarot the same week, another self-published deck done by a man (instead of a woman).  I don't generally ascribe to stereotypes, but I was struck by the utter attention to detail and presentation by Kruse compared to the creator of the Book of Chaos.  Fractal came in a green bag, Chaos with a cloth; Fractal is meticulously cut and the cards are quite durable and printed beautifully, Chaos is more...chaotic, made on a dot-matrix printer on much flimsier material, the booklets were especially in stark contrast, with Kruse's a model of professionalism and the Chaos deck not even stapled!  Yet the Chaos booklet is far more appropriate and valuable than the eye-catching one done for the Fractal, a substance over style victory.  The dissimilarities in the two approaches provided me with food for thought, so I thought I'd share my mini-meal with you.

I recommend this deck for those who want a beautiful, beautifully-done abstract deck for meditative purposes.  I don't recommend it for readings or those with a small collection of decks.  This is a luxury, not a necessity...but a very nice luxury it is, for those who can a) afford it and b) understand and appreciate its merits.

You can see more cards from this deck and order it from the artist here.

Images and cited text 2001 M. Kruse
Review and page 2002 Diane Wilkes