Review: The Fountain Tarot

I suppose it is always best to start at the beginning, and for this deck, that is the box itself.  The Fountain Tarot comes in a beautiful silver box made of nice, thick cardboard with a strong magnetic closure. Additionally, there is a color-coordinated ribbon that winds its way from the left side of the box, underneath the deck and book, and back out on the right so that one might softly lift the deck from the box rather than just dumping the deck into a hand. Overall, it is quite an elegant package, and I have never once been tempted to find another home for this deck.

In his accompanying guidebook, Jason Gruhl separates the trumps, or Major Arcana, into four divisions. The first three groups of seven cards will be recognizable to most: the Physical, the Spiritual, and the Ethereal. Then, of course, there is the fourth division, which consists of only one card, the twist that names this deck in the first place: the Fountain, a seventy-ninth card.  My first impression of this card was that it was a kind of synthesis, a compromise between the limitations of Waite’s World and the expansiveness of Crowley’s Universe, but The Fountain is something different. Waite and (especially) Crowley belonged to organizations intent on categorizing the spiritual world. They then meditated on those categories to more fully comprehend a universal order, and this is essentially Crowley’s definition of The Universe in The Book of Thoth. Crowley concentrated on the manifestation of Will. The Fountain feels diametrically opposed to such concepts. The Fountain card is, to quote Gruhl, “the waking from the dream of separateness and identity, and the recognition of one’s ‘Self’ as not only connected to all things, but all things—divine nature.” He goes on to write that this card encourages the sitter to “relinquish all control and remain quiet…master less and to just be…” (43). I am sure that some could argue that Thoth’s Universe and The Fountain could be describing the same state, but the intention or, at least, the means of agency do seem far different.

In the book’s descriptions of the cards themselves, I do detect a strong hint of Golden Dawn sensibilities coupled with a very comforting, updated spirituality that contemporizes the cards quite nicely. The author uses short subtitles within the book itself, and the explanations and affirmations are not long, but never seem abridged or curt. I also appreciate the fact that the subtitles that Gruhl uses are not on the cards themselves.

As for the cards, “well done” seems staid and lifeless as a description. The deck’s edges are gilt in silver; the card stock is lush and sensual to the touch. I will say that new, the cards can feel a bit stiff and my hands were quite sparkly after the first few reads, but after that, the cards shuffle beautifully and the silver stays on the card edges rather than my hands. The backs reflect the tension within the deck, a mass of organized angles softened by the colors used, and they are reversible. I must admit that I have rarely connected so quickly and pleasantly to a deck, and my readings were meaningful practically out of the box.

The paintings and imagery by Jonathan Saiz have a minimalist feel, but I have already had a sitter request them again because the cards are not only beautiful, but also, in her words, “comfortable.” When she said it, I knew that she had found the word for which I had already been searching. The paintings are beautifully executed, yes, but they also include “real” people, for lack of a better term. The cards include people we know who are then enveloped by an artistic ethereality that we can all share. In combination with the effects of light and color and an infusion of significant geometric shapes, the cards come alive. The Fountain’s Empress is one of the most inviting and personable that I have ever seen. Saiz’s Lovers, though admittedly not my favorite Lovers ever created, combines curves and angles, the union of sphere and cube, with figures of calm lovers whose potential of touch and transmission recalls the electricity of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Court cards, often difficult for readers, are given individual personalities with the barest symbolism. The King of Swords is little more than a face with angles of color and shape, yet he is an individual with whom we are immediately familiar. Similarly, the King of Cups is as much an interplay of circle and triangle as it is the portrait of a man. The Queen of Coins dazzles regally from her verdant effusion, and the Knights and Pages are all intimate portraits of real people.

The pips continue this minimalist vision with people and figures interacting with a number of suit emblems that is often reminiscent of the Waite progression, though there is far less emphasis on telling a story through the images so much as creating a particular emotional resonance, which Saiz accomplishes masterfully. I suspect a familiarity with Waite would be nice, but I don’t see it necessary to appreciate the speed of the Eight of Wands, the ennui of the Four of Cups, the dread of the Nine of Swords, or the isolation of the Four of Coins.

I will mention a few last items before I end this review. On the trumps, I even noticed that in a reversal of the usual practice, the name of the card is listed before its Roman numeral. In this deck, I could just as easily have gone without the numbers (further trivializing some tarotists obsession with the placements of Justice and Strength).  The name of the trump is found at the top of the card. On the pips, the name is found on the bottom of the cards and is completely spelled out, no hard to read Arabic numerals here. This only adds to the easy readability of the Fountain Tarot. These details may be what is so special about this deck, and though I have not mentioned Andi Todaro by name, I suspect that many of these design decisions may have been hers. The Fountain Tarot creates the subtle impression that there is nothing, no color, no angle, no title, no aspect of card, book, or box that is untouched by intention, and the tarot world is richer for this addition.

For further information on this deck and how to purchase it, go to http://www.fountaintarot.com.

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