Charming. Whimsical. Soft. Effeminate. Omnipresent.
These are the words that come to my mind when I think of the Chrysalis Tarot. Here is a magical, inspirational, and ethereal deck that is sure to delight. Since its release, it has become one of the most popular and most talked about 21st century tarot decks and for good reason. It introduces an entirely new genre of tarot architecture and design that, in many ways, better reflects today’s New Age spiritual sensibilities.
First, before I get into my review, choose a card from the above row. Left to right, we’ll number them 1 (left-most) through 5 (right-most).
These cards come from the Troupes in the Chrysalis Tarot, or the court cards. The card you chose is the archetype for you to work with at the moment and to reflect on how you embody this archetype.
If your archetype is from the suit of Spirals, then it’s a phase of personal growth for you, and thinking about what your passion is. If it’s the suit of Mirrors to embody right now, then think about what love means to you, and how you nourish yourself and nourish those around you. For Scrolls, it’s about clarity, and perhaps even clairvoyance. How do you gain greater clarity and develop your clairvoyance? For the suit of Stones, it’s a time of prosperity and abundance for you, and seeking your prosperity.
Now look at the specific archetype embodied by the court title (whether it’s a Page, Knight, or Queen). The titles here don’t signify gender or sex, but rather the titles signify the phase of the cycle you’re in right now. For the Page, it’s about discovery; the Knight, seeking insight; and the Queen, advancement and maturation.
Consider the dominant colors in your selected card, what that color means to you, what it evokes, and what that color expresses about your present frame of mind. Gaze intently upon the imagery on your card and naturally, easily focus in on one specific detail. Is it an animal appearing in the backdrop? Is it a particular object? Take that as a symbol. What does it represent to you? How can that detail represent one of your higher aspirations and what does the archetype for the card tell you about how to achieve that aspiration?
With all that in mind, on a blank sheet of paper, write down the archetype on your selected card. Write it in the center of the paper and draw a circle around it. Then, drawing spokes from that archetype name, brainstorm what that archetype calls to mind for you, always focusing and going back to that aspiration.
That’s how you can read with this amazing deck, the Chrysalis Tarot. That exercise demonstrates the power and efficacy of this deck. Now let’s get to the review.
The Chrysalis Tarot is conceived by Toney Brooks, who comes from a very interesting and impressive background of broadcast journalism and New Age spirituality, and is illustrated by Holly Sierra, who is the one I credit for the magical, ethereal, and absolutely charming illustrations.
The authors describe the deck as “Transformational Technology for Everyone” and contends that it takes a new approach to tarot, which it definitely does. The artistic inspiration for the Chrysalis Tarot is to be a “tapestry of medieval and Celtic influences with Greco-Roman, Egyptian, Hindu, and Vodun Otherworld characters woven throughout our unique mythology” (deck description text from the publisher, U.S. Games). That really is a perfect description of the deck, rendered with vibrant colors and an eye for detailing.
Each card in the Major Arcana is assigned an archetype or psyche. You’ll see above that The Magician is titled “Ravens” and the High Priestess is the “Sorceress.” To me, ravens symbolize secrets, the occult, and are often foreboding. I found the depiction of ravens here to be an interesting and innovative expression of the iconic tarot Magician card. Sorceress, too, is interesting for the High Priestess, and to a certain extent, definitely works. However, Sorceress, to me, is more Magician vibe, whereas the High Priestess is a keeper of knowledge, a keeper of secrets, not necessarily a practitioner thereof.
As we progress along the Majors, I’ll have to defer to those who are more knowledgeable of both archetypes and mythology than I am to tell me what you think about these correspondences. The “Green Man” for The Emperor may or may not work, I have no idea. I simply lack sufficient knowledge to form an opinion here. “Divine Child” for The Hierophant is definitely an innovative interpretation of Key 5, and the corresponding attribute in the little white booklet (LWB), “self-discovery” is also a new take on the card.
Ooh. Now something I’m familiar with. Ma’at for Justice makes perfect sense to me. I find this accompanying LWB to be surprisingly chock full of content. There’s a lot here and one of these days I will take the time to parse through the LWB in an intensive study.
“Storyteller” for The Hermit is also interesting. I think it works on a conceptual level. I tend to see The Hermit as one who “shows, not tells,” however, since I work predominantly with the RWS deck, where the hermit appears rather silent, in solace, and holding up the lantern at the peak of a mountain. So “Storyteller” is a novel interpretation for The Hermit, but one I think ultimately works.
I approach The Chrysalis Tarot as a new tarot system. We’re using the structure of the traditional tarot deck but really reinventing each card and updating it for modern spiritual sensibilities. We’re incorporating a wider array of cultures than more traditional tarot decks, showing greater ethnic diversity as well, and synthesizing world mythology into 78 cards. That’s an ambitious task.
The typical shadow cards in the Majors are depicted softly and gently in this deck. You see Ariadne for Death, Bella Rosa for The Devil, and Kali for The Tower. There’s an energy of tough transformations and catharsis in the Kali mythos that works for The Tower, even if my immediate association might be Death.
This is a great deck for young learners of tarot and when reading for a very young clientele, I’ll probably reach for The Chrysalis Tarot. To be a fully effective reader with this deck, though, I will definitely need to read up on these archetypes and myths. Many aren’t familiar to me and again, it’s really my own ignorance at play, and doesn’t say anything about the deck itself. Equipped with the right body of knowledge, I see this seemingly whimsical, dainty deck being an incredibly powerful divinatory tool, and really amazing, I’m sure, for self-realization.
I may or may not have heard through the grapevine of the tarot world that a companion book is coming out soon to go along with this deck. If so, YAY! This deck needs a companion book! I feel like I’m not getting as much out of it as I could be without a companion book to learn about the symbolism here. The “Phoenix” for Judgment, by the way, is just breathtaking. I like this interpretation and expression of the Judgement tarot card. Here the phoenix brings a sense of reinventing oneself, rising from the ashes, getting knocked down but getting right back up again and, from the experience of the fall, changed with greater knowledge, insight, and wisdom.
The Chrysalis Tarot is not a rehash of any of the prevailing tarot systems, and that’s what people need to remember. Like many other contemporary decks, from the Voyager Tarot to the Mary-el, the Chrysalis Tarot is its own unique divinatory system that happens to use the tarot structure as a foundation, and then built up with archetypes. Then the design is naturalistic, fairy tale-like, and beautifully rendered by Holly Sierra.
The suit of Spirals corresponds with the suit of Wands in the traditional tarot structure. Let the imagery of each card transport you to where you need to go intuitively, through the path of your imagination. That’s the best way to utilize this deck and read with it.
I tend to be an analytical reader, which is why esoteric tarot decks resonate more with me. The Chrysalis Tarot is very much a right-hemisphere deck, and gets you to use your imaginative and creative side. It brings me back to early childhood, when I wasn’t able to read yet, and so looked at the vivid pictures in the storybook to narrate my own fairytale. That’s perhaps the best way to read with this deck, and through such narrations, meander into that collective unconscious.
The suit of Mirrors corresponds with the suit of Cups in the traditional tarot structure. It’s one of the most beautiful illustrations of the suit of Cups or its equivalent I’ve seen in a while. Again, while you’ll have certain cards like the Two of Mirrors that make sense under one of the prevailing traditional tarot systems, the Three of Mirrors evolves from those traditional systems to formulate a different perspective.
The cards are beautiful and multicultural. It’s not just about depicting different skintones (apologies for not selecting a good sampling of cards to show this), but different cultures and their iconography are integrated into this deck. In many ways, it feels real; it feels organic. It doesn’t feel forced and sewed together in a Frankenstein sort of manner that I often get from other contemporary decks that attempt to be multicultural. Here, it’s ever so natural.
The suit of Scrolls corresponds with the suit of Swords in the traditional tarot structure. I haven’t seen the suit of Swords or its equivalent expressed in terms of intuition, but perhaps if we’re talking about clairvoyance, then it would make sense.
The suit of Swords is about cutting through the excess to see clearer, to understand, to know, to achieve, to stand for. It’s a very ideological suit, and I think that’s what the little white booklet for the Chrysalis Tarot was trying to get at.
The suit of Stones corresponds with the suit of Pentacles or Coins in the traditional tarot structure. You’ll certainly see Rider-Waite-Smith influences, but again, if you pedantically try to impose your Rider-Waite-Smith knowledge into this deck, you won’t get far. Instead, follow the creativity of this deck. Let the imagery here guide you.
Truly, these are some beautiful, beautiful cards, not just for the artwork, but for the art’s effectiveness at imagining the archetypes and at compelling you to utilize a different part of your mind (and intuition).
The court cards, or Troupe, in the Chrysalis Tarot is a creative, artful, and functional reinterpretation of the tarot courts. The below photograph shows the Troupe from the active suits, Spirals (Wands) and Scrolls (Swords) respectively.
A tarot practitioner needs to suspend some of her esoteric associations with the tarot to make the most of this deck. The Chrysalis Tarot isn’t about recycling or combining prevailing tarot systems. Instead, it’s about taking the architectural structure of tarot and seeing how it fits over archetypes that are recognizable across cultures. Mythology from all parts of the world are brought into the fold and expressed through the tarot design. It’s a fresh way of reading tarot that hasn’t been done before, at least not to the extent that the Chrysalis Tarot has taken the evolution.
The passive suits, Stones (Pentacles) and Mirrors (Cups) are pictured above. You might have noted that the four archetypes for the earlier pictured Spirals court are inspiration- and motivation- oriented. The Scrolls are mind-focused, progressive, and signify advancement of the human intellect and psyche. Here, the Stones court feature those who can manifest. The Mirrors court are spiritual and emotional.
I found the little white booklet to be helpful. I would say that, again, instead of trying to force pre-learned card meanings into this deck, card meanings derived from other tarot systems and traditions, work with the Chrysalis Tarot within its own design.
While saying that might seem to imply that I think you need to learn a new tarot system to use the Chrysalis, that’s not true. The keywords on the cards themselves and the exquisite imagery that we have to credit Holly Sierra for bringing to life are enough to get you moving toward the collective unconscious. Again, the path here is through archetypes and mythology, and even if you don’t know the myth or culture that a particular card is inspired by, there’s enough on the card itself for you to work with those archetypal essences. Actual learned knowledge of the myths and cultures only enhances your understanding but isn’t a prerequisite.
The little white booklet teaches a Pentagram Spread using an inverted pentagram, which for some reason I found both amusing and unexpected.
The Chrysalis Tarot deck is a misunderstood deck. At first, I agreed with many of the more critical reviews of the cards because I, too, was adjudicating it through traditional frameworks. You can’t do that with this deck. You have to let go of what you think you know and be child-like. Return to a place of illiteracy and let these dream-like cards guide you to intuitive visions.