Chrysalis and the Spiritual Dignity of Tarot

Holly Sierra and I, co-creators of Chrysalis Tarot, were thrilled back in 2014 when the Tarosophy Tarot Association announced Chrysalis as recipient of its prestigious Deck of the Year award. Tarosophy places great emphasis on the spiritual dignity of tarot, so for us this recognition was both humbling and immensely gratifying. From its inception, we aimed specifically to make a worthy spiritual contribution to tarot’s growing body of work.

When we first placed Chrysalis on the drawing board, neither of us had heard the phrase spiritual dignity of tarot. We simply had hoped to accomplish our spiritual goals for Chrysalis within the context of the age-old mythology and spiritual teaching called The Hero’s Journey.

Analogous to the Hero’s Journey is the Quest for the Holy Grail, a universal legend symbolizing self-transformation, the personal metamorphosis that inspired the name Chrysalis. Mythologist Joseph Campbell called the grail legends the foundational myths of Western civilization. The grail quest is a quest to discover the Authentic Self. The Hero’s Journey allegorizes this struggle that occurs between the authentic (spiritual) Self and the ego, the ultimate self-sabotager.

We sought also to create a deck well suited to the emerging worldview or paradigm shift that’s been unfolding for some 25 years and is now (2022) at a tipping point. This shift traces its shallow roots to the Neo-Pagan and New Age Movements; its deep roots to the turbulent social upheavals of the ’60s that advanced civil rights, women’s rights and ecology, epitomized in Chrysalis by the Green Man and Gaia archetypes.

Although not New Age per se, the secularity of Chrysalis dovetails with several New Age Philosophy tenets, most notably holism and humanism. Creating a definitively secular deck was another of our goals; we dared not burden Chrysalis with dogmatic religious frameworks, iconography or esoteric symbolism. Neither did we want to create a deck that bowed to archaic institutional hierarchies that represented absolute civil and spiritual authority; in Chrysalis all spiritual paths are equally valid and respected; personal responsibility is paramount. Chrysalis is not about conformity of dogma or “correct beliefs,” but rather about questioning all beliefs and using innate critical thinking skills.

Chrysalis abhors patriarchy, even hierarchy. We strove for overall balance between our deck’s yin-yang energies without social stratification (one reason for replacing the “court cards”). We pushed the envelope to accomplish a masculine-feminine balance and promote personal spiritual empowerment. For example, when we refer to “the divine” in Chrysalis we generally refer either to the divine feminine or to the androgynous divine child within. The Divine Child (pictured above) is both an Otherworld archetype and a Chrysalis major arcana card.

In Chrysalis, the Otherworld is the name we gave to the abode of archetypes, ancestors, faeries and myriad other benevolent spirits, including shamanic spirit animals. It’s corollary is often called the Akashic Field.

We engage this Otherworld via 22 major tarot archetypes and other archetypes unique to Chrysalis. This extended family includes our replacements for tarot’s traditional court cards, an ensemble of medieval troubadours we call The Troupe. Members of The Troupe, who are also archetypes, variously represent spirit guides and ancestors along with the querent’s personal characteristics and personality traits. They also can symbolize helpful individuals, often strangers on their own journey who the querent might meet along the way. All Troupe members have personal spirit animal attributes known as familiars illustrated on their cards. Totems or spirit animals also are found on Chrysalis cards.

Morgan le Fay as The Sorceress

Otherworld engagement via archetypes, an aspect of tarot renowned psychologist C.G. Jung found fascinating, is accomplished through shamanic-style communication between the Collective Unconscious (the Otherworld) and the personal unconscious mind. Information streamed from the Otherworld resonates during a tarot reading and is interpreted intuitively – tarot is not an exercise in code breaking. Chrysalis regards the 78 tarot cards as symbols of multivalent potentialities that mean different things to different people at different times in their lives.

Archetypes of the collective unconscious have resonating frequencies and are quantumly entangled with the personal unconscious; the stronger the querent’s personal bond with a particular archetype, the stronger the resonance. As Nicolai Tesla wrote, “[We should always] think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” Everything in nature vibrates on a specific frequency, including the Otherworld archetypes.

In adapting Chrysalis to the new connected-universe worldview, we first had to identify this worldview’s salient characteristics. First and foremost, it’s characterized by belief in a living, interconnected and interdependent universe. In this living universe, we become co-creators and function as biological circuits (feedback loops, if you will) connected to a vast Web of Life, as Fritjof Capra termed it. Capra’s Web of Life includes everything in the cosmos; everything is energy, including matter and information.

Secondly, the new worldview is both spiritual and material as well as scientific. It provides a groundwork for a new rational spirituality. Although this notion places Chrysalis at odds with classical Newtonian mechanics, it is complementary with quantum mechanics and the New Science of unified physics. This New Science of unified physics is both holistic and holographic. It views contemporary notions of a dead-universe separated from reality as a dangerous illusion, a fact sadly borne out by human history.

Thirdly, Chrysalis emphasizes the importance of healing through selfless compassion. Having compassion and empathy for others, as well as for ourselves, provides a powerful instrument for healing. Moreover, compassion and empathy unite us rather than separate us. Tarot cannot assist with personal transformation unless it also helps heal a broken psyche. To that end many Chrysalis cards evoke healing and Chrysalis is often described as a healing deck.

Among the many changes Chrysalis makes to traditional tarot, a schema well over 100 years old, is the elimination of limiting belief structures and strictures that engender fear, anxiety or negativity. All pose significant stumbling blocks to self-transformation and healing.

Any self-transformation modality is, by definition, a dynamic spiritual enterprise. To claim spiritual dignity, it must therefore afford spiritual efficacy. It cannot lay legitimate claim to spiritual efficacy unless it’s friendly to beginners and readily accessible. That is a tall order for tarot, which at least today remains an esoteric system tethered to the existing patriarchal, dead-universe (material) worldview. Tarot, however, is constantly evolving and gaining greater awareness and acceptance among an increasingly enlightened public starved for rational spirituality in a living universe.

The Tarosophy Tarot Association aims to make tarot a widely accessible wisdom tool for personal empowerment and personal growth, a goal Chrysalis Tarot wholeheartedly supports and emulates.

© Toney Brooks, 2015, 2022; Chrysalis Art © Holly Sierra