Chrysalis Tarot

Review by Diane Wilkes


Chrysalis Tarot artwork by Holly Sierra, Little White Booklet by Toney Brooks

Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.,,

ISBN: 978-1-57281-689-3

Retail: US $20.00 

This much-anticipated deck by the tarot community, including me, has put me through my paces.

Let me explain. When I first get a deck, I go through each card carefully. If, upon reflection, I don’t understand its similarity to my understanding of each card, I feel a slight disturbance in the force. It is not enough to make me reject the deck, but the more disturbances in the force, the more apprehensive I become about the deck’s readability. 

However, if I see a pattern emerging from the differences, a cohesion to what at first appears incohesive, I am willing to engage a bit, explore further. It is possible that this new direction will be fruitfully insightful (or insightfully fruitful). It is also possible that the artist just doesn’t get tarot and/or is being overly personal and solipsistic, expecting readers to follow a private path that yields little joy for anyone but the creatrix.

CRStwo of scrolls (1)

So. As I went through the Chrysalis Tarot, the number of cards that did not immediately make sense to me grew inordinately larger, and my concern increased. Perhaps this deck was just a (really, really) pretty face.

But I didn’t want to reject that pretty face too quickly, so I started to use the deck in daily one-card readings. Some cards made me work pretty hard. Bear in mind that, in this deck, Spirals correspond to Wands, Mirrors to Cups, Scrolls to Swords, and Stones to Pentacles. 

Here are just some of the challenging cards I met up with over a brief period of time:

CRSeightofscrolls (1)

Traditionally, the Two of Swords shows someone who is passively in search of answers. In the Chrystalis Two of Scrolls, a winged black unicorn prances atop some large aged papers against a mountain backdrop. Say what? Or take the Eight of Scrolls, normally showing a woman who is tied up amidst a fence of swords. Instead we have a powerful seer looking towards the heavens as she psychically massages a glowing orb. Finally, in the Ten of Scrolls, we see a magnificent tiger encircled by scrolls, not looking remotely perturbed. Its parallel in the Rider-Waite-Smith shows a bloody corpse pierced by multiple swords.


Now, if you’re a realist like me, you think: the artist is making formerly challenging images over into more empowering cards—and then you think: kill me now, because like me, you have a strong aversion to candy-coated tarots.

But what I found the more I worked with these cards is that they aren’t all more positive than their counterparts. For example, the Nine of Stones (Pentacles) shows a woman turning her back on a nest of large stones, instead of the falconer who has mastered the earthly world we see in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. What I discovered about this deck is that it’s all about the natural world, and the holistic nature of the cards. The Green Man Emperor is an exemplar of this message—he does not rule nature so much as he nurtures and prunes it as needed, a boss who works side-by-side with his employees in strength and harmony. I found myself becoming more aware of my own place in the natural world as I worked with this deck—and that’s a rare gift.

There’s another present present in the Chrysalis Tarot. The different imagery is often dead-on specific when it comes to a particular issue. I received the Seven of Spirals that shows a big-bellied bear when my stomach was severely, painfully bloated. When I made a commitment to a particular Goddess, the Eight of Mirrors “reflected” that journey quite unambiguously. Another card signaled that commitment, as well—and it wouldn’t have in any other deck.

Each of the cross-cultural Major Arcana have an assigned archetype or mythic being:

The Fool - Merlin

The Magician - Ravens

The High Priestess - Sorceress

The Empress - Gaia

The Emperor - Green Man

The Hierophant - Divine Child

The Lovers - Lovers

The Chariot - Herne the Hunter

Justice (numbered VIII in this deck) - Ma’at

The Hermit - Storyteller

The Wheel of Fortune - Wheel

Strength (numbered XI in this deck) - Papa Legba

The Hanged Man - Celtic Owl

Death - Ariadne

Temperance - Golden Flower

The Devil - Bella Rosa

The Tower - Kali

The Star - Elpi

The Moon - Moon

The Sun - Sun

Judgment - Phoenix

The World - Psyche


For the most part, I love the Major Arcana and find the assignments apt and, at times, powerful. I particularly treasure seeing a beautiful Devil, as the Devil must be beautiful to seduce so many. But I couldn’t find any myth for Bella Rosa so I imagine Toney Brooks or Holly Sierra Papa Legba as Strength is one of my favorite cards in the deck. On the other hand, it does a disservice both to Papa Legba and Strength to slot them so distinctly—both overflow their cataloguing. 

Which leads us to the court cards. They are all part of a “troupe”: medieval characters including acrobats, mimes, pilgrims, and illusionists. This innovation has its strengths (visceral, memorable, accessible interpretations) and its weaknesses (self-enclosed, creatively limited messages). Take the Queen of Stones (The Artiste). An eye for beauty is one aspect of my known Queen of Pentacles, but barely a toenail on her body in terms of characteristics. 

As you can guess, I’m not completely reconciled to the troupe yet.

I would welcome a companion book for this deck—but only if it includes an explanation of the artist’s personal, specific symbolism. The little white booklet is helpful, but I yearn to understand Holly Sierra’s intentions, particularly as the deck images are so untraditional.

I can not recommend this deck for people who are not willing to stretch beyond the Rider-Waite-Smith structure, but I can and do urge people who are drawn to the beauty of the Chrysalis Tarot to have patience with themselves as they uncover the marvelous potential of this deck. It is definitely worth every disturbance in the force.

Images from, check it out to find out more about these cards and the rest of the deck!

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