Tchalaï Unger (1934-2005) was one of the most influential tarologists of the past half century in France, pioneering a very particular method of rational study based on close observation, inductive reasoning and a personal type of maieutics. This grounding, once integrated, allows for the play of intuition to freely emerge. Tchalaï’s method, diametrically opposed to the ubiquitous and stale “divinatory meanings” and hackneyed “spreads” present in just about every other Tarot book or booklet, has had a massive influence in France and French-speaking countries, and later, the Hispanophone world, due to the fact that her booklet accompanied the popular Grimaud edition of the Tarot of Marseilles for many years. Although translated into English, the English edition does not seem to have had much of an impact and was presumably not widely available at the time. This booklet, primarily dealing with the theory, was later followed by a more substantial work, which is more practice-oriented. Tchalaï also wrote a number of articles on the Tarot as well, some of which were published in Spanish and Dutch. We inaugurate this series of excerpts from her work with this biographical piece.
The following biography was published online on the blog of one of Tchalaï’s students, Laurent Édouard, who adapted it from the blurb provided in one of her booklets. The second text – which can be considered an obituary – is excerpted from a piece by the musicologist Iégor Reznikoff.
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Tchalaï Unger: A Name in the World of the Marseilles Tarot
Born in 1934 by the banks of a stream in the West of France, Tchalaï Unger dedicated her life to living, by trying to free herself from numerous passionate activities: violinist at the age of 4, musical critic for the Parisien at age 19, then later journalist almost everywhere (France Soir, Paris Match, Figaro magazine, among others), specialising in interviewing actors (Brando, Delon) and film directors (Spielberg, George Miller, Ridley Scott, Gus Van Sant), film critic, as well as script reader for a large film production company.
In parallel, her studies in psychological schools and philosophical groups lead her to becoming a therapist at the crossroads of the Eriksonian and Transpersonal movements. She has written a number of works on Memory-Codes: Introduction au Dépoussiérage des Mythes [Introduction to the Dusting Off of Myths], Les Amants Merveilleux [The Wonderful Lovers], Les Empreintes de l’Invisible [The Imprints of the Invisible], Le tarot, jeu du gouvernement du monde [The Tarot, the Game of Governing the World], Prières Inconnues [Unknown Prayers], Le Sexe des Rêves [Dream Sex], Le Véritable Tarot Tzigane [The Authentic Gypsy Tarot], etc. She has given many workshops aimed at corporate executives.
She created Le Tarot Tzigane [The Gypsy Tarot], Le Tarot des Chamanes [The Tarot of the Shamans] and has worked with an iconographer on La Réponse des Saints [The Reply of the Saints], and with an artist expert in futuristic effects, she has created L’Oracle de la Santa-Fé [The Oracle of the Santa-Fé].
Her 1981 booklet, The Tarot: Why, How and How Far? to accompany the Ancient Tarot of Marseille (designed by Paul Marteau in 1930 and published by Grimaud) sold over a million copies worldwide. In this booklet, she presents an original and particularly innovative approach to the Tarot of Marseilles.
In an extraordinary work, Le Théorème de Rodrigue [The Rodrigues Theorem], she explores a natural approach to the sensorial fourth dimension. These different activities only give a glimpse into her essential passion, Collective Memories.
As a translator, she encountered many high-level scientists (Stanislav Grof, Rupert Sheldrake, David Bohm). Among other works, she translated David Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order. Her last book, Secrets de Gitans [Gypsy Secrets] was published in 2002.
This biography was adapted from her booklet Les amants merveilleux ou le mythe de la fusion [The Wonderful Lovers, or the Myth of Fusion] which was distributed during the workshops of the same name from 1990 to 1995.
Tchalaï left us on the 20th of April, 2005. She leaves an entire generation of tarologists in sorrow at her loss.
[Note: Some of the publications cited above were privately printed rather than commercially published, and we have been unable to find further details about her decks other than the Tarot Tzigane. – Trans.]
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There are, of course, many people of Gypsy origin who have, as we say, “made it”, whether in France, in Russia, or elsewhere. I would like to mention one of those people, not so well known, it is true, but who was very loved and very highly regarded by her friends, including myself. Born Micheline Bazin, she decided to take up the lineage of her Unger grandfather, and so she adopted the name Tchalaï Unger which suited her so well. She converted to Orthodox Christianity, which is how I came to know her. As a journalist, she was close to Louis Pauwels, Marlon Brando, Yul Brynner and other renowned figures. She passed away in 2005. She was the author of the book – chiromancy oblige – Tarot Tzigane. As we knew her, so beautiful and so noble, so serene, she bore the vivacity of all the Gypsy splendour we have evoked.
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Tchalaï: A Brief Bibliography
- Le Tarot, Pourquoi, Comment, Jusqu’où, Grimaud, 1981.
- Translated into English as: The Tarot: Why, how and how far, Grimaud, 1982.
- Translated into Spanish as: El Tarot : ¿por qué? ¿cómo? ¿hasta dónde?, Obelisco, 1985.
- Republished in Spanish as: El tarot : La respuesta del futuro, Obelisco, 2004.
- Les Empreintes de l’invisible, MA éditions, 1989.
- Republished as: Le tarot, jeu du gouvernement du monde, Montorgueil, 1994.
- Note: Although there are some minor textual differences between both editions, chiefly bearing on the references, the main difference is the loss in print quality and colour of the illustrations for the section on the “laser gaze”.
- Le tarot tzigane et son âme, Librairie de l’inconnu éd, 1995.
- Republished as: Le Véritable Tarot Tzigane : Le tarot tzigane et son âme, éditions Trajéctoire, 2001.
- Translated into Portuguese (Brazil) as: O Verdadeiro Tarô Tzigane, Clube de Autores, 2019.
- Prières pour les peines et les joies d’aujourd’hui, Dervy, 1994.
- Le Sexe des Rêves, éditions du Prieuré, 1997.
- Secrets de Gitans, carnets d’une drabarni, éditions Trajéctoire, 2002.
- Introduction au Dépoussiérage des Mythes, 1989.
- Les Amants Merveilleux ou le mythe de la fusion, 1990.
- Le Théorème de Rodrigue, [?].
- David Bohm: La plénitude de l’univers, éditions du Rocher, 1987. French translation of: Wholeness and the Implicate order. Reprinted numerous times.
- Edred Thorsson: La magie des runes, Presses Pocket, 1991. French translation of: At the well of wyrd.
- Marc Questin, La splendeur du chamane, éditions du Rocher, 1997.
- Le Tarot Tzigane, Grimaud, 1984.
- Republished as: Le Tarot Tzigane, France Jeu Productions, 1995.
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- Above: Portrait of Tchalaï by Francis Campiglia.
- Below: Portrait of Tchalaï from the back cover of Secrets de Gitans, photographer unknown.