Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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Tchalaï Unger: Mythical Images

Translator’s Introduction

The theory of the Gypsy origins or transmission of the Tarot is a notion first evoked in passing by Court de Gébelin in his Monde Primitif in the late eighteenth century, and later taken up and developed by various authors such as J.-A. Vaillant in the mid nineteenth century, before becoming canonised, in a way, by Papus in the very title of his Tarot of the Bohemians. Yet as early critiques of this theory have noted, there exists no proof to support such a claim, in spite of the anecdotal evidence recording palmistry and various other divinatory techniques among the Romani community in the nineteenth century.

The consequence of this lack of definitive proof has given rise to further theorising, namely, the idea that this cartomantic tradition would have perpetuated itself more or less secretly, using handmade decks, and in an unwritten oral tradition. Early developments of this particular redefined “tradition” are a subject to return to in due course, but one of the contemporary and noteworthy iterations of the idea is that advanced by Tchalaï Unger, herself of Romani extraction, and a keen student of her heritage.

This heritage was the subject of not only a deck, the Tarot Tzigane, and its accompanying booklet, but also of a more extensive book, Le Tarot Tzigane, and a related book dealing with the Romani magical tradition and lore more generally, Secrets de Gitans.

The following excerpt contains ideas not only relevant to the oracular deck in question, an adaptation, according to Tchalaï, of the type of personal, handmade deck used by Romani fortune-tellers and wise women, but also considerations on the Tarot of Marseilles, its nature and its mode of functioning.

As with Tchalaï’s writings on the Tarot of Marseilles, the Tzigane Tarot booklet and book form an inseparable whole, although there is some degree of overlap. This excerpt, in fact, is a reworked and expanded version of the introduction to the Tzigane Tarot booklet. These excerpts appeared on pages 14-20 of Le Tarot Tzigane, Éditions Trajéctoire, 2001. Although the book  remains in print (and contains reduced black & white images of the images), Tchalaï’s Tzigane Tarot deck has not been republished since the 1990s and is now hard to find.

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Mythical Images

Tchalaï Unger

Certain images dwell within us and shape us, directing our ways of living and of seeing from afar, and profoundly so. Certain historic facts, more or less known to a number of us, moreover, have the strength of a myth – for us all. […]

I continued to absolutely want to communicate these images, which to my mind, like all the mythical or mythological treasures of each people or ethnic group, belong to the Inheritance of Humanity as a whole.

In the mean time, I had worked on the Tarot of Marseilles quite a lot, not as a divinatory instrument, but as a model of the universe; I myself had written the booklet which has accompanied this deck since 1981, and had became acutely aware of the power of the image; the “card” possesses an energetic charge which, in a way, directly reaches the deepest layers of the psyche of the one who looks at it, without passing by the purview of the intelligence. Unfortunately, this perception finds itself, in most people (especially those who are evolved), deformed by the filter of a symbolic system. As we find as many symbolic systems as we find spiritual movements and that they are almost always altered or modified, we quickly go astray… We forget that the Tarot is a Model of the Universe, in the same way that all the other great paths of knowledge or mathematical systems are, Quantum Mechanics, for instance.

Having received thousands of letters in response to this booklet, I had the idea of creating a deck, a set of cards allowing the “gadjé,” the non-Tziganes, access to at least a part of the Tzigane collective unconscious. The treasures of the Incas do not belong to the Incas, but to humanity as a whole, to any human being at all whosoever! The Greek soul is one aspect of the soul of the world, the Indian too. The Tzigane or Gypsy treasures of the collective unconscious do not exclusively belong to the Rom race, but to the human race in its entirety.

I therefore wanted, perhaps with a lot of ambition, to restitute to the world this facet; long hidden, misunderstood or neglected. In making this “deck,” I have deliberately chosen a certain number of events or examples, translated into images (images which live within us and shape us inwardly), from the history and intimate life of the Tzigane people, of which the non-Tziganes know nothing. I won’t go any further along those lines! It would be to serve up an accusation against the non-Tziganes and I am not here to make war, but to effect an alliance! Or at least, a reconciliation…

The Chaturangas

We Rom have Tarot decks which come to us from the Chaturangas which our ancestors the Rajput princes had painted on round pieces of mother-of-pearl or leather. We draw them for one another, following our complicated traditional laws which make life so liveable. This one has been made for a non-Tzigane brother or cousin who would like to humbly set aside his prejudices and received ideas (for which he is in no way responsible) and to open himself up to our true story, to our true inner landscape, to our people as a whole. This is why the Tzigane Tarot is called an “ethnological deck.”

But these Images, which come from another world and another system of thought, bear an extremely intense archetypal force. This heritage of humanity belongs to all, Tzigane or not. The interpretation of the images we make of it is very easy: it is not polluted by centuries of erroneous interpretations, as is the case for most Tarot decks.

That is why, on the divinatory plane, it is of a great accuracy. It gives vigorous indications, simple and easy to apply, stemming from the timeless wisdom of the Rom. […]

Some Gossip…

From its first edition, this “ethnological and divinatory deck” has brought me great joy. It was immediately welcomed and understood with a speed and an enthusiasm which surprised me. I was afraid that it might remain shrouded in suspicion… Not at all! A fortnight after its publication, even when I myself had not fully tested it as a divinatory mirror, a psychoanalyst I had known for 40 years telephoned me: “Your Tarot – I found it in the window display of an esoteric bookshop – it has possessed me! I use it with my patients; it’s fantastic! I understand this deck completely!” I had my doubts: she had probably understood nothing at all.

Not without some haughtiness, I gave her a rendezvous; surprise! She had, by means of these images, perceived the depths of the Tzigane soul, and had consolidated her own knowledge of human archetypes. That touched me to a point you cannot even imagine.

Since then, I discovered a true-blue American bookseller (half Cherokee) in Georgetown, a historical and fancy neighbourhood of Washington, mad about the Tzigane Tarot; he knows it better than I do, he sees it everywhere, he has students and has founded a club! On the other hand, in Taiwan, the Chinese, who are compatible with the Tarot of Marseilles, seem to be immune against the Tzigane Tarot. What a shame!

Other decks of cards have claimed to show the Romani tradition. In reality, they have only reflected the opinion of their (non-Rom) authors on the Tziganes considered as a vehicle of knowledge. Now, the true Romani tradition was up until now extremely guarded.

The Tarot decks are drawn by hand so that they are never used by non-Rom and their circulation remains secret. A Tarot deck is destined to one person in particular, and often contains an allusion to the circumstances of their lineage or of their birth, in particular, to one of their “secret names,” which should never even be pronounced, for they give the power of life and death over the person.

Originating from very well preserved traditions such as that of the Jains or that of the Chakravarti or Lord of the World, of which the esotericist René Guénon (1) wrote, following the masonically-keyed work of Saint Yves d’Alveydre (2), this secret tradition is powerfully original.

* * *


  1. See René Guénon, The Lord of the World, Coombe Springs Press, 1983.
  2. See Saint Yves d’Alveydre, La Mission de l’Inde, Dorbon, 1910. – Trans.

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Gilemon Villemin: The Tarot de Marseille (Animation)


Versatile and often to be found where least expected, Tchalaï taught for a time in the ESIEA school of electronic engineering in France during the 1990s. According to a former student, the creator of the following video, she knew how to spark the class’s interest in the Tarot, which resulted in many interesting projects.

One such project is the following animation, in which the various elements and figures which make up the cards find themselves detached from each other, and animated, to say, moving along the directions of implied motion, articulating the essentially dynamic and interactive nature of the tarotic images.

The creator of this video, Gilemon Villemin, is an engineer and animator. His personal website is here, and the original video may be found here.

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The Tarot de Marseille

Gilemon Villemin

Published with the kind permission of the author.

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In Memoriam: Tchalaï Unger

Tchalaï Unger



Today marks the 16th anniversary of Tchalaï’s passing, and we invite readers to consult the revised biography and bibliography of this remarkable woman, tarologist extraordinaire, here, as well as the following excerpts from her works:

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In the meantime, I had worked a lot with the Tarot of Marseilles, not as a divinatory tool, but as a model of the universe; I even wrote the booklet that has accompanied this deck since 1981, and have become acutely aware of the power of images; the “card” possesses an energetic charge which, in a way, directly reaches the deepest layers of the psyche of the observer, without passing through the purview of the intellect. Unfortunately, this perception finds itself, in most people (especially the more evolved), deformed by the filter of a symbolic system. As we encounter as many symbolic systems as there are spiritual movements, and as they are almost always altered or modified, we quickly go astray… We forget that the Tarot is a Model of the Universe, in the same way as all the other great spiritual paths of knowledge, or mathematical systems, such as quantum mechanics, for instance.

– Tchalaï Unger, Le Véritable Tarot Tzigane : Le tarot tzigane et son âme, éditions Trajéctoire, 2001, p. 15.

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Tchalaï: The Suit of Coins: The Organised/Organising Gaze

Translator’s Introduction

Following on from the previous piece, we present a further set of brief excerpts from Tchalaï’s work, dealing this time with the Technical Bloc, and more particularly, the suit of Coins.


* * *

The Suit of CoinS: The Organised/Organising Gaze



The True Laser Gaze: The Glasses of the Tarot

The II of Coins rings the gaze and shows us that the following suit concerns the structured gaze that gives the world a structure when it is cast upon it. In the Tarot, in its true size, these “glasses”[1] are exactly the same size as a real pair of glasses, such as the ones you or would I would wear.

* * *

CoinS: the Organised/Organising Gaze

We have already broached this idea a number of times. Proceeding from the “glasses” in II, we find the same principles as in the Cup series: a process of addition of one element to each card, and the development of a vegetal infrastructure representing nature. This time, this development seems to aim towards the construction of a solid centre.

In III, the stems are soft, and not informed. In IIII (naturally), a square appears, the only one of its kind in all the Tarot, and the sprout within the little circle, repeated everywhere, emphasises the richness of the system’s reproduction.

In V, the central square is formed by the leaves of the infrastructure; in VI, the centre is already solid, even though the stems are devoid of information; in VII, there is a shift away from the centre; in VIII the centre is reinforced, and the information increasingly complete, but it is only in VIIII that the vegetal infrastructure is completely informed, yellow (which exists of course in the objects/Coins).

In X, the wider, more reinforced centre does not prevent the dis-information of the stems, but for the first time, two Coins have become overlaid onto the vegetal infrastructure: the gaze imposes itself onto nature. Thus, “Look, the fields are doing a Van Gogh this evening!” Hence, in contemporary physics, the organising gaze of a David Bohm imposes itself onto nature: we think it functions according to the glance we cast upon it. (Note how the word “insight” refers yet again to “sight.”)

* * *

To Simplify In the Extreme

Coins: to observe/organise the universe, whether macroscopic (the cosmos, the wider world), or microscopic (oneself, family, enterprise). Organising already enables an access to energy (see the Staff of the Horseman of Coins and his place in the Great Square).


[1] In French, the word lunette, the singular form of glasses, literally means “little moon.”

Photographic Credits: Steroscopic portrait of Tchalaï by Francis Campiglia, editing by S. Le Duvehat. Source.
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Tchalaï: How to Work With the Tarot II

Tchalaï: How to Work With the Tarot II

Translator’s Introduction

The following excerpt from Tchalaï’s main work on the Tarot, Les Empreintes de l’Invisible – “Traces of the Invisible”, presents the  opening section on how to work with the Tarot based on a methodical, logical approach, without a priori. It may be considered as the extension or a more thorough development of the previous post here. This piece deals with considering the cards ab initio, without reference to any other system, nor to any so-called received ideas one may happen to have concerning the Tarot, or any deck of cards for that matter. As such, it directly challenges our preconceptions and forces us to confront the Tarot deck with a new pair of eyes and with a mind cleansed of clichés and commonplaces.

Les Empreintes de l’Invisible

Opening Pandora’s Box



In order to avoid harming ourselves with the secrets of perfection, let us tackle them with prudence, slowness and perseverance, without letting our attention or our pace slacken, without leaving behind us the least word we have not understood.

Do not be surprised if this chapter is written in a heavy-handed, didactic, almost spoken, manner, according to the mode of thought and logical, precise observation. Follow it step by step, consulting your deck all the while.

Procure for yourself a set of the Ancient Tarot of Marseilles produced by Grimaud, reference number 394 403.

Take the cards in hand. Place them in a pile. Turn them over. Look at them any way you like for ten minutes. Count them: 78. Measure them: their real size is 12.3 cm by 6.5 cm. A rectangular line drawing one millimetre wide delineates the contents of each card: 11.6 cm by 5.7 cm on the inside of the line, that is, almost exactly a double square.

One principle: number, image, name (or absence thereof) have a significance. No one card is less important or interesting than another. All of them count in the system of combinations and permutations.

Lay down the 78 cards of the Tarot. Let us forget everything we know – or think we know – about them. Let us approach these cards much as children in nursery school play with differently shaped blocks, putting them together, cubes with cubes, balls with balls, like with like. There is no need for us to give them a meaning or to derive a teaching therefrom just yet. At the same time as we see the laws which govern this set of cards appear, we may begin to form a logical approach, and it is a game!

Once we have put together the cards which are formed of the same parts, we can distinguish four general subsets.

The Great Square

We see here a group of figures with, below the image, a space bearing a name. There are four such functions: King, Queen, Valet and Horseman. There are four families: Cup, Sword, Staff and Coins. Let us immediately note that Coins is in the plural form and let us keep this particularity in mind since it may have a bearing later on.

Place the cards so as to see at a glance the four functions (for instance, horizontally) and the four families (for instance, vertically, although the reverse is just as legitimate).

For mnemonic reasons, for the functional handling of the cards, and even though the Tarot does not explicitly give them a name, I call this group The Great Square.

The Four Tools

Another subset is composed of four cards which have neither name nor number, nor even a space for same. They solely depict a large object, not a person, one per card, and for practical reasons, even though the Tarot does not give them a name, we shall call them The Four Tools.

The Technical Bloc

We also see a certain number of cards depicting objects (thirty-six, to be precise) which are not named but which are numbered. The number is placed to the side of the card, except in one series which depicts regular, circular objects in growing number, and which is not numbered. We may, for the sake of convenience, even though the Tarot does not give them a name, call them Coins by analogy with the tool which is held by the King, Queen, Valet and Horseman of Coins of the Great Square. Let us note the absence of numbers.

This subset, or at least three of the four of the series of this subset, are numbered as follows: II, III, IIII, V, VI, VII, VIII, VIIII, X.

Looking more closely, we can see that in two of the series, the number (placed on the side) is to be read from the centre of the card. That is to say, we can only decipher the card by placing oneself within its centre. In another series, the series can only be deciphered by placing oneself outside it. This series depicts a growing number of yellow goblets or cups. By analogy with the tool held by the group of figures from the Great Square, even though the Tarot does not give them a name, we can call this series that of Cup. Moreover, we can group together these 4 series as one set and call it The Technical Bloc. Later, we shall see that it may be read like a comic strip (without the speech bubbles! Objects cannot speak…)

The Cards of the Journey

To recap, we find three subsets based on the number four:

4 x 1: The Four Tools

4 x 4: The Great Square

4 x 9 (from II to X): The Technical Bloc

There remains one further subset, thus giving us a total of four sets!

One subset consists of cards containing an image, without name or number (The Four Tools); another, an image and a name (The Great Square); another, an image and a number (The Technical Bloc). The group we have not yet examined contains: image, name and number. For this reason, it is thus the most complex part of the Tarot.

For the sake of convenience, even though the Tarot does not give it a specific name, we shall call it the Cards of the Journey, because maps (and even visiting cards) are always a sign of identification and of recognition when travelling. [1] As to geographical maps, they offer us a workable approach to the territory we wish to explore and allow us to choose a route when travelling.

We have thus grouped together these twenty-two cards as they present the same characteristics: they have an image, and are numbered from I to XXI in a space situated above the image itself. This subset is quite pleasing because the figures appear familiar to us (more so than those of the Great Square), as do their names, except when they are surprising: what could a God-House be? Furthermore, these numbers indicate an order; we are used to using this order in our everyday life. The only problem is the card containing an image, a space with the name “The Mate,” and a space above the image.. without number. Where should we place this card?

Mating the Mate! [2]

One of the procedures used in the study of a set consists of comparing the part of the set that differs from the others to every other part in order to spot analogies. (In fact, this is exactly what we did by grouping the cards together earlier, thus discovering the four “modes” or subsets.)

Consider the Mate. Is there another card which draws our attention in an analogous manner? The answer is obviously yes. There is another card which has an image, a space containing the number XIII… but neither name nor a space to contain the name (not even on the side, like the Valet of Coins of the Great Square). When we look at the Mate, we notice that the upper space is empty, but the space itself exists. Therefore, the Mate does have a number. Perhaps this number is to be found elsewhere. And we may begin by examining more closely the particularity of this card numbered XIII, which cannot have a name.

Let us compare the images of these two cards, incomplete with respect to the other cards of the Journey, but their design tells us that they are clearly a part of this group. If we compare the figures, we immediately notice they are analogous: both figures are stepping forward towards their left, the one leaning on a sort of yellow handle (attached to a red blade), the other on a solid walking stick. Both stick and handle are at a similar angle and are both of the same yellow colour. The figures are not totally superimposable, but their postures are very similar indeed.

Let us put forth the hypothesis that both cards can be paired together. We would then have one card, bearing the number XIII and the name the Mate, and whose image would be blurred or doubled up. We could have given the Mate the number XIII, but this number already exists, it has already been “taken,” which leads us to place the Mate behind XIII rather than in front of it.

This is but a hypothesis, but it confirms the other hypotheses we have proposed. We can thus provisionally pair together the Mate and XIII, until something else appears which would negate this hypothesis.

Needless to say, the Tarot does not name XIII, and this by a remarkable peculiarity. Therefore, we shall not name it either, not even for practical reasons. To do so would be to introduce a serious error into the observation, logic and efficiency of the system.

[1] In French, carte means both “card” and “map.” – Ed.

[2] In French, Mater le Mat, literally, “taming (or watching, in slang) the Mate.” The wording has been changed to preserve the alliteration and wordplay. – Ed.
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Tchalaï: Study of a Card: Force

Translator’s Introduction

We present an excerpt from Tchalaï’s work, from the article Le tarot: comment s’en servir? (The Tarot: How to Use it) published in the journal Question De, no. 30, May-June 1979. This is a stand-alone piece from the article, dealing with her method of studying a single card in depth.

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Study of a Card: Force


Observe the name, the shape of the letters, the number, the shape of the numbers. Allow whatever general ideas you may have on fortitude/power/strength[1] to come to you, and try not to become attached to any preconceived image, positive or negative. Contemplate this spectacle.

Allow whatever numerological knowledge you may have (e.g. the number 11 in your life) to come to you, without becoming attached to any absolutes.

Observe the card in question between card X and card XII. (Later you will have to find the common denominators between X and XI, between XI and XII, as well as between XI and every other card, including the minor arcana.)

Allow the colours and shape to permeate you, and every detail to impress itself upon you, without intellectual commentary. If that is pleasant or unpleasant, merely note it, and that is all. Be sensitive to the design, to the apparent volumes (true or false?). This is to be done every day for 10 minutes, for at least a month (either continuously or discontinuously) until such a time as you have completely memorised the card and all its details, without exception. This may take years.

Once again, at the moment of falling asleep, look at the card as though it were an icon or a mandala. Express the hope to see it in your dreams. Note these dreams, even those which at the time do not seem to have a direct relation with Force. Later, this type of task will have to be accomplished for every single card.

Then, after this period of sensorial impregnation, objectively assess the extent and placement of the colours, according to the basic symbolism, the placement of the shadows and hatching. Count every stroke, every fold in the coat, every ‘tooth’ of the hat, and the teeth of the animal. What is this person doing?

Then, adopt the attitude of this person. You cannot. This body is lopsided. Take a closer look as to where the foot is placed (above the ground), and the shoes – assorted to the outfit? How many toes? Or straps? See how the head and arms are nice and well-drawn (the position of each finger), but the rest of the body, less so. Is it a woman, as the head and outfit would have us believe? And what of that line at the base of the neck? The head is placed on the rest of the body. Is it a body? Compare it with the other feminine bodies of the major arcana and of the Honours of the minor arcana. Is it a clothes hanger, or a scarecrow?

Return to the foot. Why does it not touch the ground? (Loss of contact with reality?)

Look at the animal. Dog? Lion? Its fierce eye and fearsome teeth (how many?), carefully drawn. Its curly mane. Look at the bottom of the card. It has no paws. It is a stick. (A broom? A witch on a broomstick?) Is it the pelt of a lion or a dog on a stick? It does not exist, or rather, it is also an illusion. When force is exerted on an illusion, it loses contact with reality. But who is applying this force? What theatrical play is being played upon the scene of Arcanum XI? Allow this to settle in you like wine. Take up the card every now and again. Take it as a subject of reflection, a support of meditation. Imagine how the character’s movements might flow. Use it as the point of departure for Ichazo-style exercises.[2] Engrave it within yourself. Become Arcanum XI. And, as Jodorowsky says, “breathe her, manducate[3] her, drink her, make love to her.”

You will hate her, love her, then forget her. When complicity arises, that is when knowledge begins.

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  • [1] In French, la force. – Ed.
  • [2] Visualisation exercises used towards the goal of reducing and sharpening the imagination and sensoriality, practiced in the Arica School founded by Óscar Ichazo.
  • [3] The apparent colloquial hispanism, “to eat, to chew,” masks a rare religious term generally only found in reference to the consumption of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, both in English as in the original French. – Ed.

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Tchalaï: Why the Tarot of Marseilles?

Second Spanish edition of Tchalaï’s booklet for Grimaud.

Why the Tarot of Marseilles?

Tchalaï Unger

As you will have already noticed, this groundwork relies on examples taken exclusively from the Tarot of Marseilles. Why?

We may discuss the matter all day long, but not if we have really worked with the Tarot, instead of shoving our ego into it. There is no Tarot other than the Marseilles Tarot. This apparently dictatorial assertion would be intolerable to Piek Anéma[1] (who has published a number of worthy volumes on the Tarot), or to Domenico Balbi[2] (who is so erudite and who has drawn such a lovely tarot). They will both forgive me. Or perhaps not. We can back up this affirmation with dozens of proofs, and notably on astounding numerological arguments. But I want but one proof, objective, clear, and precise: the Tarot of Marseilles is the richest, the fullest, the simplest, period.

Line up all the others next to it. Even those which have seen fit to add on a Hebrew letter, a planet, or whatever, are by far inferior in both meaning and content, and appear clumsy and wretched. Many people, too often too learned, have wanted to improve on the Marseilles Tarot by “completing” or “simplifying” it. Only… when we change the shape of the card, its colour, its name, we have also completely changed the vibratory content of the card. These other “tarots” are sometimes very interesting, or harmonious, or decorative, or charged with experience (notably psychedelic), but we find therein the portrait of those who designed them, and not the portrait of the Universe. This becomes a catalogue of preconceived ideas, and not a living path of initiation.

  • [1] Piek L. Anéma, Dutch Tarot collector and author of an encyclopaedic work in French on the subject, of which only three small volumes were published. See here and here. – Ed.
  • [2] Domenico Balbi, Italian artist and engraver, creator of the Balbi Tarot published by Fournier in 1976. – Ed.

– Excerpt from Le tarot: comment s’en servir? (The Tarot: How to Use it) published in Question De, no. 30, May-June 1979.
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Tchalaï: How to Work with the Tarot

First Spanish edition of Tchalaï’s booklet for Grimaud.

How to Work with the Tarot

Tchalaï Unger

The Tarot is to be looked at, contemplated, lived, and experienced. First of all, on the ocular level. Perceive it as it is, not as you think it to be, not as you are told it is, or should like it to be. To that end, observe and make a note of all its details in a large notebook as you progress. Fifteen years hence, you will still be making new discoveries. The Tarot must be integrated by complete memorisation. Never say: “Oh! That is an error in the drawing.” This is but the excuse of the vain and lazy. See each thing in its own place, and if that bothers your preconceived ideas, change your ideas, because the Tarot is right.

Physically, each card depicts the attitude of one or more figures. Adopt this attitude as closely as possible. Observe what sort of inner images come to you during that time, if a cenesthetic[1] sensation or a physiological reaction occurs, from a shiver to nausea.

When a movement is depicted, assess it in your muscles and your bones. Copy it, mime it, feel where the energies of the body are to be found and how they circulate. (For instance, the arms of Temperance, the head of the Mate, the right hand of Justice.) Feel where the centre of the body is located. Sit down like the Empress, or like the Emperor, like the Popess and Justice, and assess the difference.

Take a close interest in the manner in which the characters are sexed, that is, their exterior, manifest polarity. (Improperly, like the Devil, or approximately, like the two individuals smiling smugly beneath him; or imprecisely, like Temperance, or bizarrely, like Force.)

Do not neglect a single detail. Dedicate a part of your work to comparing the characteristics of the figures: eyes (size, direction of gaze, expression); feet (colours, position relative to the body, position relative to the ground, shape, shoes…); hands (the right hand of the Mate, the right hand of the Hermit, which is missing a finger – which one?, the right hand of the Empress…); the objects (the sceptres of the Emperor and the Empress respectively, the trumpet (?) of Judgment, the rope hanging (?) the Hanging Man, the endless table of the Juggler, the scythe with the square handle of Arcanum XIII, the crowns of the Kings and Queens of the Honours[2] of the minor arcana).

Find which of the major arcana, when placed side by side, form a continuous panoramic view, and the meaning of this panorama. What details are common to the God-House and to the Sun? And so forth.

Above all, do not neglect the minor arcana, which fools claim are a spurious and useless addition: the Queen of Coins may perhaps help you to grasp the true meaning of Arcanum VI (take the opportunity to observe the bow without a bowstring of the character at the top of the card…); the horses, whether armoured or not, of the Horsemen; the insignia of the Kings; the dresses or hair of the Queens, their thrones; the physiognomy of the Valets – and how all these details have a reason to be the way they are.

It is up to you to find out, and one finds out by committing every detail to memory. Why do the evenly-numbered cards of the suit of Sword not bear swords but flowers? Observe the colour of the stems, and whether they are cut or not. Where do they come from? Follow the transformation of these plants: what element is growing, what element is declining? What colours are represented? Where are the leaves (respiration) and the flowers (production)? The symbolism of the Tarot has all the simplicity of nature: red, like blood; yellow, like the sun or alchemical gold; blue, like the depths of the sea; green, like spring growth; white, like purity or the absence of colour; black, like loam (fertile), or the obscurity of those places where one’s gaze does not reach; clear, like the external tissue covering the human body.

  • [1] Cenesthopathy is a rare medical term used to refer to the feeling of being ill, a feeling not localised to one region of the body. The term cœnesthesis was used during the era of classic psychiatry to denote the “common sensation” arising from the sum of all bodily sense impressions. – Ed.
  • [2] Also known as the Court cards, or face cards. – Ed.

– Excerpt from Le tarot: comment s’en servir? (The Tarot: How to Use it) published in Question De, no. 30, May-June 1979.

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Tchalaï: A Brief Biography

Portrait of Tchalaï by Francis Campiglia.

Translator’s Introduction

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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Photo credits:

  • Above: Portrait of Tchalaï by Francis Campiglia.
  • Below: Portrait of Tchalaï from the back cover of Secrets de Gitans, photographer unknown.

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