Kitchen Table Tarot (Book Review)

I got my first tarot deck on New Year’s Day 1999. I don’t want to name the book that I bought to go with it, but it was boring and took itself Very Seriously. It insisted that I would need to be disciplined and that I’d have to study the tarot thoroughly and systematically like I was getting a PhD in it before I could ever use a deck. It told me all about the Kabbalah and warned me against doing mere “readings” when I should be gaining enlightenment.

Sheesh. It’s a wonder I didn’t toss the deck and walk away.

Kitchen Table Tarot is not that book. This is the book I wish I could send back in time to my 1999 self. I would have learned the tarot faster and had more fun. Melissa Cynova is not only knowledgeable and experienced, she’s wise and funny. Funny? Yes. About the Lovers, she says:

Aw, come on. What a gorgeous image. The sun is shining high and bright, the Angel of the Outlandish Flaming Hairdo is giving a blessing, with a fog machine, the Tree of Knowledge (complete with serpent) on one side, and a burning true on the other.

page 71

This book covers everything you need to know from picking up your first deck to reading for others. The chapters are:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Care and Keeping of You and Your Tools
  3. The Ethics of Reading
  4. The Major Arcana
  5. The Minor Arcana: The Pipes
  6. The Minor Arcana: Court Cards
  7. Professional Tarot Reading
  8. When Readings Go Weird

This book reads exactly like it promises: as though a friend were sitting down with you at the kitchen table to teach you the tarot. Cynova says she started writing it as a way to teach tarot to her friends, and it shows. I love that she encourages you to use the book during readings until you’re ready to do them without. Why is that so taboo? I mean, I understand if you’re charging big bucks for a reading and you just tell the client what the book says, but when you’re starting out and practicing, why should it be viewed as cheating instead of a valid method of learning? Because, although this book is interesting enough to read straight through, you won’t remember everything it says. If you read about each card as it comes up in a reading, you will associate the meaning with the situation and your skills will level up faster.

As the author says:

To me, tarot is a tool. How you choose to use that tool is up to you. It’s important to remember that without you, the cards are just pretty pieces of paper. You’re the one that drives the reading. Your intuition, your gift, and your connection with yourself and the universe or your client is what makes the cards come alive. your readings will only have as much integrity as you do, so use your tools well.

page 267

Melissa Cynova has another book coming out this September called Kitchen Table Magic, and I can’t wait to get my hands on that one.

5 out of 5 stars

Kitchen Table Tarot: Pull Up a Chair, Shuffle the Cards, and Let’s Talk Tarot

Melissa Cynova

Llewellyn Publications, 2017

Dark Wood Tarot (Deck Review)

Dark Wood Tarot (Deck Review)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tarot book and deck as beautiful as the Dark Wood Tarot. The last few years, Llewellyn has been printing the companion books in full color but this is the first one I’ve opened that has full page illustrations of the art rather than reproductions of the cards. This makes perusing the book feel like settling in with your favorite collection of fairy tales. The book and deck follow a character (the Shadow Witch) on her journey through the Dark Wood. It’s intended for use in shadow work, and the write-ups on each card include a description, a meaning, and a shadow (which corresponds roughly to what most books call reversals).

The artwork is gorgeous but I have to admit that I prefer the cards that depict humans. I find the animal cards underwhelming. Suits are swords, wands, cups and pentacles, though the pentacles look like apples that have been sliced in half. Courts are page, knight, queen, king. Swords are air, wands are fire. Strength is 8, Justice its 11. If you have any experience with RWS decks, you can read this one out of the box. The book is fantastic, so if you’re not experienced with tarot at all this set will be all you need to get started.

The book contains seven spreads, with names like the Shadow Self Spread and the Awaken Inner Magic Spread.

This is easily the nicest deck and book set I’ve ever bought. I want to shove the rest of my decks aside and spend some real time with this one.

The beautiful companion book
Cards with people (my favorite)
Cards with animals (not a fan)
pentacles that look like apples sliced across the middle (not sure what to think)

5 out of 5 stars

Dark Wood Tarot

Sasha Graham

art by Abigail Larson

Llewellyn Publications, 2020

ViceVersa Tarot (deck review)

ViceVersa Tarot (deck review)

The ViceVersa Tarot is unique in that the cards have no backs. Or, rather, instead of having an image that’s the same on the back of every card, each card has an image on its reverse side that is the reverse of the image on its face. In some cards the back looks like a night scene with the front looking like daytime. In others the backs reveal characters or objects out of the line of sight on the front.

The full-color book that goes with this deck has illustrations of each and calls them “this side” and “that side.”

Aside from the novelty aspect, this is a fairly standard RWS clone. Suits are chalices, pentacles, wands and swords. Courts are knave, knight, queen, king. Strength is 8, Justice is 11. Artwork is pseudo-medieval European and does not depict modern or diverse characters or situations. Honestly, I like the concept more than I like the artwork. I wish I connected with the illustrations more.

This is the kind of deck that could look impressive in a reading. My personal preference is to deal all the cards with “that side” up and flip them during the reading to reveal “this side.” This is because “that side” is often the back and the dark side so when you turn it over you’re revealing the front and brightening the spread. Like activating or turning on the cards.

5 out of 5 stars for the concept; 3 out of 5 stars for the artwork

ViceVersa Tarot

Massimiliano Filadoro and Lunaea Weatherstone

artwork by Davide Corsi

Lo Scarabeo, 2017

Pagan Tarot, new edition (Deck Review)

Pagan Tarot, new edition (Deck Review)

The first edition of the Pagan Tarot by Gina M. Pace came out in 2005. I had that deck but didn’t have the book. This edition is from 2019 and is sold in a box set with a full-color book. The illustrations of the major arcana are larger than the cards themselves, which makes them easier to study. Reading through the book cleared up some questions I’d had when I only owned the cards and they definitely make more sense now.

This deck follows the story of one character, a young female brunette witch. This allows the deck to tell a story, as you follow her character through her Fool’s Journey. The witch is racially ambiguous, but looks white or white passing on most cards. This is not a diverse deck. It is also not a deck that takes a favorable view of organized religion. Both churches and covens are portrayed rather harshly.

The art has a bit of a 90s vibe, especially in the clothing. In a few cards she’s dressed like she’s on an episode of the original Charmed. Suits are Swords, Wands, Chalices and Pentacles. Courts are Elemental, Novice, Initiate and Elder. The court cards are the most unappealing in the deck with Aces coming in a close second (why are Aces so boring in so many decks?!)

You may like this deck if you’re learning and exploring Wicca. It’s more Wiccan than generic Pagan. If you also happen to be a brunette woman, you could use the deck for personal work. It definitely reads more like a personal deck for spiritual readings than like a deck I’d read for others with.

This edition is more attractive than the first edition because the white borders have been removed and replace by a purple strip across the bottom.

First edition on top row with new edition below

When I received the deck, the cards were stuck together in one unfortunate clump due to their plastic coating. I peeled them apart and they shuffled easily and have thankfully not stuck together since. This deck also comes in a mini edition, which is tiny like the Everyday Witch Tarot mini.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Pagan Tarot, new edition

Gina M. Pace

Lo Scarabeo, 2019

Everyday Witch Oracle (Review)

Everyday Witch Oracle (Review)

I have been using the Everyday Witch Tarot for a few years and I honestly think the Everyday Witch Oracle is even better. The cards are larger, the people depicted are more diverse, and the art style is just as colorful and cheerfully appealing.

What the deck reminds me of most strongly is a reimagined Minor Arcana without the court cards. There are four suits: earth, air, fire and water, and ten cards in each suit. Within each suit the cards progress numerologically, from card one being the introduction to the element to card ten being its fulfillment.

I wish the book was in color like the book for the tarot deck; I’ve come to wish all tarot books are in color now. But this is a small book in black and white that fits inside the box with the cards the way oracle decks are usually packaged. For each card there is a short description, followed by three options: an action you can take, a divinatory meaning you can use in a reading, or magic you can do.

The biggest oversight is that the cards themselves are not numbered, so when you pull a card and want to look it up, you’ll be flipping back and forth in the book until you find it. I pulled a card called Meditation for Clarity and found its definition under “Air: Thought and Communication,” which makes sense except that the woman on the card is sitting quietly gazing into a pool of water, leading me to fruitlessly search for it under Water.

You will enjoy this deck if you’re looking for ways to work with the elements in your magical practice or if you already love the Everyday Witch Tarot and want a companion oracle that thankfully corrects the oversight of not featuring POC. You probably won’t enjoy it if you’re looking for something deep and heavy to use in shadow work. This deck is light without being trivial.

4 out of 5 stars (would be 5/5 if cards were numbered and labeled by element)

Everyday Witch Oracle

Deborah Blake

art by Elisabeth Alba

Llewellyn Publications, 2019

Everyday Witch Tarot Mini (Deck Review)

Everyday Witch Tarot Mini (Deck Review)

I’ve had the Everyday Witch Tarot for a few years and I’ve always found it charming and friendly. It comes in a box set with a full-color book engagingly written by Deborah Blake. Now it comes in a mini version, which I assumed would be something like the size of a standard playing card. I was wrong. It is in fact much smaller.

It’s actually so much smaller than anticipated that I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to shuffle it. I was. I’ve always found shuffling my decks relaxing and it was relaxing in the same way a larger deck would be, with an added element of cuteness. But the pictures are so small that if you were to do a reading with this and you hadn’t already worked with the full-sized deck or the app you might not be able to see much detail. You might not even be able to read the names of cards if you’re, ahem, over forty.

Priced at only about ten bucks, this is mostly a novelty deck. You could toss it in your purse and take it somewhere, but if it were a bit bigger (like the playing card size I expected), you’d be able to do the same.

If you already like and use the full-sized deck, you might enjoy the mini. If you don’t already own the Everyday Witch Tarot and you’re thinking about buying it, I’d recommend the full-sized version. The mini does not come with a book. It is quite adorable but not sure how useful it is.

4 out of 5 stars

Everyday Witch Tarot Mini

Deborah Blake

Art by Elisabeth Alba

Llewellyn Publications, 2020

Modern Witch Tarot Deck (Deck Review)

Modern Witch Tarot Deck (Deck Review)

The Modern Witch Tarot Deck reads right out of the box if you’re experienced with the Rider Waite tarot symbolism. This deck is a very close RWS clone and the imagery will be familiar to you. Its uniqueness is in its modern illustrations of women, femmes, and adrongynous characters. Some of them are dressed like they just stepped off a city street into a medieval landscape, like the Six of Wands, who wears torn black jeans while riding a white horse and carrying a victory branch.

This deck celebrates diversity and includes witch of various races, ethnicities, body sizes and ages. The Queen of Wands is the first card I ever remember seeing that depicts vitiligo. The Four of Pentacles and Eight of Pentacles are wearing glasses.

Although this deck came out before the coronavirus, the Five of Wands show a group of people, some of whom are wearing face masks and some who aren’t, and they’re fighting with each other! It looks like a card that shows what’s happening in the news right now but it was released last July.

The cards come with a small hardcover book in a sturdy box (not like the regular boxes that get torn up over time and lead to people needing separate bags to store their decks). The backs are reversible. There is a small amount of nudity on a few cards. The card stock is thick — so much so that the stacked deck is nearly twice as tall as my other decks.

This deck would be perfect for anyone who has already learned the Rider Waite system or wants a deck they can learn traditional symbolism from so they can study with the majority of tarot books on the market, but who also wants to see a diversity of people represented. This deck is particularly suited to witches, women, and LGBTQ people of color.

five out of five stars

Modern Witch Tarot Deck

Lisa Sterle

Sterling Ethos, 2019

Moonology Oracle Cards (Deck Review)

Moonology Oracle Cards (Deck Review)

The Moonology Oracle Cards are a lovely deck of pictures of the moon. Humans have admired the moon for thousands of years or longer so it’s no surprise that this deck is beautiful. There are 44 cards and a small companion book by Yasmin Boland. There are moon phase cards (new moon, waxing crescent, full moon, etc.), astrological cards for new moons and full moons (New Moon in Aries, Full Moon in Aries, etc.) and “special moon cards” like New Moon Eclipse, Full Moon Eclipse, Void-of-Course Moon, Supermoon, etc.

Each card has a label across the bottom with the card name and a simple statement or question such as, for the New Moon Eclipse, “Expect powerful change;” or, for the Waning Moon, “What do you need to release?”

The book then expands on the card, for example the Waning Moon says:

The Waning Moon points to what’s falling away. Life goes in cycles and sometimes we need downtime or to let go. No matter when in the Moon cycle you pull this card, it’s a sign that a situation has peaked, for better or worse, and it’s time for you to go easier. It’s the autumn and winter of the cycle. So what do you need to release? Almost certainly something from the situation you’re asking about. This card can be very positive but it can still be gently suggesting that you let something go and stop trying so hard.

p. 100

Then for each card the book has Attune to the Moon (a short affirmation such as, “It’s safe to let go and move on.”), a bullet-point list of Additional Meanings for This Card, and a small summary called The Teaching. The book also includes a few basic spreads.

As an oracle, this might be a good deck to use for questions of timing, like “When should I start work toward such-and-so goal?” I also think you could pull out a card to place on your altar that corresponds with the Esbat, like, New Moon in Gemini or Full Moon in Sagittarius. If you want to learn more about the lunar cycles, you could work with this deck all year, meditating on each card in turn as it comes up in the calendar.

If you love the moon as much as I do, you will enjoy this deck.

five of five stars

Moonology Oracle Cards

Yasmin Boland

Artwork by Nyx Rowan

Hay House, 2018

The Dreamer’s Story Tarot Journal (Book Review)

The Dreamer’s Story Tarot Journal (Book Review)

The Dreamer’s Story Tarot Journal is the companion to the Dreams of Gaia Tarot. It features full-page, full-color reproductions of several of the cards (44 if I counted correctly; more than half the deck).

It’s set up in a similar way to other Blue Angel Journals like The Jasmine Becket-Griffith Writing & Creativity Journal or the Book of Shadows and Light. It has lovely ivory pages, some blank and others lined. This one, thankfully, doesn’t have any distracting quotes on the pages.

Although the pictures are from a tarot deck, the deck differs so much from a standard tarot deck that the images aren’t overtly tarot; they could simply be fantasy paintings. Since the journal itself is not a guided journal and doesn’t mention tarot at all anywhere but the cover, this could easily be a journal you use for another purpose. It lends itself particularly to being a Book of Shadows or dream journal. It might also be a place to record your insights after meditation or ritual. I can even see it being used as a morning pages journal, when you’re switching from a dream state to an awakened one.

Like other journals from this brand, it is not hardcover. However the softcover is quite sturdy and the signatures are sewn. It’s beautiful in a way that makes me want to frame the artwork rather than write on the pages. One of the most stunning journals I’ve seen.

5 out of 5 stars

The Dreamer’s Story Tarot Journal

Ravynne Phelan

Blue Angel Publishing, 2017

Dreams of Gaia Tarot (Deck Review)

Dreams of Gaia Tarot (Deck Review)

Dreams of Gaia Tarot is an absolutely stunning deck by Ravynne Phelan. The artwork is gorgeous, luminous. The cards are thick heavy cardstock. Their size is great for being able to see the luscious art, but awkward to shuffle. Likewise, the clear PVC coating gives a gloss that makes the pictures shine but can make the cards stick while you’re trying to shuffle.

In addition to being hard to shuffle, the cards have also shifted so much from a standard tarot that they’re practically a brand-new oracle. There is a major arcana and four suits (air, fire, water, earth) but none of the standard tarot symbology remains.

The major arcana has 25 cards instead of the regular 22 and they have been substantially reinvisioned. For example, card XV is the Devil in most decks but rather than find some way of expressing some aspect of the Devil, card XV in Dreams of Gaia is Abundance. And the author doesn’t mean that in some way that shows temptation or materialism but literally,:

Abundance is defined as a state of plenty. When the Abundance card appears, it signifies a feeling of abundance, of appreciation, that opens you to the abundance that surrounds you. In turn, this feeling gives rise to an abundance consciousness.

(p. 95)

For this reason, you may want to spend some time exploring these cards and their book before reading with them even (or especially) if you’ve been reading tarot for awhile. The book is small but meaty and for each card it gives a list of keywords, some key phrases, an in-depth meaning, and, for reversals, “potential blockage.”

To me the deck seems far more suited for meditation, journeying, pathworking or journaling than for reading. Each card is so beautiful you will want to stare at it awhile so it works fantastically for meditation. I can also see its use in ritual, for example putting the king and queen of each element at the quarters or on the altar. It would also make an inspirational deck for a fantasy writer.

There is almost no diversity in this deck. The man on the Four of Earth is black and the Choice card depicts a white face and a black face side by side in a tree. There are literally more dragons than people of color in this deck, as the Ace of each suit is a dragon of that element. It reflects more of a high fantasy Norse or Celtic pseudo-medieval landscape than the modern world.

There is very little nudity in the deck but card XXIII “Integrity” is sitting there with her breasts and full bush on display, making this deck not suitable for readings for children or adults who would be offended.

The difficult in shuffling such a large glossy deck and the lack of diversity make this a four star deck rather than five. Overall it’s one of the most beautiful and, as its name suggests, dreamlike decks I’ve seen.

four out of five stars

Dreams of Gaia Tarot

Ravynne Phelan

Blue Angel Publishing, 2018