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

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