Media Review: Kitchen Table Tarot by Melissa Cynova
Kitchen Table Tarot by Melissa Cynova is not a new book*, but it is certainly just as refreshing as a fresh glass of water, no matter how many other glasses you’ve already had. Published in 2018 by Llewellyn, Cynova gives a straight forward account on the Tarot, coming from 30 years of practice.
I’ll first talk about the structure of the book and give a summary before I delve into my personal thoughts.
* Note: by saying this isn’t a new book, I mean that I felt like I dragged my feet getting to read it. I actually thought it had been out for years with the amount of talk buzzing around it by the time I got my copy.
The book was physically smaller than I expected, being not the normal print size. But it was a nice size—it fit in my purse perfectly. Over 271 pages, Cynova spends time sharing her own personal stories in relation to readings and cards.
While there are many chapters in the book, I see it divided into three sections:
In the basic 101 introduction lasts about 50 pages or so. The book begins with explaining exactly what it is you need when you want to start reading: a Tarot deck. She explains what decks work and why, providing a list of examples.
In this beginning section, she gives an overview on how to read the cards, providing basic spreads (1-Card, Celtic Cross, 6-Card Spread, and 3-Card spread(s)). She gives a couple of exercises to go along with these spreads before sharing her experience of actually reading the cards.
I can’t remember reading anything in my tarot books about what tarot readings are like, so I wanted to touch on it briefly…
Once upon a time, I gave a reading which the Tower card moved. The picture moved. I could see the client fall, fall, fall…and then they bounced. It was outstanding, and I briefly thought I was losing my mind. They ended up being the only person who didn’t get their ass handed to them in this particular situation. Everyone else on their team at work was laid off except for them.p. 18
The next part of the first section is a chapter on self-care while reading and care for the cards. This chapter is fairly basic, reminding the reader that if they want to give accurate readings, they need to be able to look after themselves—and their cards.
The follow chapter is Cynova’s personal ethics of reading, which she says the reader can take or leave, but should most likely work on developing their own code of ethics for their practice. During this chapter, she talks about how to deliver difficult readings, her personal experiences with reading for folks under the influence, when it’s okay to turn a reading down, etc.
While many books tell you how to read Tarot, many leave out these down-in-the-trenches situations that a budding reader might encounter.
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The bulk of the book is devoted to defining the Tarot cards. Cynova uses Llewellyn’s Classic Tarot for reference, though does often refer to what she calls ‘the Basic deck,’ though I’m 99% certain she’s talking about a variation of the Rider-Waite Tarot. This particular Tarot deck is featured for each card (good marketing on Llewellyn’s part) so you can see what she’s talking about.
You know, you’d think that I’d be a fan of [The Moon]. It’s about intuition, and who doesn’t love the moon? That’s why doing your homework is important. This card is about intuition, but not the fun kind. It’s about the feeling you get before you get in an accident…Anxiety, nervousness, looming towers, rough water, and a freaky lobster rising from the depths. There is a lot of power present, but it’s the kind you can’t control, and you’re not going to like the process.pp. 106-7
With each definition and explanation, Cynova gives at least a page’s worth of words, providing both the definition and the inverted definition. When she explains each card, there is personality, and you can feel the time spent with each card, rather than a rush to get the words down on paper.
I think that there is a point in nearly everyone’s life where you realize you’re alone. Maybe it’s after high school, sitting in your dorm room. Maybe it’s after you leave your parents’ house for the first time—without looking back. Maybe you feel alone after you’ve gone from parents to college to husband to single, and you’re splitting time with your kids for the first time…As I grow older, though, I realize the process of growing up with strip people away from you. Friends will betray you, People will go weird and stop calling…I want to propose, however, that there is strength in solitude. I call the Two of Swords the “Shut the hell up so I can hear myself think” card. It is about being alone. This woman has grabbed a chair, a blindfold, and few words, and marched herself into the middle of nowhere…In the wandering narrative of the tarot, this is what happens after the shock of alone goes away. When you realized you don’t need the world’s chatter to make sense of your life.pp. 135-7
I shared that quote, abridged, because it’s a 3-page definition of the 2 of Swords, which focusses on the okay-ness of being alone, or the different types of alone and how we experience them.
The definitions begin with the Major Arcana before moving on to the Minor Arcana, which are organized by number rather than suit—which I personally endorse. With each number she gives an introduction to what the number means in relation to Tarot, and what it will manifest as in each suit.
In each of the fours, there is a moment of peace. Of grace, really. The awareness of your possessions and surroundings in the pentacles, the clarity of mind in the swords, the breath before the celebration in wands, and even the weariness and ennui of the cups. There is a feeling of putting down defenses and relaxing into Now. So much of tarot is looking to the future. The fours are the present.p. 150
The Court Cards have their own section which focus on personality traits rather than corresponding figurative meanings. However, again, they do each come with an inverted meaning.
[Page of Pentacles Inverted] Take that ‘feet on the ground, golly gee innocence and flip it around, and you’ll get a total space cadet. Can’t keep track of things. Can’t pay attention. The pentacle goes rolling away and this doofus is chasing after it.p. 226
There are few other very small chapters, perhaps only a page or two in length, which follow the Tarot card definitions. These talk about weird situations Cynova has been in, getting into the professional biz, and a general conclusion.
At the very back, there is a selection of recommended reading.
The book read really fast. I mean really fast. I kept thinking that I only had 10 minutes here and there to read it, but in those 10 minutes I got pretty far, and I consider myself at an average reading speed.
I found when I wasn’t reading it, I kind of missed it. I really enjoyed Melissa Cynova’s style, and could hear her speaking as I read it (it helps too that I’ve heard her on a few podcasts as well). It’s very casually written, and I think that it makes for a great book for any budding Tarot reader.
We have a lot of different definitions to the cards. I like that. I see the truth in what she sees in the cards, and she explains those truths very well. I’m not abandoning my own, but taking in her definitions to add to mine. This is why I always say to read a lot or consume a lot of media regarding the Tarot—there are so many ways to look at the cards that it’s a constant up-keep.
I really enjoyed how much time she spent on each card. While many books will spend a page or so on the Major Arcana, they will always spend much less on the Minor Arcana. That being said, Cynova didn’t seem to consider the length of her definitions at all. They vary from card to card, depending on what she has to say about them, sharing experiences and stories where she feels fit.
As I mentioned before, I like that she organized the Minor Arcana by number. Personally, I think that you can learn the nature of the Aces if you read them all consecutively, just like the 5’s, the 7’s—all the numbers. Thus, to know the numbers makes it easier to remember the definition of the card.
There were a few chapters that I wish she would have gone into more detail with. I felt the chapters at the back were more just sharing her own experiences rather than giving applicable advise. While much advice can be gained from stories, what she shared aren’t really the kind that you can get any message out of.
For example, her dislike for social media and experience starting a FB group. She started a group and people began sending friend requests to her which she accepted and then realized she didn’t want to be their friends due to nothing in common, and so she deleted them. While it’s an interesting experience, and the message of ‘consider how you want to till your garden’ can be drawn from this, I don’t feel that it’s specific to starting a Tarot business.
While her style of writing is very comfortable because it’s so casual, sometimes she would throw in vocabulary that I struggled to relate to, or phrases that I didn’t understand the reference of, which threw me out of the book for a little bit. This is a stylistic thing, of course, though others might have experienced similar difficulties.
I was pretty pleased with this book. Because I’d heard so much hype about it, and I generally don’t fall into the hype of media, I didn’t expect as much as the hype gave. But I do agree with what I was hearing: it’s an excellent book to start with if you’re a binning Tarot enthusiast. This book will definitely get you on your feet and reading.
It’s filled with optimistic and encouraging language, but still maintains a realistic aspect, and doesn’t sugar coat things.
***** 5 Stars *****
If you’d like to read more reviews, check out some of my past posts:
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