Friday, August 25, 2017

Booknote: Kitchen Table Tarot

Melissa Cynova, Kitchen Table Tarot: Pull Up a Chair, Shuffle the Cards, and Let's Talk Tarot. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2017.  ISBN: 978-0-7387-5077-4.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, divination, spirituality
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley


Melissa Cynova teaches Tarot out of her kitchen table, and she distills her lessons in this book. Though the book seems more geared towards women, I still liked it, and I felt that I can get some good things out of it.

On a side note, I have observed in my short time studying Tarot that a large part of materials are geared to women. I am not saying that is bad, just an observation that I am sure someone could write about somewhere else if they were so inclined. I will add that there are some male Tarotists out there, but again, another topic for another time. Reason I mentioned it because the book just has that feel to it. But I digress.

The book does include quite a bit of spiritual elements, so if you are more secular you may want to keep this in mind. Additionally, the book has a bit of a kitschy charm to it. I can certainly see folks who use the Housewives Tarot deck as their deck keeping this book handy. Both items share a bit of that folksy charm. However, you can use this book with any Rider Waite Smith (RWS) deck or deck that draws on the RWS tradition. The author does recommend using an RWS based deck with the book.

The book is arranged as follows:

  • Author's introduction
  • Eight chapters covering the following topics: 
    • Getting started
    • Care and keeping of You and Your Tools
    • The ethics of reading
    • The Major Arcana
    • The Minor Arcana: The Pips
    • The Minor Arcana: Court Cards
    • Professional Tarot Reading
    • When Readings Go Weird
  • Conclusion
  • Recommended reading 

The author takes readers from the basics of getting started to the rudiments of reading professionally. That is an ambitious agenda.

For me, a strength of the book is in the author's casual and informal tone. Yes, the author can be pretty prescriptive at times like your aunt or granny making sure you get that apple cobbler recipe right. There are some things the author insists upon, or at least feels strongly about. Just keep in mind that in the world of Tarot, you can take what works for you and leave the rest behind. Some prescriptions aside, she is very casual and accessible. Her explanations are clear, and if you are a beginner, this is a good text to help you get started.

Overall, this is a book I really liked, and I'd consider adding it to my personal collection. I also say it can make a good selection for public libraries that collect Tarot and other divination books.

4 out of 5 stars.


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Additional reading  notes:


On studying Tarot:

"You're supposed to fill in your tarot studies wherever you can. What this book shows, and what I want to teach you, is that you can pick up the card, see where it's going, remember a few keywords or mnemonic devices, and then own the card. You'll have it. Once you have the card, you can't lose it again. It belongs to you,  and you can embellish it as much as you like" (3).

Cynova really thinks you should start with a Tarot deck in the RWS tradition. I have to say, from my personal learning experience, that I agree. I made the attempt to start learning on a Marseilles deck. It did not work out for me. Once I switched over to an RWS tradition deck, it was like the world opened for me. As I have noted elsewhere before, I like the RWS system, but I am not a fan of Pamela Smith's artwork (I am sure that remark will trigger some pearl clutching, oh well), so I mostly use and prefer modern renditions of the Tarot that use or draw upon the RWS system (I recently added a Thoth Tarot deck to my collection, but that is another system to study down the road). As of this post, I am using the Steampunk Tarot (link to my review of that deck) as my daily use deck. Anyhow, on using an RWS deck to start out, the author writes:

"I'm not saying that you can't switch to another deck down the road, but I've been doing this for almost thirty years. You need to trust me on this. I am telling you that a deck in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition will assist you in learning the basics of tarot better than the Deck of the Supercilious Fairy Realm of Gondor. I promise. For simplicity in this book, I'll refer to decks in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition as 'Basic.' I encourage you to do your homework and find a Basic deck that appeals to you" (6).

I laughed on reading the supercilious deck part, until I realized that deck already exists in a few forms, one of those forms being the lousy The Hobbit Tarot (link to Aeclectic). To be honest, them giving it three stars was way generous. I got a copy, and I will review it down the road, if I can get over the disgust of just how bad it is. But hey, if that deck makes you happy, have at it. As the Rivera Tarot Corollary to Ranganathan states:

"Every deck (be it Tarot, oracle, Lenormand, etc.) its reader, and every reader their deck." 

The author does offer some suggestions for decks that fit the RWS tradition. This is a small sampling. As she suggests, do your homework and find the one that appeals to you. Hell, if the Deck of the Supercilious Fairy Realm of Gondor is what you want, I am not stopping you; you do you. But if you are using this book, you may want to reconsider if it is not RWS based. Anyhow, here is Cynova's short deck list (for convenience, I am providing deck links to Aecletic for reference, unless noted otherwise):

  • Llewellyn's Classic Tarot (this one gets pretty close to Pamela Smith's art concepts, but it has a more modern look and feel in my opinion. If I get something as close as possible to RWS, this might be it. This is also the deck the author uses as reference point in illustrating the book). 
  • Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot
  • 1 JJ Swiss Tarot. (I am not sure why Cynova included this on her list since it is a Marseilles style deck, NOT within RWS tradition. Anyhow, not one I would get. I already have 2 Marseilles decks, and the only reason I have them is they were gifts). 
  • Albano-Waite Tarot
  • Anna K Tarot
  • Gilded Tarot. (This is the Marchetti deck I switched to after I gave the Marseilles deck a try. It is still a favorite deck for me, and it is one I am happy to use and recommend. Here is my review of it for anyone interested). 
  • Universal Waite Tarot

In this day and age, some folks want some representative diversity in their decks (read here other than the usual white people). Thus, Cynova also offers some suggestions on decks that show image diversity:

  • The Slow Holler Tarot. (Aeclectic has not reviewed it yet. So here is a review from Little Red Tarot instead).  
  • Tarot of the Silicon Dawn
  • The Gaian Tarot. (I recently acquired this one, and I am currently using it. I can tell you that I love it. I plan to have a review of it soon. Aeclectic mentions it was self published, then Llewellyn had it for a while. It is now published by Schiffer, and that is the edition I have). 
  • The Trungles Deck. (Another I am not sure why the author listed it. According to author's website, the deck is not available for purchase, and he only at the moment sells prints of the Major Arcana. In other words, this is not an accessible option currently). 
  • Modern Spellcaster's Tarot. (This is another one I recently acquired for my personal collection. It has great art. I have not worked with  it yet, but when I do, I will review it). 
  • Sun and Moon Tarot.
  • The Goddess Tarot
  • The Relative Tarot. (Not reviewed on Aeclectic as of this post. Again, another I am not sure why it is listed since it is a 38-cards deck, i.e. only the Major Arcana with Court Cards, so not a full deck. It looks nice, but if you want to learn with a full deck, this is not an option. However, if you want it for your collection, you may be out of luck or paying a third party through the nose as it is sold out. Here is the author site for a look). 
  • The Lover's Path Tarot
  • The Fountain Tarot. (Now that Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala, has picked this up, I may consider getting it down the road. However, I will make a note. I got a galley of the guidebook that goes with  the deck, via NetGalley, which appears to be a mostly basic Little White Book. So if you get this, get it for the cards mainly. Book really is nothing to write home about. Review of that coming soon). 
  • The Mary-El Tarot.
  • The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot. (I recently found a nice used copy of this. As soon as I get to work with it, I will review it). 
  • Motherpeace Tarot.
  • Morgan-Greer Tarot

And if you go poking in places like Aeclectic and Etsy (or so I am told), you can find many more decks. Etsy, and sometimes also Kickstarter, can be a good place to find independent artists (if you have the cash).

Why using the book (this book, the book that came with  your cards, some other Tarot book) is perfectly OK to learn Tarot, even during readings:

"I used the book because it takes time to learn about the cards, and there is nothing wrong with bringing in a book to help you out. I carry a small tarot book in my car just in case I blank out or need mental reinforcements. So yea. Do that. Use your tools-- that's what they are there for" (8). 

Personally, I mainly read privately for myself. On my desk with the deck I am currently use I usually have two Tarot books: a book of basic/traditional meanings for reference, and the companion book for a deck if it came with a companion book. I'd like to read for others some day, maybe mainly for friends, but that day is far off for now.

There is not just one way to learn and read Tarot. Study, practice, and find your own way:

"If anyone tells you that they have The Way to do readings, I suspect they're trying to sell you something. There  is no one way. There is no one path. There is you, your cards, and your gift. That's it. Read a lot. Watch other readers. Practice on your friends (and tell them you're practicing). You can figure out your style with some research and time. No worries. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. In tarot readings (and in all other things), please stop comparing yourself to other people. Compare yourself to your yourself" (11). 

A bit on intent and belief, and also important to write things down:

"My intent goes into my cards, and the reading comes out. Practice your spreads by writing them down. Decide that this position means this exact thing. Fix it in your mind and then do your reading. Your intent makes it so" (16).

More on belief, oh, and you can keep it simple or complex as it suits you:

"How do you know I'm not making it up? You don't. Things work because you believe in them. Call it faith or will coincidence or whatever. If you believe it will help to light a candle and ask the universe to help you understand the mystery and meaning of the Hierophant, then it will. Don't spend a bunch of money on learning how to get to know your cards. Just do it. Say hi to them and get to work" (19). 

How to store your cards:

"The best way to store your cards is the way that suits you" (29). 

Bottom line advice:

"I  swear, most of the advice in this book will come down to this: Do you want to do the thing? Do the thing. That's what makes it  right" (31). 

Important basic life advice, not just for Tarot by the way:

"Be kind. Build community. Be gracious. There aren't that many of us, and I've seen reputations crash and burn within a day on social media. Don't be a jerk" (35). 

What a Tarot reading does:

"What a tarot reading does is essentially lay out a pathway for you so that you can continue on your most authentic path. That sounds pretty, doesn't it? It's essentially me and all the cards giving you homework. And occasionally, yelling at you" (38). 

More on being kind, this time as a reader:

"Remember when you read for someone, you're carrying their dreams in your hands for a short while. Even if you have to deliver bad news, do it gently, and hand their dreams back unbruised" (46). 

What you get from reading:

"What you'll get from a reading are things that will help the day to day and things that will help down the road. A reading can identify what the root causes are, but to dig that far ahead you need to do the work for yourself. Readings are not cures; they're roadmaps. If you follow the map and do the work, you'll get where you need to go" (46). 

Major Arcana versus Minor Arcana:

"The difference is that the major arcana is your life in ALL CAPS, and the minor arcana is just your life" (53). 

A note on the Major Arcana chapter: You get meanings, including reversals. There is casual language in explaining the cards, also in the Minor Arcana. The informality may be helpful in learning the cards. Each card gets about a page and a half to two pages of text for the Major Arcana. Book also includes card illustrations using the Llewellyn Classic Tarot deck. You get card title, small keyword or phrase, and the explanation. In the Minor Arcana, there is no quick line/phrase after the card title.

If you decide to go professional, be serious and commit:

"If you decide to read professionally, you will find the more seriously you take what you do, the more seriously you are taken as a tarot reader" (260). 

And if you do go pro, learn to put a price on your value and skill set:

"If you are reading for a living, you need to talk to friends and other professionals about how to appropriately put a value on your skill. I didn't always charge this much; it grew with my  skill and experience. And for Pete's sake, get a deposit in advance" (263). 

The deposit part is for those who set up appointments; it  cuts back on people standing you up.

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This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:





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