REVIEW: “KITCHEN TABLE TAROT” BY MELISSA CYNOVA
from Llewellyn Publications
AMBER LOVE 13-APR-2017 Content like reviews are supported by donors at my tip jar on Patreon.com/amberunmasked. You can also buy my books and share the links.
Learn to read with your own voice and get the answers to all of your questions.
For years, Melissa Cynova has been sitting down with friends and neighbors who are curious about the tarot. She’s heard all the questions and misconceptions that can confuse newcomers (and sometimes more experienced readers, too). Kitchen Table Tarot was written as a guide for anyone looking for no-nonsense lessons with a warm, friendly, and knowledgeable teacher.
Join Melissa as she shares straightforward guidance on decks, spreads, card meanings, and symbols. Filled with real-life examples and personal explanations of what it’s like to read the cards, this book tells it like it is and provides the information you need to read with confidence.
The TL;DR version is that I loved everything about Melissa Cynova’s KITCHEN TABLE TAROT: PULL UP A CHAIR, SHUFFLE THE CARDS, AND LET’S TALK TAROT. From the cover design by Kevin R. Brown to the inclusion of the actual Llewellyn Classic Tarot images to Cynova’s personal touch with writing — this book is a major asset to anyone curious about tarot. She is a dynamo with being blunt and laying things out clear as day. Reading KITCHEN TABLE TAROT genuinely feels like sitting down with her and getting a whole workshop series delivered one-on-one.
As a tarot reader myself, I was worried about returning to a book for interpretations of the cards since I already have a pretty set notion of their meanings. When I took a tarot class, we were told the exact opposite of how Melissa Cynova developed her skills. The first thing we did was take the little books that come with the decks and tear them up; then we studied purely on our intuition and interpretations of the art. Cynova instructs her students to use their books for as many years as they like. She used books for decades before letting go of that crutch. And I will confess that when I’m home with access to more things than a deck, I have also double-checked my instinct with an interpretation from someone in a book or on a respectable website. With that part, Cynova unburdens a lot of guilt for people who still want to use reference books.
One thing to note in Cynova’s writing is that she sporadically reminds readers/students that most older deck designs were exclusionary. They were pictures of only white people and only two genders and only heteronormative relationships.
“In the tarot, historically and generally we follow gender binaries.” Melissa Cynova, Kitchen Table Tarot
She uses a basic Rider Waite Smith style deck and explains that lack of diversity in order to give the first level of understanding the cards and meanings. In the early pages, she even provides a short sample list of some decks that are more inclusive or more specific like all-female decks or ethnic specific decks.
“There is no one way.” Melissa Cynova, Kitchen Table Tarot
The chapters are well organized with brief introductions to the content to follow. After all the introductory information, she spent time explaining the way to care for your tarot cards. Then the chapters dove into the nitty gritty of interpretations: Major Arcana, Minor Arcana (Pips), Minor Arcana (Court cards), doing professional readings, and some fun stories of memorable readings she’s done.
Keeping it Real:
The first thing that jumped out at me, besides the gorgeous cover design was that the author has a pretty normal, bland name. Melissa Cynova. No offense. In fact that’s a compliment (coming from someone who uses her middle name Amber Love). Melissa, though a flower, with Cynova isn’t some hippie-dippie name like a lot of people in the New Age community will take on. She could have picked something like Silverwing Featherbottom or Selena Moonbeam. She didn’t and that’s noteworthy.
“Care and Keeping of You and Your Tools” had me smiling and nodding along. Yes, you need to take care of your things. You’d tell your kids not to spill soda on their books after all. But the cards, while sentimental, are still these paper things that don’t need to fall under all the old time superstitions. You don’t need to wrap them in black silk under a Full Moon or sleep with them under your pillow (unless you want to). She gives tips for keeps decks in bags because those boxes will crumble after a short time; bags like the kind for bank deposits or makeup storage work well.
“Reaching into a purse and pulling out the Seven of Swords along with a tube of Burt’s Bees and an old receipt is not the best way to take care of your cards, in my experience.” Melissa Cynova, Kitchen Table Tarot
Besides the physical care of the decks, Cynova tells readers that they need to be realistic about doing readings when they aren’t in their own best physical or mental state. Whether illness, intoxication, or in pain, a reader can’t focus unless they are able to be present and concentrate. Pain will surely keep someone from concentrating.
Cynova also seems to have a great time with her own words. She references pop culture like Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit and song lyrics. A certain King card reminds her of John Wayne so that’s how she remembers its meaning. These mnemonics are great devices for people that want to remember 156 meanings (78 cards upright and inverted).
There’s a subsection on the ethics and responsibilities of readings. Like her advice on staying sober while reading, there are even more reminders about obligations. Not only should you be sober for a reading, but the client should be also. A heavy bit of advice is that you can turn away anyone for any reason. You don’t need to give everyone a reading because they ask whether or not they are offering to pay. This is a lesson emphasized when I was in massage school as well. Likewise, if the client thinks you aren’t their cup of tea, be professional and recommend someone they might click with. Cynova calls out charlatans with a personal anecdote about how one alleged psychic tried to convince her she was cursed and could remove it for her for five hundred dollars a month!
There was one point of confusion when I was going through the individual suits and cards. She has a section on the Nine and Three-Quarters. I have no idea what this is other than a train platform in Harry Potter to get to Hogwart’s. There’s no card with that number, so I was lost here, but it was no big deal. I moved on to the Tens.
“After five years or so, I would charge ten or twenty dollars a reading. After ten years, I was charging a hundred dollars per hour.” Melissa Cynova, Kitchen Table Tarot
I loved Chapter Seven about being a professional reader. A couple weeks ago, I had a tarot reader friend tweet about how a customer came into the shop and then criticized her for charge a fee for readings. It’s a job! Just like massage or teaching or fixing your computer. Someone’s time has value. If they choose to donate that skillset and time, that’s wonderful! But don’t guilt people who are making income and trying to pay their bills.
HIGHLIGHTS OF INTERPRETATIONS:
The interpretations were of course presented in Cynova’s dry humor and no frills definitions. She sometimes felt the need to spend two pages for one card while others were merely a paragraph. The pace of learning through these organized chapters felt swift but enough to give me time to think about each card. Here are some highlights plucked out longer interpretations that illustrate her balls-out candor.
The Hermit Inverted: “It can also be the card of the grumpy old man stereotype who wants you to get off his lawn, you little brat! This is the card for crankypantses.”
The Moon Inverted: “Often if I get this card in the wrong position — if it is the final outcome, if it is crowning and covering everything — I will ask the querent to go seek a mental health professional immediately.”
Two of Swords: “People will go weird and stop calling. Your family isn’t perfect, and suddenly you look around and instead of two tables full of cousins on Thanksgiving, it’s just you. And likely, a cat.”
Ten of Swords: “This is just the worst damn card.” Cynova dedicates several pages to this card and eventually found some ways to bring levity. “I think rather than embracing the ‘You’re a failure if you don’t get up’ ethos, maybe we can accept that wounds need healing. That sometimes, everything really does suck and you need to lie down on your couch and watch all of Broad City while eating boxes of cereal.”
Page of Wands: “So earnest, this kid. So earnest. Present, childlike, and full of piss and vinegar, as my grandma would say.”
Knight of Swords: “Sword high in the air, armor under his flashy robe — I swear, it’s the tarot equivalent of ‘Come at me, bro!'”
King of Swords Inverted: “You can always tell when someone is a true leader. When a true leader speaks, his people don’t wince. The inverted King of Swords is terrifying, manipulative, sinister, and abusive.”