Melissa Cynova, author of Kitchen Table Tarot, which I’ve reviewed before on this blog, has now released an intermediate sequel: Tarot Elements: Five Readings to Reset Your Life. She updates the esoteric tarot tradition of expressing facets of the human condition through the four elements and adds a fifth, Spirit.
The text is written in a casual conversational style, and reads like a letter written to you from an old friend. The five elemental readings are configured to a trinity of questions:
- What can you hold on to?
- What can pull you forward?
- What gets in your way?
Through a well-curated process of divinatory tarot reading, journaling, and craft activity, these three questions are read through the framework of each of the five elements. The early chapters offer tips on working with elemental dignities in these readings, plus a step-by-step discussion of how to read the cards.
“You bought this book because you want a change in your life.”
Tarot Elements is written for an intermediate tarot reader, with the presumption that you already possess a baseline knowledge of card meanings or you can get access to card meanings somewhere else, like Cynova’s first book, Kitchen Table Tarot. Nonetheless, there’s an appendix at the back of the book with a quick reference of card meanings, in case you need a refresher or you want to work with Cynova’s astute and down-to-earth, easy-to-digest presentation of the cards.
There are preliminary readings or self-assessment techniques that Cynova instructs, which can help you decide which elemental tarot reading you need at this time.
Based loosely on one of the techniques she teaches, here’s what I like to do: I shuffle my deck while taking a good 2-3 minutes to collect all my thoughts and emotions, every loose scrap of sentiment and worry in me and direct them toward my palms, and out into the cards, as if I had the power to convert those thoughts and emotions into streamlined energy.
Then I turn the deck over face up and extract the first Earth card I come across in the face-up deck, then the first Air card, then the first Fire card, then the first Water card, which is the elemental order Cynova’s book is keyed to. Since I’m using my own deck, the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, I assign Spirit to my Empyrean Courts, so any of the court cards from SKT would represent the fifth element of Spirit.
Here’s one of my own preliminary readings as an example:
While shuffling, I set the intention with my cards that I’m seeking guidance through elemental signs, in this order: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and then finally Spirit.
So when I turn the deck face up, I’m looking for the very first Earth card to pop up. For me, that was The Empress from the Majors. Then I said to myself, okay, now for the very first Air card to come up in sequence. Then it was the very first Fire card, and so on, and for Spirit, I said the very first SKT court card.
This becomes a mini divinatory reading for me already. The Empress designates what I most need to know about Earth-related matters in my life right now; Holy Water (Ace of Chalices) designates Water-related matters; etc. Based on a scan of these five elemental cards, I choose which I want to dig deeper into. I decide on that Ace of Chalices, so I’m going to go with a Water reading.
Another approach Cynova teaches is to determine your stressors. What’s stressing you out? Her book gives a listing of common stressors and if any of those fit, you’ll be able to cross-reference to which elemental reading you may want to use.
Unhappy at work or school? Go with an Air reading. Starting a new business? Opt for Earth if your main concerns are financial in nature and opt for Air if it’s planning and strategy oriented. Conflicts in your personal life? Go with Air if you’re feeling a sense of ennui about it all and go with Water if you’re emotionally stirred up. House buying or geographic relocation concern? Go with an Earth reading. Relationship issues? Water, water, water. Unemployment? Walk through Cynova’s Earth reading if you’re seeking stability and Air for the job hunt.
From there, the book is organized by the five elemental readings:
- Earth: A Reading to Shelter You
- Air: A Reading to Help You Breathe
- Fire: A Reading to Light the Way
- Water: A Reading to Help You Float
- Spirit: A Reading to Bring You Connection
For each element, Cynova offers comprehensive insights on the attributes and correspondences of the element, how it applies directly to your life and wellbeing, and then an explanation of the elemental reading, e.g., the Water Reading.
How to decipher the implications of each card in its respective position is explained thoroughly, accompanied by case studies and personal stories written in the first person. If you’re an aspiring tarot professional, then you’re really going to appreciate the cast studies. Cynova walks you through how to curate each of the elemental readings for a prospective client and each case study she shares provides a teachable moment.
Most tarot books today cover a broad scope of sub-topics, but only skate across the surface of each point. In Tarot Elements, the scope is narrow, but Cynova dives deep into each elemental reading and guides you to mastery over each reading type, which in turn, facilitates mastery over your self, over the areas of life that elemental reading covers.
Then there are exercises to help facilitate self-care, self-awareness, and relaxation. You’ll see exactly what I mean when you work through the guided Water reading in the video posted below.
Tarot Elements closes with a chapter of additional tarot spreads to work with, to help bring clarity, along with case studies on how these spreads are used in actual reading scenarios. Then there’s a chapter on self-care. If you’re reading the book for yourself, these are insightful tips you can implement. If you’re reading the book as a form of continuing education to improve your work as a tarot professional, these tips are worth noting, to share with your own clients.
In an installment of Sightsee the Tarot, which posts on the same day as this book review, I guide you through a modified version of Cynova’s Water reading from Tarot Elements.
Skill Level: Intermediate & Up
This episode is designated “Intermediate & Up” because I think some rudimentary knowledge of card meanings and how to work with tarot spreads is essential for getting the most out of this technique.
However, if you’re a total tarot beginner and still want to try this reading technique out, then I recommend using an oracle deck. You don’t have to use the tarot for this really incredible guided reading!
Not too long ago I posted a deck review of the Faery Godmother Oracle, which I think would work great with any of Cynova’s reading spreads. I also shared my top 5 oracle decks of 2018, which you can browse through. Healers of the Earth Oracle by Mandy Peterson is another great one to use for these types of readings. The Arts Oracles by Katya Tylevich or the Awakened Soul Oracle Cards by Ethony all work well for the Water reading.
I found the Water reading, the journaling exercises, and the craft activities to have altogether improved my sense of mental wellness, so I hope it’ll do the same for you.
Tarot Elements: Five Readings to Reset Your Life (Llewellyn, 2019) by Melissa Cynova showcases where popular tarot is today: using the tarot for self-improvement, personal reflection, changing our frame of mind so we can in turn make the behavioral changes needed to break malefic cycles, and– for the tarot professionals– using the tarot as a model of life coaching.