Book Review: Modern Tarot by Michelle Tea

Book Review of Michelle Tea's Modern Tarot

I was so excited to get my paws on Michelle Tea's tarot book that it felt like Christmas morning when the library notified me it that my hold was ready. Having followed Tea on Instagram and read her latest (amazing) collection of essays, Against Memoir, I knew that this book would be a much-needed diverse and down-to-earth take on tarot.

One of the most frequent requests I get from students is to hear more about my personal experiences with the cards. There are so many books with straight-up meanings and definitions. What about the context behind them? How can we expect to see the cards unfolding in real life?

The biggest delight of this book is the fact that Tea peppers her explanations of the cards with anecdotes from her real life. And for those unfamiliar with Tea's background, her life is raucous, brave, and driven by spiritual seeking. This makes Modern Tarot entertaining as well as an impactful way to connect with card meanings. Having actual examples of how, say, the Two of Pentacles showed up in a real person's life is so much more memorable than a dry set of keywords. Along the way, we're treated to Tea's unique insights and journey as a tarot reader and human. 

Tea organizes the book with a no-frills structure. She examines each card and its meanings after a brief introduction, starting with the Major Arcana, moving to the pip cards, and finishing with the courts. It's easy to navigate and would be a lovely resource if you're needing an inviting and helpful reference book. Each segment is its own mini-essay and includes several variations of the cards' meaning. For example, her section on the court cards talks through their possible meanings as people, situations, and personality traits.

And the writing style? It's incredibly warm, funny, and supportive. Reading Modern Tarot is like getting to sit in Tea's kitchen and hear stories from her life, hard-won observations, and funny stories about run-ins with shady Knight of Swords characters. Take this gem of a passage: 

If the Four of Cups has popped up in your world, it is probably time to pull your head out of your arse. In certain cases, the figure beneath the tree is not self-obsessed but contemplative... It’s possible that this is what you’re doing, but more likely you’re being a baby, proclaiming that an imperfect situation, disappointing person, the whole world maybe, just isn’t good enough for you and withdrawing into a cave of sulky isolation.

I love how Tea doesn't shy away from the "negative" sides of the cards. You can trust her book to tell it like it is with loving toughness and give plenty of practical (and magical!) ways to work through the stickier meanings and messages. In this way, Modern Tarot is an excellent book to learn about working with the cards, directly engaging with their themes to better your life. And yes, that includes some tarot call-outs from time to time. We've all been there. 

The most delightful part of this book, in my opinion, is that she chooses to end each card description with 1-3 spells to harness their unique energy. Tea's spells are accessible, creative, and oh so enticing. I can't wait to call on them after doing some personal readings. Her approach to spellcraft is refreshingly light-hearted and eclectic. She refers to it as "spiritual crafting," which makes my heart sing! Expect to see lots of kitchen cabinet ingredients and accessible instructions. And for those of you wary of or uncomfortable with doing spells, rest easy. These are towards the end of each section and easy to skim over. 

All in all, this book is a refreshing addition to the tarot scene. It's unique perspective feels very modern, indeed, and many people whose experiences (unfortunately) fall outside the "mainstream" culture will find representation here. Tea writes using inclusive language, avoiding the pitfalls of heteronormativity and classism, and her insights are unique and illuminating. 

As for quibbles and criticisms, I hardly have any. If anything, I would say that although it says "can be used with any deck" on the cover, this books is best suited to one in the Rider-Waite-Smith system. 

Buy this Book If You're Looking For... Real life examples of the cards at work, a warm and accessible tone, humorous takes, sex-positivity, a helpful reference for card meanings, and spells to work with each card.

Skip this Book If... Cursing offends you, you're looking for a historical/academic take on tarot