The Glastonbury Tarot
Timeless Wisdom from The Isle of Avalon
written and illustrated by Lisa Tenzin-Dolma
It has taken me quite a long while to finally feel like I can review this set properly. Individually, the card images did not immediately inspire me, mainly because of the bright, solid colors (lots of yellow and aqua), and the minimal amount of detail. I certainly didn't dislike the deck; it just wasn't doing anything for me right away.
This time getting to know the Glastonbury Tarot
has been very much worth it, for now I see a truly special quality in the set as a whole, feel quite close to it, and have developed a love for many of the cards after all. I think one of my challenges was that I didn't feel the cards "come alive" until I saw them together in readings, that I did for myself and for others. This is not a negative point; it simply meant being a little patient. Despite what we've come to believe, instant gratification isn't an urgent need, and isn't even always a good thing. So, I didn't fall immediately in love with this deck, but my appreciation for it has grown, and it has become a much valued and often used set in my collection.
The book that accompanies the deck is largely to credit for this, as I find it incredibly well written and interesting. I love Tenzin-Dolma's approach to tarot, respecting it as a tool for inner seeking, respecting its history, and respecting the very real connection one can make with a tarot deck, while maintaining a rational point of view as well. She says,
"The fundamental function of the tarot cards is to show you reality without judgement. The images reflect the states and experiences you are undergoing, with no sense of 'good' or 'bad'. The cards which show difficulties also reveal how you can deal with them and overcome them. Some people meeting tarot cards for the first time can be slightly nervous of them, because the images are designed to encourage your intuitive nature to respond to their messages. But the cards themselves do not invite energies or experiences into your life. They merely show you what is there already, and what this can lead into if you follow your present course of action."
She also reminds us that, "the cards themselves are not magic."
The set of course explores the sacred sites and stories of Glastonbury, sharing with us legend and lore, all of which I find fascinating. I also find the stories and historical figures attributed to each card very appropriate, enriching readings and my own understanding of the tarot in general.
I should make it clear that due to the complex history of Glastonbury itself, the Glastonbury Tarot
draws together elements from Pagan, Christian, and Arthurian histories and legends. We begin our journey with Percival (as the Fool), trusted knight to King Arthur. We quickly meet Joseph of Arimathea (as the Hierophant), uncle to Jesus of Nazareth and significant figure in the mythology of Glastonbury. The card of Strength is quite unique, featuring two ancient oak trees, named Gog and Magog, which are over 1,000 years old, and "still leaf every summer." Oak trees were sacred to the Druids, and Gog and Magog stand at a place where an ancient ceremonial avenue once passed. This card is one of my favorites in the deck. Brigit is a saint (and earlier a goddess) popular with many. She finds her place on the card of Temperance. In the Devil we see St. Dunstan, a humble monk at Glastonbury Abbey, resisting the temptations of the devil in disguise as a beautiful naked woman.
It is obvious that these cards veer from the traditional in symbolism, but their titles, and more importantly their meanings, are clear.
Something I like about the Minor Arcana cards is that many of the people seem so happy and honest; they seem like actual, real people one might meet any day. Kissing, laughing, riding a horse, holding a child, or presenting a chalice, they feel real. It is in the Minor cards that I feel a sense of the modern, and I think this is pretty cool: this somewhat magical bringing together of ancient and contemporary. There is a graceful joining of ancient wisdom and new thought in this tarot, which I feel gives it a unique power and depth, and makes it highly appropriate to our work with tarot as a tool of self-discovery and personal growth.
This set now has a place among a few of my other favorites, which I keep in a sturdy, lidded basket. It has a quiet, unassuming energy, but it has stood out with a presence that is lasting. I would recommend it to anyone who feels drawn to it for its history, artwork, simple positive style, or for a feeling of intuitive connection.
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Card artwork by Lisa Tenzin-Dolma
Illumination Tarot has been publishing articles, reviews, tarot spreads, and personal reflections for tarot enthusiasts and followers of alternative spirituality online since 1999.
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021