For a deck of tarot cards, the Glastonbury Tarot has had a remarkably long shelf life. First designed in 1999, the cards themselves and their incarnations on various web sites are favorites among serious users and translators.
The Designer of the Glastonbury Tarot
The cards are the brainchild of Lisa Tenzin-Dolma, author, screenwriter, journalist and illustrator. She based her design images around scenes from the landscape of Glastonbury, England located in Somerset.
Tenzin-Dolma painted her original designs in oil using primary colors. Her designs are more endearing than enduring, and have a primitive approach to them that is reminiscent of a high school art student rather than an accomplished master.
In her deck, she has attempted to merge both pagan and Christian symbols that, to the student of both history and mythology, seem to be at odds and do not appear to "gel" when studied in depth.
Perhaps it is Glastonbury itself that causes the unsettling feeling her cards evoke. The town itself is also a curious blend of fact and fiction.
Glastonbury: Where King Meets God
Located in Somerset, England, Glastonbury is actually a small place. It is home to Glastonbury Abbey, often proclaimed the oldest above ground Christian church in the world. It is here with this statement that the line between mythology and church fact becomes a little blurry in both the minds of the Church and the populace.
According to mythology, this is the legendary site where King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were buried, and it's also where the shores of Avalon became veiled to those who ceased practicing traditional pagan rites and became Christian. Glastonbury is the supposed juncture of both worlds.
The Abbey itself is said to have been commissioned by Joseph of Arimathea as the resting and hiding place of the Holy Grail. His staff is said to be the foundation for the Holy Thorn that blooms in the spring and the winter. These stories enhanced by bards and poets make for a deliciously entwined tangle of folklore and tales on which the village stakes its reputation today.
What is a geographical fact, and thus of great importance for students of pagan rites and rituals, is that the town is the intersection of several major ley lines. These are physical lines of great magnetic strength that run through and around the earth. Reviewer, Lee A Bursten does a marvelous job of reviewing the decks imagery and its juxtaposition of Christian and Pagan elements and symbols. His review is a must read for anyone interested in the deck.
The Glastonbury Tarot Major and Minor Arcana
The pictures of the Major Arcana in the Glastonbury deck adhere to tradition in the way they are titled. However, they are a mixed bag of imagery from actual places in Glastonbury to scenes from the Arthurian legends.
Tenzin-Dolma altered the titles of the Minor Arcana so that the Cups became Chalices and the Pentacles became Vesicas. The Court cards are easy to interpret, and the Pages have been changed to Maids with their meanings unaltered. By various reviews across the Internet, the book that accompanies the deck, with a forward written by Celtic mythology experts Caitlin and John Matthews, is clear, informative and an easy read.
The Cards Good Points and Bad Points
For users of the Glastonbury Tarot deck, complaints from various web sites including those who left commentary at Amazon.com center around both the design and the physical feel of the deck.
Love it or hate it, the artwork is criticized for being too childish, while others commend it and say it actually helps their memory of the meanings of the various suits. The cards have also been critiqued as being too slick and even sticky to handle.