The Glastonbury Tarot
Timeless Wisdom from the ancient Isle of Avalon
Now out of print and unavailable
by Caitlin & John Matthews
Some years ago, the Arthurian scholar, Geoffrey Ashe, (himself a resident of Glastonbury) wrote a wonderful novel called The Finger and the Moon, in which the imagery of the tarot lay hidden, embedded in a story of Avalonian magic, much as the Glastonbury Zodiac underlies and surrounds the town itself. Now Glastonbury has its own tarot in Lisa Tenzin-Dolma's vibrant deck.
There can be very few places in the world that contain sufficient mythic and mystical reference points to furnish 78 cards, but the small market town of Glastonbury is just such a place. The Glastonbury Tarot emerges from the melting pot of ideas, beliefs and wisdom which have been embodied around this extraordinary sacred site for many ages. Indeed, this focus of world-wide pilgrimage has so much mythic energy, that to enter its streets and walk its hills is to become part of the myth.
The tarot is first and foremost about journeys – to work within the imagery of such a pack as the one you hold in your hands, is to enter into a journey of one's own – a life journey that is often seen in terms of a quest. Thus it is particularly appropriate that the major arcana of the Glastonbury Tarot draw upon the imagery of the Arthurian legends – which are themselves built around the transformative quest for the Grail.
To open and use this pack is very like taking a walk through and around Glastonbury itself. In each card there is a sense of wonder which accompanies one at every step, a feeling of entering an otherworldly place where anything can (and frequently does) happen, where a chance meeting around the next corner can presage a whole new direction in one's life. In the minor arcana, the modern pilgrims on this quest and those who live in and around the town, are seen as part of the myth, recipients and mediators of the wisdom. For this is not a quest that only exists in past times: it is an ongoing central feature of many people's spiritual progress today.
Wherever you may be on your own journey, you will find some echo coming back to you from the cards, which are indeed, as the author notes, a mirror held up to every one of us – one that reflects back truth with an accuracy we may scarcely ever have encountered. It is indeed a little bit like standing in the medieval Abbot's Kitchen in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, and looking down into the mirror which is so positioned that we can see the roof far above us. The image there is the same yet different – a reflection of the roof, but containing our own image. The tarot does this also – putting our own life and concerns into the pattern of the archetypal world referenced in the cards.
The message of the Glastonbury Tarot to its users is very similar to that which the spirit of Glastonbury whispers to all pilgrims who, like the Fool in this deck, set out in hope for the golden towers of better times and circumstances. Drawing cards from this tarot and using the Bird spread, we offer you this message. It is to find inner equilibrium (Temperance or Brigit) through uncompromisingly facing one's true self (Queen of Swords). For though we all visit sacred places to find spiritual nurture and a mature, creative way of life (Empress or Guinevere,) our quest is about refreshing our direction, releasing old illusions which ensnare us (Eight of Swords) so that we may understand the subtle impressions which are nagging under the surface (Seven of Chalices) and to test whether they represent our true vision or not. Many times, we are called to pass "the door without a key" as esotericist, Dion Fortune, (who lived under the shadow of Chalice Hill) called the way into our dreams where we experience true vision (The Moon or Chalice Hill). When we attend to the information that arises from our quest, we learn that our actions have causation and effect upon our lives and surroundings which causes us to change the way we live (Justice or Arviragus.) This encourages us to re-tune to our vision, and to spend periods of reflection apart in order to receive and welcome the light that ever burns within the soul (The Hermit or St Collen.)
Glastonbury is one among many sacred sites to be visited, but our individual spiritual quest is a pilgrimage that must be consistently pursued in the everyday world. Lisa Tenzin-Dolma's deck opens to us remarkable doors of perception through which we can each access the ancient wisdom of the landscape of Glastonbury, and by inference other and deeper mysteries, at any time we so choose.
John and Caitlin Matthews, June 1999
The tarot is an ancient system of self-knowledge through the use of symbols. The images, in sequence, track a pathway through the journey of the soul – from the trust and innocence of THE FOOL to the wisdom, joy and spiritual liberation of THE WORLD. The cards reveal the tests, trials and triumphs along the way, which we as human beings encounter in our development of the knowledge of who we are.
The tarot cards are divided into two parts. The 22 Major Arcana cards reveal the experiences of life, and the archetypes which bring their energy to those experiences. The 56 Minor Arcana show how we react to those experiences, and how they manifest in our lives. These are divided into a further 4 sections, one for each element: Fire (Staffs), Water (Chalices), Air (Swords), and Earth (Vesicas). Fire relates to action, to inspiration and the use of the will. Water relates to the emotions and the intuitive aspect of ourselves. Air relates to the mind, to the processes of thought and intellect, which can be divisive or unifying. Earth relates to the 'grounding' or manifestation of our energy, and to material considerations.
There are many tarot packs available, so why, you may ask, is this one dedicated to Glastonbury – a tiny town in Somerset, England? The Glastonbury Tarot follows the sequence and symbolism of other traditional tarot cards, but contains within its imagery the inspirational myths, legends, historical figures and sacred sites which abound in this area.
Glastonbury has been known by many names. It is the ancient Isle Of Avalon, the entrance to the Otherworld, a place of magic and mystery. As Ynys Witrin, the Isle Of Glass, this place acts as a mirror, which, when you look into it, shows your soul, your deepest self. Glastonbury has been known as the Isle of the Dead, where secrets are revealed, and as the Isle of Apples, because of its many orchards. It is linked with the Summerland, the beautiful place where souls go to rest.
Since ancient times, when Glastonbury was an island, surrounded by water broken only by lake villages rising from its depths, the area has been richly steeped in history and enigma. Pagan traditions flourished here, co-existing with the first Christian church in the Western Isles, founded by Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus. Druids trod their paths through groves and lines of oak trees. Heroes and warriors came here. Saints and seekers of truth journeyed to its shores, and it was long known as "the holiest earthe in England".
As the Isle of Glass, Glastonbury is seen as a mirror which enables seekers to look deep within their hearts, and truly know themselves. It is a place of visions. The light has an unusual, luminous quality which attracts the eye to look deeper, to go within as well as feast itself upon the haunting beauty of the landscape.
Throughout the ages, Glastonbury has been a place set apart -a refuge, the entrance to the Otherworld and the Underworld; a land where time moves different courses, and where realities can shift and merge to birth new and wondrous images and revelations.
In her book, Glastonbury: Maker Of Myths, Frances Howard-Gordon observes that living in Glastonbury is like living in a pack of tarot cards. Like the tarot, one is on a journey here. In this unique area are embodied all the archetypes and symbols that are found in the tarot. These are encompassed within the landscape and in the mysticism of earth-lore; in the Arthurian legends, and in Christian history. All paths meet and merge here to form a rich tapestry, the weft and warp of human existence and experience.
Within the Glastonbury Tarot cards is a blending of philosophical paths within the context of the landscape. The illustrations depict the history of the area through Pagan, Christian, and Arthurian figures, reflecting the marriage of belief systems in this small area of land which is a melting-pot of ideas and ideologies, a cauldron of inspiration which feeds all who come here.
Glastonbury breathes spirit through the air which caresses her land. But the energies here also provide an anchor which clarifies and 'grounds' who we are, and what the individual purpose is for our lives. As the magical Isle of Avalon, Glastonbury embodies the place of mystery and beauty that exists within the human heart – no matter where you are geographically. The journey through the Glastonbury Tarot is the journey we all undertake through life, focused and concentrated within this area of land, but relevant everywhere.
In the images depicted in the cards, the landscapes are all of this area. Some are symbolic, others are recognisably rendered. The text for most of the cards will reveal the location of the landscapes, except where I have painted the gardens of friends. Most of the figures in the images are of friends of mine from the area, who I felt embodied aspects of the energies of the cards, and I offer my thanks to them for their inspiration.
The figures in the Major Arcana come from the history, myths and legends associated with Glastonbury. Their stories are told as a prelude to the symbolism and interpretation of the images. This can give you a deeper insight into the meaning of the cards, and also relates some of the rich history and folklore of this area. Each figure has many tales to tell, and an entire book could be written (and in many cases, has been written) about each one. Because of this, I have selected only the stories that bear relevance to each particular image.
The Minor Arcana cards show the landscapes of the area, and marry these in with the symbolism that is reflected in the card. Before you read the interpretations of the cards, I would recommend that you just sit quietly and observe what each image reveals to you. If you allow the cards to speak to you, you will be able to access the land of deep inner knowing that resides within each of us.
Now out of print and unavailable
The Glastonbury Tarot images: