Interview with Lisa Tenzin-Dolma

by Percy Balemans

This is an interview with Lisa Tenzin-Dolma, the creator of the Glastonbury Tarot. She talks about tarot in general and about the deck she created.

I'd like to thank Lisa Tenzin-Dolma for agreeing to do this interview and sharing her enthusiasm about her work.

About Tarot

About the Glastonbury Tarot

About Your Other Activities


About Tarot

How did you first get involved with tarot?

I became very interested in astrology about 25 years ago, and trained in Astrological Psychology because I've always been fascinated by what makes people "tick". This led me to explore other esoteric tools for self-understanding, and I was thrilled and excited when I began to study the tarot, numerology, runes, and the I Ching, and discovered that each of these systems have a common purpose. It seemed to me that they were a key to understanding the patterns that emerge throughout our lives. If you recognise those patterns, you can work with them - both to develop the healthy, positive ones, and to change those that are less constructive.

What do you use tarot for: divination, to gain insight, or anything else?

I work with the tarot in several ways. When I first began to explore it, I decided that before I read a book on the subject, I would meditate on each card. It was an intense and revelatory process - I found that I was dreaming the images, and keying into their messages. I still use the cards as a meditation tool when I feel that I really need to focus on a specific energy. I find that you gain insights from the tarot, regardless of how you work with it, because it always creates a connection between the subconscious and the conscious minds.

The predominant way in which I work with the tarot when I do readings is to enhance self-knowledge. The fortune-telling aspect doesn't really appeal to me, because there are always so many possibilities that come into play from moment to moment in life, and the future is created through the choices that we make from moment to moment in the present. I tend to use the cards to see what is going on, subconsciously and unconsciously, and I do feel that the patterns in our lives here and now are based on choices that we have made on some level - so the tarot can show you what those patterns are, and what they are likely to unfold into. And you can then make more informed choices about the best direction to move in, and see what new patterns, in the form of feelings, attitudes and events, will emerge. I view the tarot as a tool that encourages you to understand yourself and others, and to take responsibility for your life.

Do you have any other decks besides your own? And which one is your favourite?

I used to have a lot of tarot decks, but if a friend became attached to a particular deck I would pass it on to them. I mostly use my own deck, because it speaks to me very clearly - which it would, as it was a huge focus in my life during the 20 months it took to create it! But I love the way that different artists have their own interpretation of the images - and there are so many beautiful decks around! The ones I have that are still my favourites are the Thoth deck, the Rider-Waite, the Dreampower Tarot, the Mythic Tarot, the Wild Spirit, Celtic Wisdom, Shining Tribe, Arthurian, and Greenwood decks. Some of the creators of these are friends, (I watched the Wild Spirit deck as it came into being) and their work comes from a very pure place within them, which makes those decks even more special to me.

About the Glastonbury Tarot

How did the idea to create your tarot deck originate? Was it triggered by your interest in tarot, or your interest in Glastonbury and its history, or something else?

Well, I'd just had another book published, and was asked to do a book signing at Gothic Image. I was living in Glastonbury, and doing a lot of painting. The publisher asked me whether I would be interested in creating a tarot deck based on Glastonbury imagery, and I loved the idea - I was doing a large series of deity paintings at the time, so didn't feel intimidated by the scale of the project (though after I'd signed the contract I panicked for a few minutes and thought "What if I'm not good enough?"). The history and mythology of Glastonbury intrigued me, so it was wonderful to use that as a background to the images, and tie it in with the interpretations for the book. It amazed me how such a small geographical area housed so many powerful archetypes! So really, the idea was suggested to me, and it took root and grew from there, very swiftly. I dreamed all of the images in the cards, so I would wake up and sketch in a notebook that I kept next to my bed. Because I had studied the tarot for such a long time, I found it quite easy to see the correspondences - but it was a very intense project to take on, and I lived through each image as it was being created. The whole process taught me a great deal.

Where did your interest in Glastonbury and its history come from?

I had visited Glastonbury as a teenager, before it was considered a focus for the alternative scene. On my first visit there were no alternative shops or people, and most of the shops there had signs on the doors saying "No hippies"! But the landscape intrigued me, especially the tor. Years later I visited again, and felt so drawn to the area that I moved there, and lived there for 7 years. The area is steeped in history, so that becomes absorbed quite naturally, and leads you to want to find out more.

You used your friends as models for the cards that depict people. How did you go about using the models: did you have a specific person in mind for a specific card, or did you let your models inspire you in creating the card?

There are some funny stories about how some people came to model for the paintings - too many to share here. A lot of them were people who I already knew, and who, to me, embodied certain archetypes. I was lucky in that no-one refused to model - everyone was delighted to be in the cards, which I really hadn't expected. But with a few of the cards I just saw people in the street, or a cafe, and instantly felt that this person was the perfect model for that card - so I had to pluck up my courage and go over and ask whether I could paint them! And it was amazing - when I described what that card was about, it always, always corresponded with what that person was experiencing or feeling at that time. For instance, when I saw James, the person who I painted for the 3 of Vesicas, and approached him to model for me, I explained that the energy of that card is like an architect who thinks of an idea, draws up a plan, and sees it come into existence through the builders. It's about bringing energy into concrete, useable form. He burst out laughing, and told me that he was actually an architect!

So really, I just tuned into something, and the right person would appear - whether or not I knew them. A few friends became pregnant after being painted, so there was a lot of creative energy around. And all of my five children are in the paintings that corresponded with their particular energy at that time: my oldest son, Ryan, is in the 6 of Staffs card, he had just heard that he had been accepted for the university of his choice when I painted him; my son Oliver is in the Knight of Vesicas - he had very long hair in those days; and my three younger children, Daniel, Liam, and Amber are in the 3 of Chalices. Of course, they're all 5 years older now than they were in the paintings - so it's lovely that they have a "portrait" record of that time! It was a lot of fun!

Are you in one of the cards yourself?

No, I did consider it, but felt that I needed to put myself into all of the images energetically, and it would have upset the balance to be in one specific card.

There's a lot of very detailed symbolism in the cards, in the use of colours, clothing, objects etc. Where did you base this symbolism on, is it based on your personal views or on a belief system?

Well, I was fascinated by symbolism and colour from a very early age, so I studied it from lots of different perspectives. I used my own philosophies and interpretations for the cards, but they don't really differ to most of the other philosophies around symbolism and colour, so I think (I hope!) it's quite easy to tune into what each card means to you. I deliberately kept the images themselves fairly simple - the pictures themselves are not ornate - because I felt that every single aspect within each image should have a meaning that could be understood purely through focusing on each card. The effect that I wanted to achieve was one where you can look at a card and feel an immediate emotional response that will instantly reveal its meaning to you. This is so much more relevant to a tarot reader than having to look the interpretation up in a book - and I do suggest in the book that goes with the deck that you should first of all question what each card means to you personally, and then only use the book as a guide if you need to. Having said that, before you throw the book away - it does go into the historical and mythological background of each card, which is interesting, and can be helpful in interpretation.

What is your favourite card in your deck, and why?

I have several favourite images - partly because of the experiences I had while I was painting them, and partly because of the essential meaning of the card. Of all of them, the Strength card is very special to me, because I love Gog and Magog, the 1,000 year old oak trees in the image - can you imagine what has happened in that area during the time that those trees have been alive? The thought of that astounds me. And also, the energy of the Strength card itself is wonderful.

About Your Other Activities

Have you created any other artwork besides the Glastonbury Tarot?

I've done a lot of paintings, and still do paint whenever I can find time in between writing work. My favourites are portraits - people are so fascinating.

Do you have any plans for another deck?

I keep thinking about it, and would love to create another deck - an idea for another one has been marinating for the last year or so. However, it's a lengthy process, and I have several more books to write at the moment, so I don't know when that will happen.

Can you tell us a bit more about your new book?

There are several. I've just finished a book about motivation and purpose, The Secret of Motivation, and I'm very excited about it. It's taken over 3 years to write - because, as always, I've lived through all of the principles that are described in the book, and have taught courses in it and gained some great new friends as well as wonderful feedback. That book has just gone off to the publishers, and I can't give you a publication date just yet.

At the moment I'm working on a book called Exploring The Planetary Myths. This will be published by Foulsham/Quantum in September 2004, and is about the myths that the stories of the planets are based on. It tells the stories, and explores how these correlate with the interpretations of the planets in astrology - using both the psychological resonances of the deities, and also looking at how the aspects (the relationships between the planets in a natal chart) can be understood more fully through having a knowledge of the relationships between the archetypal deities in the Graeco-Roman pantheons. It's a complex book, put across very simply, and I hope it will be valuable in adding another dimension to the interpretation of a natal chart.

And in my free time, for fun, I'm writing a novel, with another planned to follow.

© Percy Balemans

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