Card Meaning: XVI The Tower

The Tower
Element: Fire
Planet: Mars
Hebrew letter: Peh, פ


  While seeing imagery on this card we can easily be reminded on Bible story of Tower of Babel. On symbolical level that story outlines the attempt by the part of humanity to erect a monument to itself, so high and so great that even the glory of the God would be overshadowed by it. In society of today we can stilll see that ambition through relentless activity to subject all of natures forces to our technology and engineering. On more personal level we can also see psychological analogy with that story. Man of today is dweling amidst the realm of his mind, usually without any contact with higher, spiritual realm. This card explains fragility and transiency of that concept. Like so many times before in the Major Arcana, but this time with additional stress, we are recieving a message to build our castles and towers on a solid ground. We can see that The Tower is in the darkness. Its nature is totally artificial, man made, standing all alone. It symbolizes our individual consciousness, we are dealing here almost exclusively with mental constructs of our own mind. The Tower is a way we look at the world, our thoughts, our esoteric conclusions, our religious beliefs/misbeliefs, images of others and finally - the self image. All of our existence is a pure expression of our mind, even our body and destiny on the most subtle level is a long term product of our own mind. And that mind, as this cards depicts, is totally artificial, man made structure. From the most simple to the most complex constructs around us, everything is just a building block of The Tower we create everyday. What is a message of this card then? The message of The Tower is that our mind, left to its own devices, leads us into a realm of immeasurable darkness. Even if it is truth oriented it is uncapable of total attainment all on its own. But then, there is a lightning bolt that usually crush The Tower and all artificial conceptions from which is built. But also, lightning bolt brings us light and another, much higher, perspective and what is very certain, it will happen sooner or later for all of us. The lightening bolt comes from above and bring us transformation through contact with the divine insipration, our own higher consciousness. We can freely say that on the inner level, the destruction of Tower is breaking down in its very foundations of a fortress called the ego.


  This is one of the two cards that are not preserved in early Visconti-Sforza deck (the other is The Devil). Some scholars doubt that it existed at all.  In the Marseilles deck the card is named La Maison Dieu (The House of God).  It shows a tower that stands erect but with the top that looks like a crown blown off from fire from the heaven. Around the tower there are some kind of balls of fire that seems to fall on ground. The Rosenwald Sheet depicts a building with a large entrance gate that is being destroyed by the fire from above. The head of the cow is at the bottom of the card. In the Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis this card is called The Arrow, clear connotation on the bolt from above. In a poem written around 1550 by Giulio Bertoni, it is referred to as La Casa del Diavolo (The House of the Devil), and it is later also called Il Fuoco (The Fire).  In the 17th-century Jacques Vieville tarot, it is called La Foudre (Lightning); instead of a tower, on the card is shepard with cattle near a tree with fire from some celestial body coming down to the Earth.


  The Tower in its best indicates sudden changes, flashes of insight and tearing down of misconceptions that you once believed in. This card talks about necessary change, maybe a blessing in disguise. The negative side is a sensation of sudden disaster, emotional turmoil, some kind of downfall. Fantasies and daydreams will not help you so it is best to separate from them now and soften the pace of the change if possible. Do not place your faith in illusions of security because it is time for change and transformation will occur one way or the other.

lightning bolt, punishment, retribution, fall 

   The Tower is in the utter darkness, just like The Devil, the previous card. Here also, the blackness indicates an absence of light. But in this card divine spark from above will suddenly bring light. It breaks the tower and two people fall down. It seems like they are falling from one of the three windows on the tower. The man is our conscious mind and the woman is our subconscious mind. Both of them are accomplices in building and maintaining The Tower but now their construction faces its end by the flash of superconsciousnes from above. But it will not be crushed into nothing, it is burning, it is going through transformation and transmutation. On the top of the tower was a crown, but the false crown, representing the false will power, so it had to be removed before the light can step in. Once it is removed, the illusion that we exists as a separate personalities ends, The Tower represents false concept of separation, thus, it stands alone in the darkness. Without separation there is no more need for hiding in the castles and towers. Around the tower we can see 22 Yod letters mimicking blazes of fire. Yod is the first letter of the holy name of God. The 22 Yods represent the 22 basic modes of consciousness symbolized by the 22 cards of the Major Arcana. All of our mental conceptions are in some way connected with our language, so it is very natural that we can see resemblance between this imagery and the story of Tower of Babel.

Occult explanations attached to this card are meagre and mostly disconcerting. It is idle to indicate that it depicts min in all its aspects, because it bears this evidence on the surface. It is said further that it contains the first allusion to a material building, but I do not conceive that the Tower is more or less material than the pillars which we have met with in three previous cases. I see nothing to warrant Papus in supposing that it is literally the fall of Adam, but there is more in favour of his alternative--that it signifies the materialization of the spiritual word. The bibliographer Christian imagines that it is the downfall of the mind, seeking to penetrate the mystery of God. I agree rather with Grand Orient that it is the ruin of the House of We, when evil has prevailed therein, and above all that it is the rending of a House of Doctrine. I understand that the reference is, however, to a House of Falsehood. It illustrates also in the most comprehensive way the old truth that "except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it."

There is a sense in which the catastrophe is a reflection from the previous card, but not on the side of the symbolism which I have tried to indicate therein. It is more correctly a question of analogy; one is concerned with the fall into the material and animal state, while the other signifies destruction on the intellectual side. The Tower has been spoken of as the chastisement of pride and the intellect overwhelmed in the attempt to penetrate the Mystery of God; but in neither case do these explanations account for the two persons who are the living sufferers. The one is the literal word made void and the other its false interpretation. In yet a deeper sense, it may signify also the end of a dispensation, but there is no possibility here for the consideration of this involved question.

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, by A.E. Waite

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