Day 303: The Tower

The Tower in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

The Tower in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

After gaining a mastery over one’s own energy in Temperance, the next step in the journey is to begin working your energy in conjunction with others.  The Devil kicked off this stage of energy work by tackling the most basic interplay:  lust and greed.  The Tower takes on the next step: communication. This is perhaps what Waite means in his Pictorial Key where he compares the Devil and the Tower.  Of the Tower he says:

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.

As with lust, communication itself is no evil and is–in fact–deeply necessary to constructing a society.  The problem with communication, though, is that it is a fully symbolic medium.  I’ve always liked using René Magritte’s painting The Treachery of Images to illustrate this point.  If you were to show someone the picture below and ask “What is this?”, 99 times of a hundred, that person will reply “A pipe, idiot.”  It is not a pipe, though–it is just the image of a pipe.  Obviously, you cannot stuff or smoke the image the way you can with a real pipe.  This is the message of the French script below the image:  “This is not a pipe.”

René Magritte's "The Treachery of Images" (1928-29).

René Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images” (1928-29).

This experiment can obviously be replicated with the word “pipe.”  Write that word on a slip of paper and ask someone what it is, and they’ll usually reply “pipe, fool!”  And yet, this is an even more abstract representation of the pipe.  Not only can you not smoke the word, there is absolutely nothing inherent in the lines upon that paper that refers to “pipe.”  We’ve only collectively agreed that lines that resemble “pipe” will refer to that smoking tool.

It is absolutely vital to remember that words, whether spoken or written, are not an experience in themselves:  they are a representation of an experience, and something is always lost in that representation.  Yet, this is the only medium we have to try to convey to another person what something we’ve experienced is like.  They become so immediate to us, that we very easily mistake them for fully representing or, worse, even being that experience.

The Tower card depicts our symbol for people who have gone so far into the world of representation that they’ve lost complete touch with primal experience:  The Ivory Tower.  For those unfamiliar with the phrase, this is a pejorative term Western society uses to describe a very ‘academic’ world where the intellectuals within are completely preoccupied with ideas that have almost no relevance to the practical concerns of every day life.  The only thing the Ivory Tower produces are empty words, words with no real referent, words that have forgotten they are only representations.

In the Tower card, we very clearly see a true ‘ivory tower’.  It was capped with a crown that lightning has knocked off, and the tower itself is now ablaze.  That crown is an important symbol that further highlights the over-intellectualization this image represents.  It is an item that traditionally differentiates a monarch or a deity from all others and invests in them the power to ‘head’ their people’s body and to make decisions for the population.  As such, it is also a powerful symbol for the mind, and the crowned tower would therefore stand for intellectualizaton’s intellectualization.  However, the lightning, a flash of pure experience, easily destroys this façade and reveals it to be nothing but an empty shell with no grounding in reality.

This might be why the two falling figures are shown plummeting head-first.  As we discussed in the Devil, inversion of the human figure is a powerful symbol, for it means desire getting the best of judgement.  In the entire deck, there are only three instances of such inversion:  The Hanged Man’s figure, the inverted pentagram upon the Devil’s forehead, and the two falling figures in The Tower.  The Hanged Man willingly undergoes this ‘humiliating’ inversion to gain new perspective and learn a greater truth.  The Devil wears this symbol to show the excesses to which it may lead.  The Tower provides additional commentary:  desire is not the antithesis of judgement but rather its companion.  Desire provides the groundings from which Judgements can spring; without desire, all that cerebral function is simply spinning castles in the air.  When the empty tower falls, human reason rushes back into experience as quickly as it can.

The two falling figures in the Tower, though, aren’t falling voluntarily.  Their inversion has suddenly been forced upon them and is a rapid, possibly cataclysmic re-grounding.  When they collide with experience’s rocks, it is going to hurt.  Having been so lost in symbol, they will struggle to re-learn the ‘language’ of reality.  But they will ultimately find freedom in this fall, as the depiction of mid-fall hints.  Caught at this moment, rather than at its start or at its end, the fall resembles flight, which–in the Tarot–is a sign of freedom.

Waite's Tower with more traditional coloring.

Waite’s Tower with more traditional coloring.

Unlike other Tarot artists, Waite put a great amount of detail into his two falling figures.  On the left side of the card, the figure is very clearly male with long, brown hair, and he wears a red cape, blue tunic, and white trews and boots.  The figure on the right side of the card is very clearly female, and she wears a crown atop curly blonde hair and is clad in a blue gown and red shoes (at least in the traditional coloring of the card, shown right).

Looking at the two people, it is clear that they are each other’s dual opposite.  He is a man, she is a woman.  He wears the color of fire on his upper half and the color of water on his lower half, she wears water on her upper and fire on her lower.  He is dark where she is light. He is straight-haired where she is curly.  He is poor where she is rich (the crown).  Since the people are shortly to be smashed to bits, this could indicate the breakdown of intellectual dualism into its component parts in preparation for an experiential renewal that does not come from such entrenched concepts.  After all, this third line of the Major Arcana relates to the superconscious, and part of becoming one with a larger spiritual awareness is to release the dualities that defined us as individuals.

Finally, Waite has also included twenty-two tongues of fire surrounding the figures and the tower.  Twelve tongues surround the man, and ten float above the woman.  Each of these tongues are in the shape of the Hebrew letter “Yodh”.  In the Kabbalah, this letter is said to be the source of all other letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and its simple shape is thought to represent droplets of sperm and the primal sparks of creation.  As such, Kabbalists believe that Yodh combined with itself in various patterns to make up ever other Hebrew letter, and so it is both the source and the fulfillment of creation.  Together, these yodhs–one for each of the cards in the Major Arcana–indicate that the Tower’s destruction is also a new creation.  In numerology, 22 is the number of “The Master Builder” or of an ancient wisdom that can turn the most ambitious dreams into a reality:  the ultimate creator.  The twelve surrounding the man are a nod to the Hanged Man, showing a regeneration toward a higher consciousness, the submission of will, and sacrifice.  The ten above the woman is a nod toward the Wheel of Fortune and new change–positive new change if its potential is fulfilled.

Robin Wood's Tower

Robin Wood’s Tower

Robin Wood’s card shares a lot of visual similarities with the Rider-Waite card, though it does away with the tower’s crown and the yodhs.  Wood also brought in all the elements into the tower’s destruction:  it is simultaneously being destroyed by earthquake, storm, flood, and fire.  This is to show that nature won’t tolerate things set up against its rules for long, so its elements unite to take the offending tower down  (and its builders with it).

Wood’s card depicts a ziggurat, which represents something into which the querent invested a great deal of time and effort, but which is crumbling before his or her eyes.  The sections spiral widdershins (the decreasing direction) to show it was constructed backwards, or without first considering the most important things.  It has five sections for each of the five senses, which indicates its construction was founded in sensual appeal, not one to a higher power.  Its eight windows indicate that it was meant to be balanced, but the random placement shows that plan failed very early.

Though Wood’s two figures are tiny, they are as detailed as Waite’s.  Look closely and you will see a man and woman falling head first from the tower.  They wear blue and gold clothing, which stand for spiritual things and wealth, and show they had the highest intentions while they were building the tower.  But they also wear red and purple cloaks and wear gold crowns, which shows they were acting as earthly royalty, and had very material concerns.  Their crowns are flying off their heads, which indicates they are losing their position and their ego.

KEYWORDS:  Sudden change, Upheaval, Release, Revelation, Losing the false premises.

Close your eyes and take several deep breaths.  Imagine that your body radiates a color that represents your ideals.  Imagine this color forms a bubble that surrounds you.  Imagine now that you are able to step out of the bubble.  Once you do this, the color collapses to the ground beside you.  Now look at your spirit body and note how it appears without this color.  How does it feel to be without it?  This aura cannot survive without being attached to you, so imagine now that the aura dissipates into the ground, where it is neutralized.

Daily Practice
Keep The Tower card with you today or place it on your altar.  In front of the altar, set a candle of a color that represents one of your closely held ideals.  take a pin and inscribe a word that represents this ideal on your candle.  Light the candle, and while it burns, take out some paper.  Write down how this ideal affects your life.  Does it create rules?  Impossibilities?  Does it stifle or direct your behavior in some particular way?  How does this ideal defend you from the reality of life?  Where do these ideals come from?  Who created them?  Know that as the candle burns away, so will your ideal.  Act throughout the day without sustaining any ideals.

The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book The New Tarot Handbook, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

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