Tarot Talk

March 1st, 2017

The Tower



(The Tower Tarot Card from the artist Ciro Marchetti http://www.ciromarchetti.com/)**


This month, we will return to the Major Arcana, and talk about The Tower. Now, I know that many are afraid of this card, but don’t panic. You will find that The Tower is not quite as bad as it seems. . . I promise! Since it’s been a while since we talked about a Major Arcana card, let’s begin by defining and describing some terms.

There are 22 Major Arcana cards in a Tarot deck, with numbers from 0 to 21; the Majors usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues, archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives.

An archetype (pronounced “ark eh type”) is a generic, idealized model of a person, an object, or a concept which can be copied, patterned, or imitated. In psychology, an archetype is a model of a person, a personality, or a behavior. In the analysis of personality, the term archetype often refers to one of two concepts:

A “stereotype”; in other words, a personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of a personality type; stereotypes can be positive or negative. For instance, “girls make good cooks” is a stereotype.

An “epitome,” which is the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type; epitomes can also be positive or negative. For example, Venus is said to be the epitome of feminine beauty.

So basically, archetypes present personality traits that are common enough to be known by us all, through images (rather than words) that contain symbolism that connects with our subconscious in a universal manner. Each of us can understand the symbolism of archetypes and connect with that symbolism because each of us has (or will) personally experienced these archetypes.

Each Major Arcana card corresponds to a number, an archetype, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth. Let’s start breaking this one down; we’ve got a lot of work to do!

The traditional image found on The Tower is definitely unsettling. Almost all decks agree on the same basic theme: a tall tower is shown being struck by a bolt of lightning, sometimes with flames burning from the upper windows, usually with two people falling from the crumbling tower. Sometimes the image showers the top portion of the tower also falling down, or the entire tower crumbling; other images show waves breaking upon the base of the tower, or a downpour falling from the dark and roiling sky.

The Tower is numbered XVI in the Major Arcana; the number 16 represents the achievement of the material power, but it also presents tests and failures or unforeseen situations or challenges that offer growth and evolution through discomfort. This is an interesting number; it is a product of 2 x 8, showing the positive evolution leading to karmic liberation (or “construction”), or the negative evolution leading to situations that are more and more difficult to resolve (or “destruction”).

Another way to look at the number 16 is to add the digits. 1 + 6 = 7, the number that tells of pausing in order to make an important choice regarding the next step to be taken. The Major Arcana card associated with the number 7 is The Chariot, a card that encourages us to move forward by having authority over chaos. If we experience the upheaval and destruction of The Tower even one time in our lives, we will learn and remember that taking action and moving forward (rather than insisting on keeping things the same) will prevent the return of The Tower and its discomforts.

The Tower represents the archetype of Chaos. Chaos is defined as “complete disorder and confusion” and “a state in which behavior and events are not controlled by anything,” which can indeed be frightening to contemplate, particularly if you are not good with new things or with the unknown. In physics, “chaos” is defined as “behavior so unpredictable as to appear random.” I like that definition better, because it hints at some hidden purpose to the unpredictability and disorder.

The Tower corresponds with the element of Fire, which is hot and dry, and shapes and separates. Fire manifests as spontaneous, impulsive and energetic change. Fire corresponds with the suit of Wands from the Tarot Minor Arcana, the playing cards of Clubs, the direction of South and the color of red. Fire represents ideas, seeds being planted, growth, ambition, and passion; Fire’s energies encourage us to move forward, to experience joy and passion (including sexuality), and to take action based on divine will rather than our ego-based self. Wands represent our ability to experience joy and passion (including sexuality), and they represent our personal nature. Fire can represent enthusiasm and a pull towards being physical or artistic; it can also represent recklessness and apathy, a lack of energy and potential health issues.

In astrology, The Tower corresponds with the planet Mars. Mars is the Roman god of war and bloodshed whose traditional symbols are the spear (or Wand) and the shield. Mars was second in importance only to Jupiter, and was the most prominent of the military gods worshipped by the Roman legions. Mars is the first planet that orbits outside of Earth’s orbit, making it the first planet that does not set along with the Sun. Astrologically, Mars is associated with confidence and self-assertion, aggression, sexuality, energy, strength, ambition and impulsiveness. Mars governs sports, competitions and physical activities in general. Mars is associated with fever, accidents, trauma, pain and surgery.

In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is connected to the creative forces in the universe. They express themselves on three levels: one level is archetypical and runs from the first to the ninth letter; the second level is one of manifestation and runs from the tenth to the eighteenth letter, and the third is a cosmic level and runs from the nineteenth to the twenty-second letter. The Tower corresponds with the Hebrew letter Peh, the seventeenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet that tells of manifestation; this letter corresponds with the mouth. This means that Peh also represents the power of speech, and thus to words, expression, and vocalization. In the Hebrew alphabet Peh follows Ayin, the eye, and thus we are told that understanding is a necessary part of expression.

On the Tree of Life, The Tower represents Path 27, running between Hod (which provides analysis and communication) and Netzach (which offers the stimulating factors of emotion and inspiration). The 27th Path is one of the three Paths on the Tree that explore personality. It is within the 27th Path that we learn the hard way to balance instinct and emotion, and where we learn, through endurance beyond what we think we are capable of, that we have faith. The 27th Path is the first Path to cross the Tree horizontally (spanning the Pillars of Form and Force at the bottom of the Tree), telling of the potential for the creation of balance between the extremes presented by the Pillars. Because the 27th Path is close to Malkuth and the physical world, its energies are stronger within the physical world and the effects of these energies will be more tangible within the physical-world life.

While all of these correspondences present discomfort and destruction and inspire fear and superstition, in the end The Tower is a card of renewal. The Tower often presents itself when we are knowingly or unknowingly fighting the flow of events, at first appearing as a gentle warning and then growing more and more blatant in its presence within a spread. The Tower is related to blockages and conflicts, and their resolution. It tells of a violent or explosive correction in the way things are going that usually happens after more gentle corrections don’t bring the needed result. It is a wakeup call that upturns the values and truths which seemed so strong yet prove to be fragile, leaving us no choice but to accept the loss, learn from it, and then rebuild new and stronger values and truths.

The Tower can warn of an ongoing entrapment of some kind, telling us that danger is approaching, and following the old ways and offering the usual and customary responses will only draw that danger even closer. Without a willing return to balance, the ugly and uncomfortable adjustment that is The Tower will happen. In fact, it might happen anyway. In at least one sense, the card represents the Fall of Man, with the lightning bolt a symbol of an “act of God” that forces man to fall from his protective ivory tower.

The destruction caused by The Tower brings trials of endurance, of courage, and of faith. It creates situations that force us to see what can be salvaged and what needs to be released immediately. We end up being forced to face our weaker aspects and forced to build upon our stronger aspects. The Tower is actually clearing away the old and expired, so new growth can begin, the same way that a builder needs to demolish and clear away the remnants of an old building, or clears the trees and rocks from a wooded lot, in order to begin to construct his building. This clearing of the lot might be violent (demolition is usually violent in some respects) and not particularly fun to experience, but it brings opportunities to get rid of the things that no longer serve us. Perhaps this complete change will also change our fortune or clear our vision, or balance our energies in a new and more powerful way.

Clinging to old goals and old ways of doing things will most likely bring on the abrupt and uncomfortable energies of The Tower, but the explosive transformation presented by this card will knock down those old walls and bring in brilliant new light!


**This year we will be featuring the art of Ciro Marchetti http://www.ciromarchetti.com/ as part of Tarot Talk.  You can view his work and Decks at http://www.ciromarchetti.com/.

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