A grey stone tower on a mountaintop, with a golden crowned roof, is struck by a bolt of lightning in the middle of the night. The crown is sundered from the tower, fire bursts forth from the pillar’s three windows, and smoke billows throughout the night sky. Two people have been thrown head-first from the burning building: a woman wearing a gold crown and dressed in blue, and a man with a red shawl with blue undergarments. Twenty two sparks of fire rain down upon them as they hurtle toward their deaths.
The Devil may be the lord and master of our earthly dungeon, but in truth, we can keep him at bay whenever we wish. There’s often a heavy price to pay for this, however; for the Devil is the ultimate manifestation of ego run amok, and “releasing” him—that is to say, acknowledging that the things of this world that terrify us are manufactured entirely in our own heads—can be a psychologically convulsive experience for those who are unprepared for the task: remedying this shortcoming is, in reality, one of the overarching goals of esoteric study. God threw down the mightiest work of ancient man—the Tower of Babel—when it became clear to God that his Creation had come to think of themselves as gods themselves, and respected not their true relationship to Him. As the old saying goes, “Pride goeth before the fall,” and in this regard, the Tower represents the defenestration of all man’s conceits and delusions, an act of catharsis that forces us to come to grips with the reality of who we are. The process of “un-learning” the ego-consciousness that has governed our waking existence for most of our lives can be painful and disorienting, but it is a necessary step along the path to ultimate self-awareness that Tarot would teach us if we continue to approach the cards in good faith and with an open mind. It is for this reason that the path of The Tower, which connects Netzach and Hod in the formative world, and which runs beneath and parallel to the paths of Strength and The Empress, is known as the Active or Exciting Intelligence—the state of tumult that precedes a spiritual transformation.
The Hebrew letter attributed to The Tower is Peh, or “mouth.” It is the vehicle of utterance and of speech, a gift we can employ to glorify God and His Creation, to express our love and gratitude to others, and to spread messages of forgiveness and mercy. Or we can employ this gift to glorify ourselves and our cleverness, to express hatred and intolerance for others, and to spread messages of condemnation and cruelty. As mentioned, our misuse of this precious gift is the reason why God threw down the Tower at Babel, and why he confused our tongues and scattered our ancestors across the world.
According to the Talmud, there were three “classes” of people at Babel: Those who built the tower that they would dwell in heaven; those who built the tower in honor of their idols, that they would practice idolatry; and those who built the tower as a direct challenge to the authority of God. The first class God scattered across the earth; the second class lost its ability to communicate among itself; and the third class was transformed into demons, apes, and other lesser beasts. In our daily aspirations, therefore, we should always be willing to examine our own motives in whatever we do or say. Even if we think we are acting with the best intentions, we could be inviting disaster into our lives if we attempt to “force” events to occur that God would not wish upon us.
On the other hand, the fire that lightning brings can purify as well as destroy. The Tower reminds us of this by the pattern of the lightning bolt striking the tower; Kabbalists refer to it as the “lightning flash of creation”:
In this “strike”, the entire Tree of Life is activated, and the power of the Divine rains down upon all Creation with its greatest redemptive—and potentially destructive—force. For those who are unprepared for such an eruption of spiritual energy, this could affect the psyche as would, say, the explosion of a nuclear weapon, overwhelming beyond comprehension. But in reality, it is cause for great celebration; for God has now established a direct line to man, and it is now up to us to decide whether to “pick up the receiver,” or to ignore His entreaties like the couple being flung from The Tower. God doesn’t like being “put on hold” any more than we do.
Many Tarot scholars have noted the phallic imagery of the tower. With that in mind, we could infer that the card suggests the ritual of circumcision—which was, we recall, the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham by which he was made the father of nations. Perhaps we are being called upon in our day in renew that covenant, that we would establish a new nation dedicated to the powers of Divine love and light. In a world that seems to be evermore consumed in the fires of war and possessed by the basest, most primitive instincts, it seems as though our entire planet is suffering from a collective split mind. Now is a time for us to do those things that might show our devotion to God and our fellow man, that the world would be made whole and its inhabitants know peace. We are not talking about a physical circumcision, of course, but about circumspection: Surrendering our egos in humility to God. In this way, The Tower is connected to Trump XII, The Hanged Man, inasmuch as the people depicted in both cards are upside down. So, too, should we lower ourselves, that we would be exalted in the eye of God. Better to surrender of our own accord that to have surrender forced upon us!
The planetary ruler of The Tower is Mars, god of war. This is a warning to man about the consequences of rebelling against his Creator—whether we would choose to glorify Him in all of our works, or whether we would choose to squander our gifts on waging war upon ourselves. Our world is becoming ever more militarized, and as we have sadly learned time and again, weapons built will eventually become weapons deployed, with cites laid waste, families ripped asunder, and women and children slaughtered and orphaned: “Better a millstone be thrown around one’s neck and hurled into the sea lest any harm come to one of these!”
In some Tarot decks, this card is labeled “The House of God.” If we continue to wage war against each other—beloved Creations of the Divine—there is going to be a heavy karmic price to pay for it. The Tower tells us, in no uncertain terms, that we will only be allowed to profane the temple for so long before payback comes. This is as true for ourselves as individuals as it is for our world.
Lighting the sky are 22 “sparks”. These represent the number of the cards of the Trumps Major and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and they are shaped like the letter yod—the first letter of the name of God. Ten yods to the right of the tower correspond to the stations on the Tree of Life, while the 12 to the left represent the wheel of the Zodiac, so these “sparks” carry a great deal of transformative power; they are, in essence, life-giving semen of the Divine phallus. Unfortunately for the the man and woman being forcibly evicted from their former home, these seeds of life bring only a fiery rain of death and destruction. Haughty and proud in their citadel, they thought they could isolate themselves from God, so as in the days of Babel, they are being “brought down to size.”
Meanings of this card in a reading depend a great deal on the cards surrounding it, for. Much like Trump XIII, Death—, it only suggests the end of an old order and the dawn of a new one, albeit more abruptly, and possibly more violently: “Pride goes before the fall”, destruction of ego, the Tower of Babel, i.e., civilization thrown down, illusions stripped from man’s mind, the dawn of a new day, the process of healing can begin, liberation from the prison of ego; but also, collapse of the social order, mental illness or depression, need for counseling or therapy, refusal to see impending disaster, antisocial behavior, the tower as a prison. There is no question that the collective psyche of man, like the world of The Tower, is on the verge of a transformative cosmic event. May it heal our minds and purify our souls, and bless us with insight, with tranquility and with love. We have never needed it more.