The Tower: The Posse of The Death Card, Part I

A Tarot card depiction a tall grey tower being struck by lightning. The top of the Tower, which looks like a crown is blasted off. Two people are falling upside down, and the tower is on fire. The Tower Card, Pamela Colman Smith Waite Tarot Deck
The Tower, Pamela Colman Smith-Waite Tarot

Previously, I’ve talked about the Death card. This card has a lot of baggage attached to it and can be clouded in misunderstanding. This season, I wanted to look at the cast of supporting characters around the Death card, to maybe help understand why this card needs to be so spooky! In this piece, I’m going to focus on The Tower.

Behind every great Major Arcana card, stands a collection of other greats, doing support work. Seeing the cards together can help us expand our understanding of what they mean and how we can use the archetypes. These cards are sturdy but heavy-duty helpers at this time of year as we move into The Underworld Journey of Winter. I want to give each card its space, so I’m only going to dive in on one at a time.

A black and white drawing of a skeleton hold a large sickle. Hands and feet grow out of the ground. The Sun appears to be just rising or just setting on the horizon. The Death Card, Builders of the Adytum Tarot Deck
The Death Card, Builders of the Adytum Tarot

So, Death. Woof. This is definitely one of the most substantial cards in the deck. The Death card is connected to the sign Scorpio and the eighth house in Western astrology. Sex, death, karma, debt, and inheritance all come up with this sign, house, and card. All potent, weighted, topics that even under the best circumstances are intense.

And who does the Death card hang out with?

In classical astrology, the planetary ruler of Scorpio is Mars, the God of War (though, this God used to oversee agriculture…). Mars is associated with the Tower card. Y’know, the card with the lightning striking a building that’s on fire with people falling to their possible doom? Yeah, that one.

In modern astrology, the planetary ruler of Scorpio is Pluto, volcanic Lord of the Underworld, and lands of the dead. The Judgement card is associated with Pluto. Y’know the card where an angel blows a trumpet over dead people rising out of coffins? Yeah, that one.

And just to round out this boy band, in classical astrology, no planet is exalted in Scorpio, but in modern astrology, Uranus is exalted in this sign. The card associated with Uranus is The Fool. Y’know, the card that depicts a jaunty person walking obliviously off a cliff? Yeah, that one.

And so, when looking at the Death card, we really need to remember these three other cards are sort of looming in the background. The Tower, Judgement, and The Fool. Pretty chill, right?


Ok, let’s take a closer look at these spooky cards and see if we can find a way in. Let’s start with the scariest of the trio The Tower.

The Tower, Radiant Waite Tarot

The Tower

The Tower is a hard card. No matter how you spin the meanings, the experiences we face in this card are intense, and often unexpected. Some keywords and phrases we might use here are:

Core belief shift. Enlightenment. Ego confrontation. Ruin. Disruption. Liberation. Confusion. Unforeseen or ignored catastrophe or crisis. Hard change.

Tough stuff. 

In the traditional Tarot card, we see a lone gray tower on a hill or mountain, built right up to the edge of the land. The sky is black, with gray storm clouds. A yellow lightning bolt shoots out of the darkness and blasts the tower, knocking off the top, which looks like a crown. The tower is on fire, and two people seem to have jumped out or were knocked out and are falling upside down. No ground is visible, so it kind of looks like these people could fall forever. There are flames in the air. This card seems to spell out tragedy or at least cataclysmic change. 

What is The Tower card trying to show us, and how does that connect to Death?

Let’s begin with the black sky. Only one other Major Arcana card has a black background: The Devil (which is associated with Capricorn, where Mars is exalted). Pitch black shows up rarely in the Tarot, and it usually indicates ignorance. This isn’t stupidity, but a lack of information. We lack an understanding of the true nature of the situation.

Maybe data is being hidden from us, perhaps we are avoiding the truth, or purposefully forgetting something, or maybe this is simply unavoidable chaos. We have found ourselves in a state of unknowing. We don’t know ourselves, or we don’t understand the situation or what’s real for the people around us.

The Tower itself is gray, the color that represents lived, subjective, experience. It is the tower of our beliefs. It is built on a lonely outcropping of land because we (incorrectly) believe ourselves to be isolated in our unknowing. That we alone are having this experience called life. We may feel very prideful about having scraped together an existence on this ragged little point of land. But there is very little room for change or expansion.

We can feel locked into this reality, more so if our self-image is invested in this. When we believe we are this isolated, we think that we can only go by our own compass, built out of our memories and experiences. We create a foundation that has cracks. There’s no shame in not knowing, but we can feel ashamed of our shortcomings when we have had to fight for what we have created. And instead of backing down, we double down and build on top of our unknowing…

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