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
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The Death Card, Smith-Waite

Previously, I’ve talked about the Death card. This card gathered a lot of baggage and folks often fear its message. 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.

Ultimately, behind every great Major Arcana card, stands a collection of other greats, doing support work. As a result, when we work with the cards together, it expands our understanding of what they represent, exponentially. These cards are sturdy but heavy-duty helpers 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.

So, Death. Woof. This is definitely one of the most substantial cards in the deck. Metaphysicians connect The Death 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?

The Tower, Judgement, and The Fool, Builders of the Adytum. Slide from Samhain livestream.

In classical astrology, the planetary ruler of Scorpio is Mars, the God of War (though, this God used to oversee agriculture…) Mars connects us to 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 connects us 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?

Eeesh.

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

Look. The Tower is a hard card. No matter how you spin the meanings, the experiences we face in this card are intense, destabilizing, 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. It is 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?

First, let’s begin with the black sky. Only one other Major Arcana card has a black background: The Devil (connecting us with Capricorn, where we find exalted Mars). 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.

Hidden data. 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 Card, Builders of the Adytum

The Tower itself is gray, the color that represents lived, subjective, experience. It is the tower of our beliefs. Built on a lonely outcropping of land, we pick this spot (incorrectly) believing ourselves isolated in our unknowing. We think 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. And so, 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.

The Color gray can tell us a lot about what is happening in The Tower card.

The clouds in the sky are also gray. These storm clouds are the deliverers of the giant bolt of lighting that seems to be causing all this chaos. The whole sky appears to be signaling that we did not read the signs that the storm was rolling towards us. Now the deluge is here. Past experience might have helped us recognize the signs and prepared for this emergency, or it might have been past experiences that clouded our judgment. Or, it just may be a situation that we never could have prepared for based on our own life. For whatever reason, we did not get a warning.

But when we finally do get the message – WHAM – it shocks us!! The lightning bolt of Truth cracks out of the NorthEast corner of the card in a zigzag shape, mimicking the pathway down through the 10 sephiroth on the Tree of Life that Qabalists use. The direction and the shape of the lightning both indicate this missive is coming directly from Source, Deity, your Higher Self, your HGA, etc. “Pay attention to this!” it seems to yell out, “Coming to you live from the center of the Universe! Your own personal wake-up call!!”

The lightning strikes the top of the tower, and blasts off the top. The top looks like a crown, and this indicates that part of this experience really affects our ego or sense of Self. The lightning bolt seems to crack out of the sky, pointing at precisely the flaws we would hide, and says, “Here! Here! This is not working!!” This experience rocks our core understanding of our self-image, our agency, or our place in this world. We feel like we had it all backward and upside down. We are shook.

In the Tower Card, we see events that shatter our ignorance, naivety, or false beliefs without warning or mercy. But this also plants the seeds of potential new understanding, however abruptly.

Perhaps this is a “come to (insert deity of choice here) moment” for you. Maybe this is a lie or betrayal on someone’s part that is totally unexpected. Perhaps this is a revelation that we have been lying to ourselves for some reason. We might feel attacked, hurt, embarrassed, ashamed, or fooled by this information. We may respond from an emotional place first and foremost, our intellectual “reasonable” responses put on hold as we lash out from a wounded or defensive position. 

The Death card signals profound change. But sometimes before we can make that change, we need a loud wake-up call from the Universe that points out just how much we need to change. And if we are not expecting this moment of profound change, that wake-up call can really hurt or even just be very shocking and traumatic.

The Tower Card, Tarot of Ceremonial Magick

Remember, I said that Mars was in the past a God of Agriculture? In many traditions around the world, lightning was and is a symbol of activating fecundity. The “Sky God” spark that came down and fertilized Mother Earth. On some Death cards, we see Death carrying a great sickle as if going to harvest. On other Death cards, we see hands and feet almost sprouting out of the ground. Death clears the way for new growth.

Where we hold onto the outdated form, where we won’t change, where we choose to build on false beliefs, we suffer.

In modern astrology, lightning and electricity connect us to Uranus (The Fool), the archetype of revolutions and revolutionary upheaval in the zodiac. This lightning is the same force we see in other Major Arcana, and it represents a force that comes in and breaks down old systems and beliefs to make way for new ones. This is also known as enlightenment. For Hermetic magicians, The Tower represents the second part of spiritual growth. It’s where we come face to face with all we believe we have learned about the Universe. We find out how small and wrong our understanding is. This leads to a personal crisis or breakdown, which ultimately leads to a breakthrough and more profound understanding.

The Tower card comes along to lovingly (but rather harshly) point to where we need to let go of our assumptions and understanding, or where we are holding on to something that is, in fact, dead.

In essence, we are experiencing a death of our old concept of Self, the death of an old paradigm, or the end of an outmoded, but dearly beloved, belief system. Sometimes we are ready for that shift. The Tower points to the places and times when were are NOT prepared. And that’s real. Sometimes, despite all the work, and being in our process, and being present, we can still be completely overwhelmed with a shift.

But as we all know, some things cannot be fought. Death is a force that cannot be argued with. Change will occur. The Tower comes along to lovingly (but rather harshly) point out what we need to let go of. It’s a swift, radical change that destroys what we knew. Moments in our life that feel like this often can leave us blasted and freaked out.

When we get The Tower in a reading, it can indicate a crisis that comes entirely out of left field – a situation we were unaware of suddenly goes all wrong, and we are adversely affected. For example, an employee goes to work only to find out the business was destroyed by fire, and they are suddenly out of a job. An earthquake. 

However, another name for this card is “Le Maison Deux,” which means The House of God.

The House of God, Barbara Walker Tarot

Sometimes this card points to a problem we knew about, but we chose to ignore it. This isn’t about victim-blaming or making excuses for bad actors. If someone in your life is creating chaos or negativity, even if you choose to keep them in your life, they are still responsible for their own behavior. I’m talking about places where we are willfully ignoring or avoiding clear signs we were driving off a cliff and actively decided to just close our eyes and pretend the road went on forever. If we do not accept our responsibility in a situation, we cannot connect with our agency.

But sometimes, this card illustrates a moment where we have little to no agency, and we are subjected to a terrible moment that must simply be endured.  

However, another name for this card is “Le Maison Deux,” which means The House of God. This card is associated with the planet Mars, which rules Aries. That sign is connected to The Emperor Card, a card dedicated to finding our Vision and seeking it out. Sometimes, we are the shocking, revolutionary, chaotic element coming into a situation shaking things up. It can indicate the revolutionary upheaval we experience during spiritual enlightenment when we question everything we have come to believe in. And it can be the shocking moment we see ourselves in a new light, a new understanding, in conjunction with a new understanding of the nature of the Universe, or God, or existence. The old Self, dead, falling away. The New Self piercing out of The Void, blinding, fecund, brilliant with promise.

In the next piece, I’ll look at The Judgement card.

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