“There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: the expected for which one has refused to prepare.” ― Mary Renault
There aren't many cards that strike fear into the heart of tarot clients as deeply as the Tower. We travel into the Major Arcana to meet this gloomy teacher. Number 16, the Tower follows the Devil in the Fool's Journey. When we begin to "walk" each card as the Fool does, we begin to see the way the cards grow and challenge you. Death, thirteen in the Major Arcana, deals with massive change and transformation. Fourteen, Temperance, balances your talk and your walk, asking you to protect your new transformation with moderation. Attachment marks the Fifteen Devil card. This card lacks balance and autonomy. Powerlessness against one's attachment to another, or addiction, or anything that stands between you and Source. The Tower shows destruction, unexpected challenge, natural disaster, and suffering. Loss of attachment marks the Tower (among other things), but let's start with some background here.
The Tower's black background informs us immediately that things are rough. Two people fall out of this large tower on a high mountain. Lightning strikes the top of the tower again, as a storm rages around the scene. A crown, or the cornice of the building (at least, that is what I assume that is) falls off the top, exposing the building. Clouds surround the Tower. After 9/11, many people found the Tower to be profounding disturbing and prophetic. I see it as a profound metaphor for our spiritual awakening, but we'll get there.
As I reflect on the entire 78 card Tarot, I cannot recall one other card that functions in the way that the Tower function. It signals an unexpected upset or disaster. The "unexpected" tends to be key here. Many Tarot readers stress that the Tower is not something you can prepare for, which is not quite where I stand on the Tower myself. Interestingly, in Arthur Waite's own Pictorial Key to the Tarot, he tries to dispel this myth. He sees this as not a physical destruction, but a spiritual and emotional one. He says, it is the ""House of the Mind, when evil has prevailed therein." He also used the phrase, the House of Doctrine. He makes it clear (in his usual convoluted language) that these Towers that come down are always the Towers that man himself built, not God. What Arthur Waite intended, and what the modern Tarot reader sees in the Tower are often two different things. But there is much to glean about the card's meaning from Waite's intention.
Most interpretations of this card stick fairly close to the unexpected, or external change coming in the life of the Seeker when the Tower is pulled. It is precisely why the Tower is so feared. We all can handle the changes we control, but what about these unexpected hiccups in life? Or the huge losses we suddenly face. These can be as large as job loss, house fire, or car accident. On the other hand, it can be running into an ex at a restaurant with your best friend. Or suffering a last confrontation with someone who brings down some wall you thought could protect you. This is how I see the Tower--what walls have you built and how will they come down? It is the ultimate wake-up call. Get WITH IT!! Open to your spiritual self. Trust in Great Spirit (or however you conceive of the Source). Know your walls will not protect you from the truth you are locking away. The Tower appears so that you may align spiritually, emotionally, physically (perhaps) and mentally.
We often see that, no? That we become spiritually and emotionally tight. "I'm fine if I just avoid any temptation, human being, or dangerous emotion." As the saying goes, it is easy to be a holy man on top of the mountain. We may only practice daily meditation and prayer, or turn our will over to God when things are rough, but in good times, when we are all locked away in our Tower away from any irritation, emotional pain or upset, we don't plug into the Divine. We play God. We are the almighty self-reliant savior from our own suffering. This is the great lie we tell ourselves--if we just build enough walls, we will be safe from suffering. Further, we can PREVENT suffering. We live in gated communities to protect ourselves from crime. If we just avoid this mean person, that dangerous part of town, or if we stop taking lovers all together, life will be peachy and our heart will never hurt. But this is the great illusion, the mother of untruth.
All of this is isolation--isolation from other people, from God and most importantly, from our own selves. We are spiritual beings here for a human experience. The human experience includes connection, compassion and suffering. Yes, SUFFERING. It is part of the deal as a human. It is the first noble truth and none of us, not the most prepared, diligent, or type A among us, are immune from suffering. The illusion that goes hand-in-hand with the illusion that we can prevent suffering, if that we ever were in control to begin with. We are powerless against all, even those things we thought we had power over. And so, the quote I chose for the Tower by Mary Renault is, "There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: the expected for which one has refused to prepare.” Because to me, every day is a day to prepare for an unexpected shock. It is the one thing for which we can prepare--we have no idea what is going to happen. And how do you prepare for the unexpected--prayer, meditation, and being good to all around you, just my humble opinion here.
Marcia Masino says this amazing, beautiful thing about the Tower, "The wake-up call is a blessing bestowed upon the walled up characters in the trump." The Tower? A blessing? She goes on to say, "Spiritual truth directly strikes them, creating a great leveling; they are blasted from their position." She sees the Tower as a dismantling of limiting beliefs.
Remember that this liberation from your self-limiting beliefs often is a painful journey. (Aren't they all?) And the Tower validates that this won't be easy. You don't depict two people falling to their death out of a burning building with no suffering, but it is the catalyst to great emotional and spiritual awakening. The Tarot uses death, not as a punishment or fearful outcome, but as the greatest of awakenings. Death IS enlightenment in the Rider-Waite . The Tower begs you to move into the destruction, rather than away from it. Help the walls come down, rather than build a whole new stronger, more isolating Tower, but rather to look at what illusions you were clinging to, and how you can see the whole truth.
Reversed, the Tower means virtually the same thing, but it is not unexpected. The upset is more gradual, less violent to the soul. And it is usually exactly what the Seeker is thinking when she or he first sees the Tower, tends to be a confrontation with someone, or an already disintegrating relationship. I sometimes talk about using Tarot for energy healing and chakra readings, if you consistently pull the Tower, this is a Root Chakra issue. One that can be beautifully aligned through earthing, grounding, and affirmations about your own safety and security.
This is our practice this week--to embrace our most difficult challenges as our greatest teachers. Our destroyed walls are our spiritual awakenings, and once we throw those bricks to the side, we can be free.