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The Tower Card: Building a Path to Enlightenment

This article was written by Mary K. Wilson
posted under Tarot

In the Qabalah system, the Tree of Life contains spheres and paths, all leading to the crown, Kether. This crown corresponds to the crown chakra and the source of all divine energy. For those on a spiritual path, a myriad of tools exist to help reach spiritual goals, including the Qabalah and the Tarot. Many people, regardless of religion, choose to work with the Tarot to help themselves and others grow as individuals. While each of the seventy-eight cards in the Tarot deck offers its own insights on the path of enlightenment, none conveys the message so strongly as the Tower.

As card number sixteen in the Major Arcana, the Tower falls near the end of the spiritual journey. In the earlier cards, the seeker has met with the High Priestess and the Magician, rode in the Chariot, found Strength, the Wheel of Fortune, faced Death, and met up with the Devil. Now the seeker comes to the Tower. Or does the Tower become the seeker? Or both?

The Tower card is usually depicted as its namesake, a tower, with crumbling foundations. A crown tumbles from the top, admitting a lightning bolt inside. Two people, a man and a woman, fall headfirst from the tower, presumably to their deaths. Oftentimes the tower is lashed by wind and rain. It isn’t a pleasant picture.

But for a seeker interested in both the Qabalah and the Tarot, the Tower card holds much possibility for growth. In Ellen Cannon Reed’s book The Witches Tarot, she likens the Tower card to the twenty-fifth path of the Qabalah—that of the sphere Tiphareth, beauty, to Yesod, foundation. In her book, Reed calls it "The Foundation of Beauty." The beauty represented by Tiphareth is both internal and external. It takes both kinds of beauty to reach Kether, the crown. When people focus on one kind of beauty over another, their values become lopsided, and like the tower, they fall.

So what does it mean to call the tower card "The Foundation of Beauty?" Simply put, those possessing true inner beauty will reach the crown, Kether, and their spiritual goals. Here is the realm of creative fantasy, a place of refuge from the harsh “realities” of the earth sphere. Through the Tower, the seeker casts aside false ideas and thoughts about herself or her world. The seeker will discover her true path, the path leading to emotional and spiritual fulfillment. However, like the pictures on the Tower card, the way to the path can be violent and chaotic. Reed likens the experience of the Tower card to having the top of your head lifted and a lightning bolt striking through your brain and down to your toes. It is a searing light that burns into your deepest heart and shows you the imperfections there. It shows how much you have to learn, and by comparison, how little you have learned. It goes through your feet and makes a hole in the ground that you very much want to crawl into.

The truths revealed by the Tower card need not be esoteric, mystical truths. One interpretation of the Tower card is that the besieged tower depicts the consequences of running from reality. We may deny or suppress what is true in order to save face, maintain the status quo, or become powerful or materially rich—but at the cost of genuine self-worth. When this type of behavior corrupts and undermines the seeker’s relationship with Self, turmoil, anxiety, rage, and other negative behaviors ensue.

Because of these implications, many seekers see the Tower card as a negative card, something to be feared in a spread. And it is true that when old truths are being cast by the wayside, the process can become fraught with chaos. However, it helps to remember the people being thrust from the tower do not represent actual, physical people. The Tarot never indicates physical death. Instead, the people represent aspects of personality being discarded.

Yet the Tower card also offers hope. It helps the seeker to know that the test is coming or is happening now. At the end of the test, the true spiritual beauty of the seeker will be revealed. At the time, it may hurt to know how little has been learned. Yet part of the beauty of the Tower is that it helps the seeker understand that she is not alone, and as a child of the Goddess, she will never be alone on the path. In time, all will be revealed.

In a way, it can be said the Tower card—by tearing down the tower of ill-conceived ideas—brings the seeker back to her foundation. The seeker returns, ready to build anew from a clear perspective. This harkens to the Tree of Life in Qabalah. The Kingdom, Malkuth, serves as the support for the tree. Yesod is designated as the Foundation. In looking at the Tree of Life, it is easy to see how this sphere can be considered its foundation. For it is through Yesod that our consciousness is attached to the cosmic whole—in the case of the Qabalah, to the rest of the Tree of Life. Yesod has been likened to a spectrum, breaking consciousness into a rainbow dream world. It is the solid trunk and the roots, keeping it grounded in reality. Is it any wonder, then, that the Tower card deals with crumbling foundations and a lack of reality?

Although Reed places the Tower card on the twenty-fifth path, another author, Kala Trobe, in her book Magic of Qabalah: Visions of the Tree of Life, places Temperance there. Yet, in looking at her works, a corollary can be drawn between the power of the Tower card and this path as she presents it. Temperance represents the cleansing activities that improve the intake of celestial light, such as chakra and aura purification. Physiologically, Tiphareth relates to the central chakra, the solar plexus, usually envisaged as golden in color. When we conceptualize the lightning bolt striking inside the Tower as cleansing it of all unwanted influences, the similarities are clear. The yellow lightning bolt from above represents the golden central chakra, spreading its energy throughout the body, as well as grounding it. Deep breathing methods, working on the “core” muscles, serve to ground the body. When this chakra is not clean, a host of ailments (including stomach ailments) ensue.

In a chakric sense, Temperance preserves the balance between energy centers. The sign of the sun sits above her forehead. Light radiates from her, and from a distant source at the back of the picture. Whether it is a golden citadel or the sun itself we cannot tell, but it suggests a supportive spiritual force. Again we can draw parallels with the Tower. The crumbling Tower forces the seeker to rebuild her life, in order to keep a balance among physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. The lightning strikes inside the tower from above. This represents the deities forcing the seeker to take action, a metaphysical hit with a two-by-four. While this may seem harsh at the time, it is done from a position of love and caring. If the Goddess did not care for her children, she would not put them in a position of learning. While the message is harsher than that represented by the Temperance card, it comes from the same source.

Trobe finishes by stating balance is particularly important when we recall that the path which crosses this one is the twenty-seventh, that of the lightning-struck Tower. It is at the conjunction of these two paths that the Tower stands—or rather, that the experience of the Tower is felt. An angel of mercy is certainly required to help the initiate overcome the repercussions of this mind-shattering process.

And therein lies the truth of the Tower card. As it assists the seeker in traveling from Yesod (Foundation) to Tiphareth (Beauty), it shows the seeker what is real. It forces the seeker to examine the “truths” in the seeker’s life and throw out those which are based on lies or misconception. The earth-shattering influence of the Tower isn’t meant to level lives; it’s meant to rebuild them anew. For those studying the path of Qabalah, movement through the spheres requires discipline, hard work, and a stern look at oneself. The tower card only helps the seeker to find the way to spiritual truth.


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