XVI - The Tower

XVI - The Tower - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Where Justice focused on justification of our actions, and the Hanged Man confronted the consequence of those actions, the Tower serves as the final card of this trilogy representing sentencing or penance. It serves to represent the completion of our journey through procedural justice. At the end of this sentencing our sense of routine and repetition that had been established is disrupted suddenly and our lives change as a result. Whilst this change has the opportunity to bring us to a place of novelty, it can lead us full circle back to the start if we do not experience personal growth in the process. Finding yourself back at square one is a clear indication that your life experience was meant to teach you a lesson, the Hanged Man placed significant importance on self-reflection for the purpose of identifying this lesson or lessons.

The whilst Justice is often misunderstood to mean just desserts, it is in fact the Tower which is more closely linked to the traditional concept of Karma; representing the repayment of the debt we create, whether that be a debt of happiness or a debt of sorrow, Karma repays us in kind. In occult traditions this belief is enshrined in the Rule of Three also known as the Law of Return, what you give you shall receive in turn threefold in time, you will not know when this repayment will be made but it will come eventually.

In the upright state the Tower is therefore most often interpreted as a warning that change is imminent, and that this Karmic debt is about to be repaid. If you have been benevolent, you have nothing to fear, your reward for your charity and devotion will be plentiful; if you have been malicious however then you should take heed as this repayment will likely be upsetting and destabilising. This is one of the few times in the entirety of the Tarot where potential malevolence is genuinely depicted albeit that interpretation depends on the experience and actions of the querent that have led them to this point, Karma is not driven by ill will in this regard but in a sense of elasticity that corrects imbalances. In almost every other depiction, the messages communicated by the Tarot are benign representing potential outcomes; the Tower is almost unique, it is matched only by Judgement in its depiction of a fate already sealed by past actions.

In the inverted state the Tower represents an extension of a sentence rather than liberation from it, therefore in the inverted state it serves as a warning of amplified malevolence with the outcome even more unlikely to be positive; past graces may serve here to lessen the extent of the impact of this karmic retribution, but in this instance the querent is beseeched not to retaliate for that would amplify their karma. Instead, the querent is asked to consider this a transitory pain intended to serve as catharsis – an austerity we must endure to repay the debt we created through our actions. For example, sleeping in excess after an extended period of insomnia, to swap the focus of your displeasure to the latter dismissing the former as a period of completion encourages ignorance of the journey overall. The present has to be considered in the context of the past, and our response to the present has to be considered as the foundation for our potential future; you can only begin again by drawing a line under this past influence and accepting the present as closure.

In the Rider-Waite deck the Tower has one of the most violent depictions within the Major Arcana with the focal point that of an enduring stone tower stood upon a rock with a golden dome at its top unseated by the strike of a lightning bolt. Drawing from Greco-Roman tradition the lightning bolt represents God’s wrath or the wrath of Zeus with those who dwelt in the tower depicted as falling from its safety onto the rocks below.

About the bodies which fall can be seen golden sparks that number 22 in total, their meaning is often disputed but it is interesting to note that Psalm 22 opens with the verse:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”

Given the context of the Tower a symbol of strength and stability being destroyed by the apparent wrath of God, it can be interpreted that the 22 sparks indicating Psalm 22 represent our inability to understand the repercussions of our actions, unable to comprehend, or entirely ignorant of the actions of God, or that Universal entity that balances all things. This ignorance is not defined in terms of a lack of knowledge or incapability of a level of understanding but a lack of will to confront the consequences of our actions and accept our present outcome all or at least in part as the result of the choices we have made. This failure to connect past actions with present outcomes can be an extension of the ignorant belief that effects within the Universe can occur without cause, this is not the case, there is always a cause, if it is not apparent then your inability to perceive it mandates a shift in perspective in order to be able to identify it.

The Tower is heavily associated with Karma and redemption, the Tower much like the Hanged Man centres around consequence. Where Justice is often misunderstood to mean retribution when in reality it represents a set of balanced scales in equilibrium, Karma on the other hand aligns more closely with the concept of getting back what you give.

In self-reflection the distinction here lies in the emphasis being placed on the sentence and fulfilment of obligation. This card can be useful as a prompt to consider the limit of responsibility, to step back and consider whether you still hold yourself accountable for a debt you have long since repaid.

Guilt can last for an eternity if you allow it to endure, closure is the final destination and a natural progression of the grieving process. Whilst grief often conjures images of death, in truth grief and the grieving process can be applied to any traumatic experience, great periods of emotional upheaval, expected and unexpected losses, or periods of transformation all of which cause grief which then has to be processed first before we gain closure. Refusing to process this grief, choosing instead to suppress it, is often overlooked as a major source of anxiety.

The Tower represents the place of solitude and sanctuary taken up by those who are processing the aftermath of great trauma and serving their penance for their wrongdoings or conversely reaping the rewards of their benevolence. A safe space if you will which has been placed under attack by our sense of guilt.

Ultimately the Tower best serves as a prompt to ask yourself “Have I made up for that?” or “Did I make things right?” and to release yourself from guilt associated with the things you have since made up for.

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