Blog Intelligence Tarot

XVI The Tower: Tarot Wisdom for Your Crisis

July 11, 2014


More than just telling your fortune, the tarot shows how universal principles work in the material world.


XVI The Tower

XVI The Tower from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Whenever you experience a crisis, you can be sure the archetypal energy of Major Arcana XVI — The Tower is at work in your life. The good news is, once you acknowledge it you can use some tarot wisdom, gathered over the centuries, to overcome whatever trouble The Tower is giving you.

The influence of The Tower can also be seen on a larger scale simply by looking at any newspaper. Disaster is rarely in short supply. Towers appear frequently in our historical imagination. Princesses get locked in towers and need to be rescued. Saints are banished to them. The Tower is an archetype that often indicates isolation and general discord. The biblical story of The Tower of Babel describes a tower built in ancient Babylon (modern day Iraq). According to the story, at that time the human race was unified and all spoke one language. The people of Babel decided to build a city and a tower up to heaven because, for some reason, that was supposed to prevent the people from being “scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”1

Unfortunately, their plan was foiled by Yahweh, who after visiting the tower realized that when humans act in unity they can do anything they can imagine. So he scattered the people throughout the world and made it so that they all spoke different languages and could not understand each other. Millenia later, we see how misunderstanding and a lack of empathy across cultures has created many thousands of crises across the globe. From this we learn that The Tower brings up both the possibility of harmonic cooperation and its opposite: sewing the seeds of discord.

Doré, "Confusion of Tongues" engraving.

“The Confusion of Tongues.” An engraving by Gustave Doré via Wikimedia Commons.


The Tower comes for everyone. It’s a major plot point in the archetypal story line. Most of us will experience the Tower process several times within our life time.


Carl Jung, one of the founders of modern psychology, describes archetypes as powerful principles, like universal themes, existing outside of space and time, which manifest in the material world to become both visible and psychic.”2 For Jung, archetypes make themselves known largely through human consciousness and the imagination, resulting in what he called “meaningful coincidences.” In the case of The Tower card, the archetype of Major Arcana XVI realized itself on a major scale in the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

It’s almost uncanny how the images from 9-11 resemble The Tower tarot card. In the classical images of Major Arcana XVI you see a smoking tower and people falling into an abyss below. After 9-11 we saw images of a smoking tower, and images of people jumping from the World Trade Center to their deaths. My intention here is not to minimize the tragedy of September 11, but rather to show how the principles in the tarot work in both microcosm and macrocosm.


“As above, so below.”


WTC 9-11

World Trade Center during attacks. Image from the Library of Congress 9-11 archives.

The Tower almost always indicates cataclysm or catastrophe, a rapid change — often traumatic — a huge decision, a fall from grace, and a serious call to wake the fuck up. The Tower is rarely something you wanted or called into your life. Sometimes it appears as something that is not your fault at all, “an act of God,” if you will. Nevertheless, the pain the crisis brings will only get worse when, instead of heeding the call of transformation, we resist it. Remember when the Twin Towers fell, and it was like the whole world was holding its breath, waiting to see what would happen, what America would do? At the time I thought, “Wow, this is a tremendous opportunity for America to step up to the plate and say no more. No more violence, no more destruction, no more running amok. This behavior is destroying the earth and our souls, and we can do better than this.” It was an opportunity for America to recognize how its own actions as a nation had contributed to violence in the world. It was an opportunity to create peace, prosperity and healing throughout the world by turning the other cheek and shifting our priorities. Instead, we launched two wars that killed thousands of Americans, sent a hundred thousand more into the psychiatrists office, killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East, ruined the lives of millions more, destabilized the entire region – perhaps leading to a third world war, and wasted trillions, literally trillions of dollars that could have been spent strengthening the infrastructure of our country and fostering to the development of our nation’s culture and happiness.

So the lesson from The Tower is: DON’T DO THIS IN YOUR OWN LIFE!!

Though it might initially be painful, The Tower card represents a tremendous opportunity.  The Tower appears after The Devil card, and The Devil is all about oppression, seduction, addiction, delusion. The Devil keeps you working for him, but makes you think you’re doing it for yourself. Getting The Tower represents an opportunity to free oneself from The Devil’s chains. You’ve got a chance now to make a radical break. The Devil may precede The Tower, but the Star card comes after it. The Star card indicates a powerful connection to the spirit of harmony and oneness. But the real question is, how does one get from the shake up of The Tower to the harmony of The Star? What do you need to do?

Respond to stress with love! Respond to tragedy with love! Respond to your crisis with love!

Love is always the right answer. But what that means and how to do it is up to you. Think, “How does the best part of me respond to this situation? How can I demonstrate leadership? How can I help the world become a better place for everyone, including myself?” Pick yourself up and be what you came here to be. Be inspiring. Work in service of wholeness and peace. If you continue down the road of destruction, of status quo and same old same old, shit’s going to get ugly. And shit is already ugly enough. Choose love, choose faith in love, make the choice you wish America would have made after 9-11.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
– Cynthia Occe

The Tower is all about revelation. Whether you like it or not, you now know things you didn’t know before. How you respond, taking ownership of that response, being mindful in your response, are what’s important now. The Tower provides a space for your major breakthrough. You have an opportunity now to grow so much further beyond what you ever thought was possible because now the walls that had been confining you and holding you in, maybe walls you liked, maybe walls that felt cozy, are no longer there. Now, you get the chance to expand and grow. And how you do that is up to you. And you are a brilliant, creative incarnation of divinity, so come on, show us how its done! You got this.

You Just Might Be Under The Influence Of The Tower If:

You’re getting divorced; You were arrested; You got fired; Suddenly, you’re just totally dissatisfied; Your book deal fell through; The star of your movie just dropped out; You’re in a manic episode, or depressive episode, or having a nervous breakdown; You’re getting kicked out of your apartment; You found out your kid’s a junkie; You didn’t pass the major exam; Your car broke down just before your road trip; You’re plumbing is spewing poo all over your bathroom – and your uptight mother is coming for a visit; You got in a huge fight with your boyfriend and now the cops are here; The test came back positive; Your big art show tanked; You didn’t get in.

1 George M. Lamsa, trans. The Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Text. Harper: San Francisco. Originally published in 1933.

Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. 1985. Harper’s & Row: San Francisco.
2Anthony Storr. The Essential Jung. 1983. Princeton University Press: New Jersey. Print. p. 26

Tell us how you handle a crisis below! What are your tips for being stressed but remaining in the love lane?

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