The Tower is a major arcana card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot and other decks based on the Latin Tarot (also known as the Tarot de Marseilles). When the Tower appears in a tarot spread, the card's symbols and numerology offer clues as to how to interpret the card.
Symbolism of the Tower
At first glance, the imagery of the tower seems to be all bad news. The scene on the card is cataclysmic. The card has a black background with a tall tower in the foreground. A lightning bolt strikes the tower, which sits perched high on a hill. As the lightning strikes, it knocks away the spire's golden crown roof and flames shoot from the opening. Two people in the scene are either falling or diving from the flames and plunging headfirst towards the ground.
Place in the Major Arcana
The tarot deck was originally developed as a game with the major arcana cards serving as the trump suit. In a tarot reading, major arcana cards indicate information of significant interest to the querent. Symbolically, the major arcana depicts the soul's journey from innocence and lack of awareness found in The Fool to full awareness and spiritual awakening depicted in The World. The Tower is placed:
- Immediately following The Devil
- A few cards following Death
- Last in a series of cards depicting tumult, with arguably has the most disturbing images of any major arcana card
However, after the cataclysm of the Tower begins a series of celestial cards starting with the star that depict new beginnings and a renewed focus based on higher spiritual principles. This placement demonstrates shake ups, such as those depicted in the Tower, are necessary for the growth of every soul. The Tower depicts the dark night of the soul that precedes grace, liberation, and enlightenment.
The Tower is the 17th card in the major arcana, but it is numbered 16 (XVI) because the major arcana starts with 0 (The Fool). In numerology, both 16 (the actual number of the card) and 7 (the number reduced by adding both digits; 1+6=7) are of significance. The number 16 represents materialism and the cycle of experiencing difficulty and failure followed by success and ease. The number 7 is associated with spiritual awakening. When combined with the cataclysmic imagery of the card, it shows how difficulty often leads to awakening.
Spire and Crown
The crown represents materialism and the desire for power while the tower or spire represents ambition and a desire for material success. The spire is the platform upon which less experienced souls build their existence with the desire for earthly gain.
Lightning and Flames
Lightning represents shocking turns of events or spiritual revelation. That it is striking the tower suggests something shocking or revelatory has struck at the heart of one's materialism or desire for power and caused a shake up in values or belief systems. Flames represent purification. So while the card appears at first glance catastrophic, the lightning and flames are causing a purification in values and beliefs that leads to ultimate growth and renewal.
People Diving From the Tower
The people diving from the tower are those who dwelt there in a place of materialism and false power. The purifying force of the lightning has caused them to abandon those values, but the plunge into something new is terrifying for them, and as they fly through the darkness away from the flames and towards the ground, they cannot know what awaits them. Often, the events that cause one to re-examine values and reach enlightenment feel terrifying to the one undergoing them, and the people diving from the tower are a representation of this fear of the unknown.
Meaning in a Reading
When the Tower appears in a reading, it foretells of impending growth and change or liberation, typically caused by a sudden shake up that may feel frightening and cataclysmic. It represents the precipitating event that leads to the "coming of age" for young souls where earthly concerns take on less importance and spiritual growth takes root. When the Tower appears, it is telling you to let go of beliefs or values that no longer serve you. The Tower invites you to abandon those things willingly before the universe helps you along in a way that feels frightening or catastrophic for the sake of your own soul growth.
The Tower Reversed
When the tower is reversed in a spread, it tells you that for now cataclysmic change, liberation, growth, or learning has been averted or postponed. This doesn't mean the change won't come, but it may indicate something in your attitudes or actions is keeping the necessary shake up for growth at bay. It may also indicate that by making changes on your own, you've averted the major disaster that would have come had you not done so.
Cataclysm Leading to Liberation
While the images on the Tower appear dark and disastrous, in truth it is often events one feels are cataclysmic that cause the change necessary for personal growth or enlightenment. Therefore, if the Tower appears in a tarot spread, it is an invitation to delve more deeply into your thoughts, beliefs, and actions in order to liberate yourself from something that no longer serves you.