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[Tarot] Atu XVI -The Tower

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

Card: The Tower

Card Number: 16

Suit: Major Arcana

Astrological Analog: Mars

Theme: Upheaval

Positive qualities: Overcoming expectation, sudden breakthrough, liberation, a drastic and sudden illumination

Negative Qualities: Destruction for destruction’s sake, violence, notions of stability challenged, delusions shattered

“A sword of Destruction and sacrifice.”

“How does that aid the weak?”

“By slaying them.”

- The Bartzabel Working, May 9th, 1910

When the structures become too rigid and have too much pressure applied to them to stand, their walls and foundation slowly begin to crack. Eventually, these cracks become a shattering: The foundation caves in upon itself, the walls collapse, and the narrow windows to the outside world buckle and shatter. Meanwhile, we are still inside, aghast that the impenetrable fortress we’ve made has suddenly given way.

Atu XVI defines the drastic, sudden changes we come to experience over the course of our lives. It’s the sudden dissolution of relationships that we believed were just fine, the sudden loss of a job, or the car accident on our way to work, or terrible shocking news – alternatively, the mid-life crisis. On the Social scale, it defines events that reshape communities and nations. A short list of examples: World War II, The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the September 11th attacks, genocides and pogroms, revolutions, health epidemics and economic crashes.

The Tower, pre-collapse, is representative of the structuring of life. We have our jobs, our family, our spouses, the home on the cul-de-sac, the white picket fence and the pet beagle. Comfortable as we are, Shiva wants a fresh start – opting out of the “prisoner of war” dramatics, and we are given Atu XVI.

On the Axis of the Major Arcana, the cross sum of Sixteen is Seven (1+6=7), taking us to the Chariot (Ruled by the Sign of Cancer). Where the Chariot learns to take all the moving parts and make them a functioning whole by merit of the Holy Grail that the driver holds, the Tower doesn’t care how unified they are, or how proud we might be of their harmony: They can be pieces again.

In Raider-Waite, we are treated to a rigid, cubic tower set aflame by a bolt of lightning, alluding to the point that the disturbance blindsides the King and Queen within; so much that their immediate option to escape the collapse of their tower was to jump out. The crown that sat at the peak of the tower is toppled, and the sky is awash in storms.

In Thoth, we get to experience the most visually jarring card in the entire deck - It is void of any perspective, exaggerating the immediate confusion that comes with sudden upheaval. In some regions of the artistry, it appears we are looking straight up. In others, from the side or straight on. Spare the saturation of black, all colors are within the spectrum of the familiar orange of flames – hints of red and yellow are afforded to explain the intensity.

From below, we have Dis Pater, one of three Roman Gods of the Underworld. Before being associated with the Underworld, Dis Pater was associated with very material gains: agriculture, wealth, and precious minerals. This duality of Dis Pater makes him the most fitting to belch fire from beneath toward the foundation of the Tower, now depicted as callous to the very domains he once called his own.

The Tower itself is already amidst its collapse, toppling to the side by force of it’s own weight. Perhaps the pressures of upkeep were far too much for all parties involved.

The Eye has multiple symbolic references, the most informative of which are three. Many of the others will be covered later, at least thematically, in different cards. One or all these references may apply depending on the dignity of the card.

The Eye of Shiva: Hindu God of Destruction and Creation, Shiva is acknowledged as much as a benefactor as a malefactor. Here, we recognize destruction as the precondition for creation. But in our shock of such a collapse, we too forget that creation is the precondition of destruction. Nothing lasts unscathed, all things are in a state of growth or decay. Nothing is as it was yesterday, nor will it stay the same by tomorrow.

The Eye of God: In one verse, He treats us to “Let there be light!” (Creation), followed by a brief stay in paradise that he had fashioned for all His children. In the succeeding chapters, works on the Tower of Babel are stalled when He decides they need a few different languages so they stay confused, then it is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and when his feisty children still haven’t quite understood the point, he sends a flood. (Destruction). Realizing he may have gone overboard (Hey, He sort-of said it. Not me.), He offers a rainbow and a sign of a Dove with an olive branch. (Creation, again). Creation and destruction, as cosmic lessons.

The Third Eye, opened: The epiphany that these trappings and comforts, though defining of lifestyle and status, were not you – you only had the illusion of them being yours. What are you without these delusions of security and belonging? Who are you now, without these definitions you’ve fallen into? What is this strange new landscape the collapse has left behind, and what can you do with it? You’d have never considered, or even gotten away with asking these questions, without the collapse of the Tower.

In the upper right a Lion-Headed serpent oversees the destruction. To the old Gnostics, this is the Demiurge – an impure, divine product of the cosmic source that governs the material plane with an entourage of subordinate Archons. From our vantage point it is cruel, as it might destroy and wreak havoc on our expectations, but we might neglect to appreciate what it builds as a result. To the ancient Persians this is Abraxas, who wielded the power of the seven known (at the time) celestial bodies (planets, Sun and the moon), thus the seven letters of his name. The numerical value of his Hebrew name, “arba kse” is reduced to Four. You’ll find many of the Major Arcana, so far, have made use of the number Four in one manner or the next, and it’s worth its own writing to go into it further.

In the center of the card, much like Rider Waite we see people jumping out of the collapsing tower. But where are they? They’re there, but they no longer resemble people. The compression and pressure that has led them to Atu XVI has hardened their soft, human features into jagged, blackened, and squared geometry – not unlike the process that turns sand into glass.

In the upper left, a dove carries an olive branch. Yet this dove is far out of reach, especially now that the Tower has collapsed. “Serenity, again. But not today.”, the dove says. It offers a promise of new creation in the wake of ruin.

In addition to the below, do also keep in mind the section above for Themes, Light, and Shadow.

Some good news: The Tower is a very blunt card. Nobody needs too many definitions to understand what it’s saying.

General: Drastic, sudden change. Harsh blows. Ruin as the precondition for liberation.

Profession: Termination, lay off. Unfavorable economic situations. A complete restructuring of business or workplace. Forced adaptations to new structures.

Relationships: Competing viewpoints that threaten the stability of the relationship. Sudden dissolution. A “surprise” that threatens the longevity of the relationship. Infrequently, domestic violence.

Environment: Chaotic landscape. Reality in a state of drastic and sudden transition.

Hopes/Fears: Liberation/Destruction.

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