Michael Tsarion

THE TOWER
The Fall To Higher Worlds


How is it we have walk'd thro fires and yet are not consumed? - William Blake

On February 2000 (just after the beginning of the new millennia), I was asked to do a prediction for the coming years using the Tarot. The reading was commenced live on San Francisco radio and was heard by tens of thousands of listeners. I chose to address the prediction-style question by pulling just a single card from the deck of 78. After the question and opening ritual, the sixteenth card fell. The radio show host, who was familiar with Tarot symbolism, gasped and took pause and was somewhat perturbed that such a seemingly violent and ominous card should have fallen as a forecast of the near future, which many of us in the New Age Movement had been so enthusiastic about. I calmly proceeded to read the card "by the book," so to speak, but did wonder myself at its significance and implications. We talked about the fact that the card certainly signaled a general warning that all was not well in the years ahead and that there were certain challenges in store, and perhaps even some kind of sudden and dramatic social upheaval awaiting us down the line. It seemed that we were being warned by the higher intelligence to continue getting it together spiritually and to overcome our acquisitive and aggressive conditionings? The basic message, it seemed, concerned having our own “houses” in order if we were to avoid, as the Bible says, “inheriting the wind.”

Later, in 2001, on September Eleventh to be precise, I could not help thinking back on that reading and the presence of the Tower Struck With Lightening. Certainly, that physical event in New York uncannily paralleled my reading at the turn of the century. I personally reflected, not only on the accuracy of the Tarot, of Divination and of the Higher Guides, but on our own strange reluctance to heed warnings and even greater reluctance to change the way we live and interact with each other. Surely, I thought, we must be far enough on in our evolution where we can learn our cardinal lessons without trauma and tribulation. But then, with a sigh, I recalled the words of two of my literary heroes:

Are you willing to be made nothing and dipped into oblivion? If not, you will never really change - D. H. Lawrence

I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction – J. Steinbeck

I was reminded of the fate endured by men of profundity and foresight, of the public humiliation and consternation they bore because of how their words and actions had shaken the foundations of many an ivory tower. I was reminded that whether the context be collective or personal, the fact remains that until we do truly end our ignorance of self and being, we are condemned to learn some of our greatest lessons after courting disaster and immolation.

Where there is no vision the people perish – Proverbs 29:18

Eventually, I breathed easier when I became aware that, for all its natural destructiveness, there is one good thing about lightening - in the instant it strikes it illuminates completely. In that conflagration the darkest of shadows are cast aside, allowing us to see with stark clarity all deceptions, be they conjured by self or others. When the darkness closes in again, we are stunned and blinded but chastened with a wisdom that we could inherit no other way, incarcerated against the real in our foreboding corporeal bastilles.

Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse - Sophocles

The sixteenth card (Arcanum) of the Tarot is the Tower Struck With Lightening. It was also named La Maison Dieu (The House of God). However, some think that the word Dieu was a mistranslation of Diefel which actually means the Devil (the name of the previous card). It could also have been a mistranslation of Le Maison de Feu (The House of Fire) which seems more appropriate given its incendiary appearance. The card corresponds to the astrological sign of Capricorn and to the planet-archetype Mars. Capricorn is the Cardinal Earth sign and is the foundation of the entire zodiac. It is the zone where the sidereal year opens, where the sun dies and is born again. It is the zone where time meets eternity, the realm of Saturn – Lord of Matter, Karma and cause and effect.

All the cards of the Major Arcana can be linked to Egyptian cosmology and pantheon and this one is no different. The primeval god of the earth Geb, was symbolized by a ithyphallic tower or obelisk. Moreover, one of the four deities and regents of Egypt was called Nephthys, sister of Isis, who had the epithet Lady of the Tower. This was later transposed to the Biblical dramatis personae were we find Mary "Magdalene" (Magdala means tower in Aramaic). The Egyptians were also great astronomers and mathematicians and were aware the polar axis of the earth does not remain constant. As the centuries pass it changes its inclination in very gradual stages. However, the Egyptian initiates knew that in the not too distant past there had been a violent reorientation of the Earth’s axis and that the position of due north of their age was considerably different from that of history. This event is known as “Pole Shift” and it is to this cataclysmic event that the imagery of card 16 partly relates to.

The symbolism carries over to the biological level also. The exploding phallic tower is an analogue of the sexual act. However, the Egyptians were not interested in mere genital-level sexuality. The sexual rites encapsulated the entire mystery of creation, of the strange dynamics between the macrocosm and microcosm and male and female. Though on one level the card does relate to the male member in the orgasmic act, on a deeper level it represents the more mysterious act of conception. The Egyptians knew the dynamics involved in conception, and about how the sperm enters the ovum. This phenomenon was of great importance to the ancient Magi for they were fascinated by the miracle of how that which we call "spirit" manifests in "matter," how the unmanifest becomes manifest? The black background of the card connotes the interior of the body and the two figures tumbling earthwards, therefore, represent the gametes (male and female), the only genders possible via the act of insemination. At the moment of entrance the sperm literally loses its head which breaks off, which is why we see the top of the edifice being blasted. Let us not forget that humans, on average, have their first real consensual sexual relations at age 16.

To further analyze the complex symbolism of this card we need to observe that there are 22 flames (yods) or balls shown around the structure of the Tower. These represent the other sperm that cannot enter the circle of the ovum. It is known that only a single sperm can enter the ovum to initiate conception. There are 10 flames on one side and 12 flames on the other side of the Tower and genetic scientists will recognize that this corresponds exactly to the strands of DNA. The presence and structure of the DNA helix was known to the ancients, though this fact has carefully concealed from the general public. So in short, card 16 pertains to the convulsive axial changes which visited the planet physically, to the act of conception and to the inner “Tower of Babel,” the DNA spiral.

When this card falls for us in a divination style reading, or is one of our main Significators, it has to do with sudden and often unexpected change and with circumstances over which we have absolutely no control. Under its influence we might find ourselves unable to exercise choice in the manner to which we have been accustomed, and we will surely feel the tidal waves of destiny heave us hither and thither with great fury. The Tower deals with the ending of outmoded patterns and life-patterns which, with the benefit of hindsight, we usually do accept as having been confining and wasteful. However, at the time of impact we may only feel exposed, confused and traumatized. When we are under the Tower's influence we are being directly and dramatically confronted, and deeply buried content will rise to the surface demanding resolution. The card also deals with our self-destructive tendencies and the penchant, so endemic to humans, to have the ego inflated to the point of obscenity.

Each card of the Major Arcana fits uncannily well as a symbolic metaphor for the centuries within the last millennium. And the sixteenth card is a case in point. As a significator for the sixteenth century it encapsulates the tribulation and anxiety which were experienced by humanity, as civilized men came to terms with the legacy of the Humanist period and began to cast aside erroneous notions of vengeful gods and oppressive moral dogmas, in favor of the spirit of individual freedom and social equality, together with the existential vagaries that inevitably come with these hard won realities. In his masterpiece Love, Sexuality and Matriarchy we find social historian and critic Erich Fromm musing over the epochal transitions:

Religious and spiritual ties which had established a rounded and secure world for the individual had been broken. The individual found himself completely alone in the world, paradise was lost for good, his success and failure were decided by the laws of the market; the basic relationship to everyone else had become one of merciless competition. The result of all this was a new feeling of freedom attended, however, by an increased anxiety.

Card sixteen shows two human figures tumbling out of their lofty penthouses near the stars, toward the earthly reality. It is a rapid and nerve-wracking descent to be sure. Mankind is still recovering from the historical version of such a fall. We have somewhat more freedom than at any other time but, creatively and spiritually, we seem to make less of it than did our ancestors. We may have released ourselves from one kind of totalitarianism, only to submit ourselves to another. Our religion today is materialism and our god Mammon.

Primarily, this is a card which represents "Ego-Death." Like our cells, the human ego, in order to be robust and healthy, must experience death, catharsis, and rejuvenation. These organic "deaths" are often referred to as - "Rites of Passage." The average individual will experience at least seven major ego-deaths throughout their life. The existentially sensitive person can experience a few more, while the existentially awakened individual will endure many. Puberty is one commonly accepted "Rite of Passage." Our first sexual encounter can be one. Getting married and having a child, likewise, demand the termination of one sense of personal identity and the adoption of another. Since sacrifice and loss always attend these "deaths," we are loathe to willingly go through them. However, they are a vital part of our psychological evolution and our habitual avoidance only serves to compromise our psychic health. Those who resist these transitions remain arrested and animistic, unable to savor the spirit of the new which comes to those who have the strength to accept inevitable life-change. The fiery Tower represents the heat of the kiln in which our particular vase, so to speak, is fired and made strong. The fragile and fearful ego, however, frantically recoils from experiencing anything which undermines its autonomy and it seeks, in a bewildering variety of ways, to ward off the forces of nature which it sees as its supreme nemesis. This constitutional dysfunction and predicament is then replicated macrocosmically, finding expression collectively and socially as well as personally. The nihilism and decadence which pervades our modern world arises from a society's resistance to, and avoidance of, these all-important "Rites of Passage." The threatened but cunning ego has gradually and intentionally replaced them with collectively accepted counterfeit rituals which engender regression and conformity not advancement and maturation. The ego which does not willingly welcome renewal cannot be healthy, strong or wise. It remains defensive, immutable, narcissistic and tyrannical. Consequently, as the Athenian philosophers once warned, the civilizations and societies which likewise avoid, or resist, the incorporation of authentic "Rites of Passage" soon fall, after they become chronically conservative, decadent, suppressive, aggressive, conformist and phallocratic.

States are as the men, they grow out of human characters - Plato

In individuals insanity is rare, but in groups, parties, nations and epochs it is the rule - Fredrick Nietzsche

The Tower symbolizes this morbidly calcified state, and the impending destruction that must come to destroy the obscenely rigid personal or collective egos which loom all around us, so dark and foreboding. It connotes man’s penchant for false existence, and his inauthentic expressions and creations which exist in contradistinction to nature’s vital ordinances. It implicates those of us who are imprisoned behind inane roles, and compels us to resign our ego-driven desires and expectations and return to a deeper, and more spontaneous rapport with something beyond the personal, the tangible, the material and the complex. To do so we will, inevitably, have to confront and conquer our deeply buried complexes; our fears, grievances, prejudices, self-esteem issues and mis-identifications. We will have to realize the difference between attaining something, and obtaining it; the difference between what we desire and why we desire it, between how we get what we need and whether we get it. We will have to accept that in order for our personal shadows to be dispelled, in order for us to see both ourselves and reality clearly, "lightening" may have to strike and that our eyes, like those of Saul and John the Beloved, may also need to be temporarily blinded by intense revelations. We are reminded, by the card's imagery, that where there is a Phoenix there will be the blazing funeral pyre; for there can be no Excalibur without the blacksmith's furnace and hammer, no child born without the burning tears of a mother, and no exquisite porcelain vase without the potter's burnishing kiln.

…every man shares the responsibility and the guilt of the society to which he belongs - Henrik Ibsen

The world consists of imaginary people, claiming imaginary virtues and suffering from imaginary happiness - Vernon Howard

In severe cases the card can mean attack, injury and accident whereas, on a higher octave, it has to do with complete self-expression and rebellion. It is an archetype which represents the rejection of all that is false and superficial and the willful commitment to authentic being. However, intentions and acts of this kind often bring hostility and open confrontations with those in authority positions who have a vested interest in maintaining the status-quo and preventing us from ever discovering our unique voice. There are times when quiet resolve and patient dialogues are not enough to avail our freedom and latitude of action. On occasion we may be forced to resort to drastic confrontations and unpleasant remonstrations against our predicaments and impediments. This is the card which comes up when we feel so put upon and oppressed that we simply can't take anymore. In such cases we sense that anything is better than what we have, and that anywhere is better than where we are. So many times we turn out to be right.

The image recalls Nimrod’s Tower of Babylon which was destroyed by the wrath of Jehovah and which brought about the "confusion of languages" on the earth. But the esoteric interpretation of this myth has less to do with linguistic and cultural differences than genetic ones. The word Babylon means the ancient doorway. In fact, on the image itself, there is no door, which implies that the Tower is not a physical place at all. Etymologically, the word tower comes from torre which means high place (sic, the head or brain), and which may be the derivation of our English word two, implying division and duality.

Esoterically, the card has to do with the reconciliation of antinomies. Kabalistically, the lightening flash has relations to the "Fall of Lucifer," that is to the descent of consciousness into matter. On the Tree of Life Divine Intelligence descends through the ten subtle stations in the likeness of a ricocheting flame of lightening. The "path" of the Tower runs between the Venusian Netzach (Heart) and the Mercurial Hod (Intellect) and represents the division and dissonance between these polarities, which will not be reconciled without the entire cosmos being altered, perhaps even destroyed and made anew.

The message of the Tarot's sixteenth card is that every second we are each dying and being reborn, and that the infinite exists only in the moment, in the Now that cannot be owned, held, repeated or made permanent. It teaches us that a great deal can be lea rned when we finally accept that we shall never completely know what the meaning is behind this holarchic and ever-mutating universe, or where we each fit into it, as long as we compulsively attempt to fathom such mysteries with the very emotions and thoughts by which we, the sleepers in the garden, are enslaved. The Tower's lesson is to realize that, be they physical or psychic, the long shadows we fear are actually cast by our own audacious phallic fortresses and chrome chambers which epitomize exclusivity and separateness. Enlightenment is not achieved from the top of teetering towers, by they of ancient Babylon or of today. Those who would have their "heads" amid the stars and enjoy the dizzying expanses of space must also be rooted firmly in Terra, must have their foundations deeply placed in the earth below. So obvious it is, once pointed out, how both the cannon ball and the feather fall downward to earth under the so-called "Law of Gravity."

In the beautiful Marseilles Tarot Deck, we see that the figures falling out of the tower have their hands stretched out toward two little green plants which are growing below. The characters are experiencing the Alchemical Stage known as Coagulatio or return to the earth. This event is certainly a death, but one which leads to a sense of life and connectivity that cannot be found, at any price, in the cloud-crowned, sterile penthouses and board-rooms of our own hypermanic Apollonian age.

The higher you fly the deeper you go, the deeper you go the higher you fly - John Lennon

Title quote - William Blake (The Four Zoas)

End Quote - John Lennon (Tomorrow Never Knows)


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