Tarot: Symbolism of the Tower

Hermit’s view on Adona as the Tower

Trump 16 in the Revenant Tarot deck.
Trump 16 in the Revenant Tarot deck.

The Tower is a card all about rude awakenings, and a rude awakening is exactly what Adona gets when he’s flung out of Arcturus and into the Material plane by an unexpected visitor. As his wings were ripped away by a demon, he can no longer fly through life as he once had, and plummets to earth. The Tower is a card of upheaval, change, and the violent destruction of illusion.

In the Rider-Waite deck, the tower itself represents the illusions, ambitions, or whatever is relevant, that is being – or going to be – torn down, usually by the intervention of the Wyrd or a natural process. In this case, the shreds of wings still left clinging to Adona’s back represent this. The 22 feathers flying away from his back, marking his path, represent the 22 cards in the Major Arcana. His wings themselves are something that, until now, he’s always taken for granted, and now that they’ve been torn away, he’s waking up to the fact that he’s not all he’s cracked up to be. Or at least, he’ll be waking up to that fact very soon. The lightning bolt is a symbol that appears on almost every version of this card, and signals that moment of realization. It is a small glimpse of truth, the flash that breaks down the old reality, and false reasoning.

In this card and the Rider-Waite, there are two figures falling, head-first, toward the ground. This can be seen in a number of ways, particularly as a parallel to the Hanged Man, in which all of our previously held beliefs are turned upside down. However, in the Tower this happens more violently, and without our say in it. The way that Adona and the back figure are falling represent two ways of dealing with this sudden and inevitable change. Adona is falling with fear, flailing his arms, trying his best to stop the fall, even though it’s impossible without his wings. The figure in back, however, is falling with grace, accepting his fate and diving straight down, toward the islands below. He is not afraid of change, like Adona is, and will find a way to adapt. The lesson here is that while most of us will react to change like Adona does, whether we are aware of it, like it or not, we can try to accept the consequences of our actions, or the actions thrust upon us with some degree of dignity.

The dark clouds in the back are featured on the classical Tower as well, and represent misfortune. The clouds, and misfortune, rain on everyone equally. Bad things happen to good people, but bad things happen to bad people as well. It doesn’t really matter who you are, misfortune, hardship, and struggle exist to temper the spirit. The clear places in the sky behind the clouds signal the idea that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger(or stranger, as Heath Ledger’s Joker put it) and better able to deal with further challenges. There may not be a silver lining on these clouds, but at least we can see the sky behind them.

The planet that rules this card, though not depicted on it, is Mars. The planet of war, destruction, aggression, and upheaval, the King of Battle. Mars is the fire that sparked the lightning strike, the force that breaks down the tower in the classical version, and the force that rips off Adona’s wings in this version, and sends him tumbling through the sky. Mars wages war on illusion and delusion, sundering anything that stands in the way of truth.

The rune for this card is Hagalaz, the rune of the hailstorm. It references directly the storm that spawned the lightning, and the way that the two figures fall from the sky, like hail stones. It is a rune of spiritual descent, taking us to the parts of ourselves that we’ve buried away, or locked up in our own mental towers, guarded by the dragons of illusion. Hagalaz brings light to everything painful that we’ve hidden away, like the lightning bolt in the Tower. It is a rune that is often associated with the journey into death, a major upheaval in one’s life to be sure, but here might represent Adona’s journey from Arcturus, the realm of Gods, to the Material plane, the realm of mortals. Hagalaz reinforces the dark, stormy background of this card, and the need for shedding light, rather than just change for change’s sake.

3 thoughts on “Tarot: Symbolism of the Tower

  1. Lovely expression of the Tower. Especially the headfirst symbolism. Clients often struggle with the concept of the tower – ignoring or unconscious of the structure that they must break through – this is an image that echoes some of the traditional symbolism of the tarot with a bold and straightforward image of falling.

    Another concept it reminds me of is Icarus – I think his father Daedalus is responsible for the Minos Labyrinth too. The structure of his wings was sound until it was betrayed by his desire for glory, leading to his destruction. You can also look at the body as tower-like and the fall is the loss of control over one’s power, social face etc through accident, mishap or attack (Mars).

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    1. Yes! 😀 I didn’t think of Icarus and Daedalus when I made the card, but that story pretty much sums it up. That’s something that I probably should have seen, though, given that I see Icarus in just about everything else where he might be relevant. Thank you for the input!

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