Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Tower card

The Tower: Path to Heaven or destruction?

Visconti, The Tower
Why is The Tower included in the Tarot? What does it symbolize? It is struck by a lightning bolt and people are falling from it. Who is falling out of it? What does the lightning bolt mean? These are questions often asked about the inclusion of The Tower card in most tarot decks, although some early Tarot decks created as playing cards in the 15th century did not have a Tower card because of its negative connotations.  As the biblical “Tower of Babel,” a ziggurat, was a probable source of inspiration for The Tower card, we should consider that these ancient Mesopotamian religious structures had some impact on early biblical writers.  In the Old Testament, it’s the story of the downfall and failure of the attempt to build a tower to heaven in Babylon.

Zzzzzsst! Wham! A lightning bolt strikes the top of the tower knocking off a crown and people fall off headlong toward the ground. Over time, especially in the 15th century, several artists painted their version of the “Tower of Babel.” Pieter Bruegel’s (1525-1569) famous painting illustrates the story of the Tower of Babel embellished with details of 15th century construction methods (Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna). Because of the notoriety of the allegory of the Tower of Babel, let’s first analyze its meaning from a biblical perspective. In Genesis 11:19, the story is about Divine Judgement of Nimrod and other countrymen for their materialistic and presumptuous plan to build their way to Heaven in a tower, where they said, “…with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves.” Divine punishment was the loss of a common language and, because the builders and workers could no longer communicate with each other, or work together, they babbled and scattered, and the project disintegrated. Some Tarot decks interpret the concept of falling from the tower as a metaphor for the deconstruction of those who have created an overblown portrayal of themselves. Today, the general meaning of the Tower card implies that falling from the Tower signals the collapse of an egoistic build-up of grandiose and materialistic ideas about oneself.

Aesop Fable: The Frog and the Ox
Father frog was going to show little frog how he could be as big as the ox. He took deep breaths and kept enlarging himself.  He blew and blew and got bigger and bigger until… OOPS! He exploded!
(Self-conceit may lead to self-destruction.)

 Artists who designed early 15th century Tarot decks, depicted the tower based on possible biblical overtones prevalent in the medieval church in their time. Their interpretations were infused with the meaning of the Tower of Babel in Genesis. We find an insightful commentary on Genesis and The Tower in the book, Meditations on the Tarot, by Anonymous. He states that after the “Fall” of Adam and Eve, which is the story of their disobedience in “falling” for the opportunity of making gods of themselves (Gen. 3:1-19), that there were three more stages in the story of “The Fall.” These allegories may clarify why most Tarot interpretations of the people falling from the Tower are about the collapse of an inflated self-image.
*Note: Early classic Greek sculptures of their gods in 400 BC, were carved as human forms and may have had some impact on this story.

Stages in the early biblical stories of humankind
1.     The first stage was “murder.” Adam and Eve’s son Abel was killed by his brother Cain (a morality issue over offerings made to God). “…the seed of all subsequent wars, revolutions and revolts in the history of the human race.” (In Genesis’ second record of creation, after eating of “The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,” comes the fratricide of squabbling brothers. “Your offering is no better than mine.” Cain was banished to the Land of Nod—nothingness! (Gen. 4:1-16)

2.     Second, was the “generation of giants:” This was the curious tale of Divine Beings who mated with the daughters of man. Their offspring were warrior giants with superhuman powers - Nephilim. (See Num.13:33) The “…primordial seed of all subsequent pretensions … to play a domineering role as divine sovereigns and thus all pretensions of being ‘supermen.’” Some early Kings and Caesars with ambitious beliefs were trying to make a name for themselves as they reigned like egomaniacs with absolute monarchical power and aristocratic privileges (Gen.6:1-4).  We have seen some past European leaders, even in modern times, inflated with grandiose ideas of the will to power, such as the likes of Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler – generating war, chaos and disaster in most of Europe.

Ziggurat ruins
        The third stage was “building” the Tower of Babel: The “… primordial phenomenon containing in seed form … of the conquest of heaven by means of forces acquired and developed on earth.” This was manifest in the building and construction of early city-states; then in materialistic empire building, invariably followed by the hubris of greed and money, which has continued over the centuries in the form of the industrial revolution; development of contemporary technology; and finally, chronic wars and the atomic bomb, the ultimate destroyer of cities. This was, “… possession and substitution of the fabricated for the revealed.” Ancient Babylonians were going to make a name for themselves through materialistic means by building a tower to heaven, but instead, as history shows, mankind over the centuries has gone down into the abyss of world-wide warfare, culminating in WWII, in bombing European cites to rubble, and the complete annihilation of two large Japanese cities with the atom bomb. All of this is the total opposite of a spiritual path to heaven (See Gen. 11:1-9).

This also brings up questions of the biblical story of The Fall. The fall from what? What does this have to do with the Tarot Tower card?

What is meant by “The Fall”?
This was the moment in Genesis (the second record of creation, Gen. 3:13-19), when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. After the scheming serpent told Eve that if they ate from the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,” they would be as gods, God evicted them from the “Garden of Eden.” Their audacity and individual self-will caused them to “fall out of favor.” Eve shamefully admitted that the serpent had tricked her and that their lives would never be the same. They “saw” themselves—evidence of the separation from the oneness with God, the creative principle of the universe. In the first record of creation, God had created man in “His own image…male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). They were once one with God and the Universe. But now they were on their own.
(Leon Kass emphasizes in his book, The Beginning of wisdom, that, “He [God] apparently does not approve of the prospect of unrestrained human powers exercised in support of unlimited imaginings and desires.”)

Who or what were the Giants? (Gen.6:1-4)
 “Giants in the earth,” imply beings with superhuman strength and/or the use of magical powers to overcome others. In Meditations on the Tarot, by Anonymous, he states that the builders of the tower were creating a superstructure symbolizing, “…the pretension to be a superman.”  In the historical past, so-called superheroes have overstated themselves in the roles of powerful leaders. Some were villains, some were saviors. Early Kings were called Divine Sovereigns and, “… Caesars [who] … arrogated divine honour and authority to themselves” [without justification]. “Fascist FΓΌhrers,” and dictators have been part of this model. Slavery and enslavement has always followed. Mankind’s history over the centuries shows that there was always someone trying to be superior to someone else, usually with disastrous results. The fall from the tower represents an inflated ego’s failure, and termination of “the will to power.”

German philosopher, Frederich Nietzsche, (1844-1900) wrote about “Superman,” and “the will to power” in his book, Thus Spake Zarathustra. Unfortunately, his work was misunderstood by the arrogant Nazi’s in their publicity campaign of “Aryan supremacy,” and pretentious plans were set in motion for seeing themselves as a superior race who could control Europe. Their oppression of so-called inferior people in warlike domination resulted in vilifying and murdering mass groups of people (Jews in the Holocaust) during WWII, which was finally ended by the ultimate destroyer – the atomic bomb, dropped on Japan by the USA in 1945.  Nietzsche’s “ubermensch” (Superman) meant a person rising above the limitations of ordinary morality and, by the will to power, could experience self-realization and self-affirmation; “… the forerunner of existentialism, not Nazism” (Encyclopedia Britannica). In today’s world, there is something about a modern fictional superhero hidden in the meaning of the Tower card that applies to our entertainment culture. In the 20th century, “DC Comics” promoted fictional characters like Superman, Superwoman, and Batman; and also, Spiderman and Ironman of “Marvel Comics;” all who are depicted as savior types - rescuing and saving mankind from various wrongdoers, evil beings, and corrupt practices. Most of us have seen or read about them in illustrated comic books and popular movie versions with lavish special effects.

Tower of Babel and The Tower Card
Bruegel, close-up of workers
What happened to the people building their way to heaven on the Tower of Babel? What does The Tower card mean for you in a reading? The people building the tower was a metaphor for those who have ignored or forgotten their divine source. They were living in a fantasy-world of self-will rather than divine will. In Tarot art, people are knocked off the tower by a lightning bolt from Heaven, along with a crown in most decks. In the biblical story, the builders imagined they could get to heaven through material means rather than spiritual means. In close-up scenes of Bruegel’s painting of The Tower of Babel, workmen of that era – stone cutters, masons and brick-layers, are using building tools, derricks, crude cranes and horses to haul and lift building materials, in great detail. There were several towers (ziggurats) in ancient Mesopotamia, and historians surmise that the ziggurat Etemenanki of Babylon may be associated with the Tower of Babel (Mesopotamia, Michael Roaf, Andromeda Oxford Ltd, 2000). In art, there have been renditions of the Tower of Babel and other towers, such as the tower where St. Barbara was kept by her pagan Father. When she became a Christian she put in a third window to represent the Trinity and was then murdered by her Father.  He was immediately struck down and killed by a lightning bolt on the spot. This could also have some bearing on the design of The Tower card. In an illuminated manuscript - The Ducal Book of Hours-two angels are pounding the top of the tower with large hammers and the workers fall off. (The World's Last Mysteries, Readers Digest Assoc. 1976)

What does The Tower card mean in a reading?
In the Vertigo Tarot deck, from Doom Patrol, Rachel Pollack writes:

“…the tower usually symbolizes some painful or frightening experience that ultimately liberates us from a repressive situation (DC Comics, 1995).

Tower from the Ducal Book of Hours 
Ask your yourself, “How much longer can I put up with the usurpation of my own spiritual power”? It’s important to not “fall” for those who have fabricated a pompous image of themselves that is blown out of proportion in their ego-centered conduct. Here is where “pride goeth before a fall.” Be true to yourself.  Be watchful to not fall victim to someone thinking they are better than you, and likewise, don’t put someone else in the position of thinking you are better than they are. Humility supersedes pride. Resolve what seems like catastrophic situations of confusion, divisiveness, hatred and revenge at home and work, with patience, kindness, and hopefulness. Don’t be fooled, look for the truth. Be aware of the consequences of your actions and take responsibility rather than blame someone else. Recognize and deal with difficult underhanded situations. 
People with bloated egos will fall of their own weight, and then, “this too shall pass,” as Solomon says in E. Fitzgerald’s poem, “Solomon’s Seal.”

Force without wisdom falls of its own weight. 
Horace, 65 BCE