16. The TowerIn the 16th century, in France, tarot card The Tower was called “The House of God” (La Maison Dieu); a name where you expect a temple, or a church, rather than a tower. What is the connection between the tower on this card and God, and why is it being destroyed? Read it in this article!
The Tower in the 15th century
From the 15th century – the very first century that tarot cards came into circulation – only one hand-painted copy of The Tower (from the Charles VI deck) has been preserved, and a few uncut sheets from early printing, which have remained uncolored. Together, these cards show all the elements that still form the basis for card number 16 today: we see a tower collapsing, apparently caused by the fire of the sun. Two people are falling down from the tower.
Charles VI (Estensi) deck,
second half of 15th century.
That the destructive fire comes from the sun, and not from thunderclouds, may already be an indication to us that this card has a deeper meaning. The sun is a universal symbol for God / the divine. A tower destroyed by God is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel from the Bible, a story that on a symbolic level takes place in man.
The Tower of Babel
Many Bible stories are not intended to be taken literally. They are metaphors for inner spiritual processes. Similarly, the story about man who wanted to build a tower up to heaven. The deeper meaning of Bible texts is hidden in subtle word choices and sentence structures.
The Tower of Babel is about man trying to awaken the kundalini energy, dormant in his pelvis, and bring it through the spine (the tower) to the seventh chakra (heaven). In other words, man wants to rise to the divine under the influence of the ego.
However, this gross self-overestimation has the opposite effect. Instead of ascending through the spine, the divine (the kundalini) descends. This is stated literally twice in the text: in response to the audacious act of man, God comes down (Genesis 11: 1-9).
Then God scatters the people and gives them different languages so that they no longer understand each other:… because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth, and from there the Lord spread them all over the earth (Genesis 11: 9).
Engraving of the Tower of Babel, by Jan Collaert I (16th century). Circled are hidden references to a kundalini process: the hands are making the sign of the sacred marriage (2 = 1), and in front of the tower is a man holding up a cloth from his pelvis to above his head.
This is a metaphor for an inner fragmentation of man. The energy that first flowed through the spine and created an experience of oneness, descends into the pelvis and subsequently is divided over the two energy channels ida-nadi and pingala-nadi. As a result, man no longer experiences God, but the polarities of duality: good and evil, male and female, and so on. We may interpret the distribution of man over the earth as an inner division into various aspects of ego. Man must now – internally divided – find his way in a dual world.
There are many symbols and metaphors for the spine with the awakened kundalini energy flowing in it. Classic examples are: a serpent, a tree, a pillar, a ladder and a tower.
The card of the 15th century Budapest Metropolitan deck (above) contains a subtle indication that the Tower represents the kundalini energy. The two small trees on either side of the tower represent the two energy channels that keep man connected to duality: the ida nadi and pingala nadi.
Right: the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening.
Below: two aprons from the esoteric organisation Freemasonry, with symbols of the kundalini process, including trees, pillars and a tower.
Also in the spiritual tradition of alchemy we find the tower as a metaphor for the spine with the awakened kundalini. Below are three examples.
Left and above: Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit, Ms Vossianus Chym, 1522.
Right: these two alchemical ovens represent the energetic (left) and physical (right) aspect of an awakened spine. Annibal Barlet, Le Vray et Methodique Cours, 1651.
Tarot of Marseille by Jean Dodal (1715)
The Tarot of Marseille
The internal fragmentation of man, which is the result of the withdrawing of God (the kundalini), is expressed on the Tarot of Marseille cards by the little balls next to the tower. We can deduce from their round shape that these are not fragments of the tower. The different colors also indicate something other than pieces of stone. The three tower windows represent the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening. The top of the tower resembles a crown. This is a reference to the delusions of grandeur of the ego, that thinks it is king of the universe and the crown of creation.
The card now also has a title: The House of God. That this refers to the spine with the divine kundalini energy flowing in it, can also be found in the Bible. In the book of Genesis, patriarch Jacob has a vision in his sleep of angels climbing up and down a ladder (a metaphor of the kundalini flowing through his spine), and God speaking to him. When Jacob wakes up he says:
“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. He called the name of that place Bethel… (Genesis 28:17-19)
The Hebrew Bethel means “house of God.” Jacob sets up the stone on which he slept as a pillar, and pours oil over it. The erected stone refers to Jacob’s awakened spine. The “anointing” with oil symbolizes the transformation of his cerebrospinal fluid into amrita (drink of immortality).
Jacob’s Ladder (Wenceslas Hollar, 17th century)
Jacob sets up a stone as a pillar and pours oil over it.
Some tarot decks from this period, such as the Belgian Vandenborre Bacchus Tarot (right), have opted for a tree that is struck by lightning, instead of a tower. The card is then called ‘Lightening’ (La Foudre). A tree is also a classic metaphor for the awakened kundalini. The deeper meaning of the card remains the same.
In Italy the first cards appear called La Torre (The Tower). This will remain the definitive title of tarot card number 16. On the right the Ligurien-Piemont Tarot from 1840.
Vandenborre Bacchus Tarot
The Oswald Wirth Tarot
Oswald Wirth named his card Le Feu du Ciel (The Fire from Heaven), a title that could refer to both lightning and the kundalini energy. One of the falling figures has a crown on his head, a reference to a “dethroning” of the ego.
The figures on the mosaic of Château des Avenières (far right), which is based on the Tower of Wirth, are dressed in red and blue. These are the classic colors for the male and female energies. They refer on this card to the disintegration of the inner oneness into opposites / duality. The striped sash around the front man’s waist, with the two flying ends, also refers to this. The tower stands on a globe, creating the image of a “fall” of man (back) in matter.
Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)
Château des Avenières (1917)
Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1909)
The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot
The two figures on the RWS card are also dressed in a combination of the colors red (male) and blue (female). A new element is that it is not two men who fall, as on all previous cards, but a man and a woman. We may take this as a confirmation of our interpretation of the colors red and blue.
In the sky are floating 22 Yods. The Yod is the Hebrew Y. This flame-like character is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. All other letters have a Yod in them. It is the first letter of YHWH (God). In mystical Judaism, the Yod represents the ubiquity of God. In ancient Hebrew, the Yod was written as a forearm with a hand. No sun can be seen on the RWS card; instead, the Yod refers to “the Hand of God.”
The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 letters. The exact number of 22 Yods on this card is a reference to the breaking up of man’s inner unity into ego fragments.
The major arcana of the tarot consists of miniatures that highlight aspects of a kundalini awakening. The card The Tower is a warning addressed to people who think they can master the divine. God will not let Himself be used by the ego. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
This card is based on the Bible story about the Tower of Babel, in which the tower is a metaphor for the spine with the awakened kundalini energy flowing in it. This story teaches us why the knowledge of the kundalini energy has been so cautiously guarded in all these centuries and can only be found hidden in sacred texts. In the wrong hands it can lead to people insufficiently prepared and with the wrong motives forcing an access to this sacred energy source. Jesus also notes this in the gospel of Matthew (11:12):
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
This path can only be followed succesfully with a heart purified from the ego’s desires for grandeur. Only for a person who is willing to die to himself does the door to God open.
Read also my article: Kundalini en the Tower of Babel.
In the foreground we see a pillar (awakened spine), with a snail on the way up, and a wreath of victory. The pillar rests on four lions (symbol of the animal energies in man). In the background we see the Tower of Babel. All this symbolism refers (concealed) to the process of kundalini awakening. The way to God requires patience and endurance. (Jacob Bruck, Emblemata moralia et bellica, 1615)
This article was written by Anne-Marie Wegh. Copyright April 2020.
Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ
Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres