The Tower (Tarot card)

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The Tower in the 1909 Rider-Waite tarot deck.

The Tower (XVI) (most common modern name) is the 16th trump or Major Arcana card in most Italian-suited Tarot decks. It is used in game playing as well as in divination.


The Belgian Tarot depicts a tree struck by lightning.

This card follows immediately after The Devil in all Tarots that contain it, and is associated with sudden, disruptive, and potentially destructive change. Some early, painted decks, such as the Visconti-Sforza tarot, do not contain it.[1] Also, some Tarot variants used for game playing omit it.[2]

Early printed decks that preserve all their cards do feature The Tower. In these decks the card bears a number of different names and designs. In the Minchiate deck, the image usually shown is of two nude or scantily clad people fleeing the open door of what appears to be a burning building. In some Belgian tarots and the 17th century tarot of Jacques Viéville, the card is called La Foudre or La Fouldre, ("The Lightning") and depicts a tree being struck by lightning. In the Tarot of Paris (17th century), the image shown is of the Devil beating his drums, before what appears to be the mouth of Hell; the card still is called La Fouldre. The Tarot of Marseilles merges these two concepts, and depicts a burning tower being struck by lightning or fire from the sky, its top section dislodged and crumbling. Two men are depicted in mid-fall, against a field of multicolored balls.[3] A. E. Waite's version is based on the Marseilles image, with small tongues of fire in the shape of Hebrew yod letters replacing the balls.[4] (see Tower #1, above right)

A variety of explanations for the images on the card have been attempted. For example, it may be a reference to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, where God destroys a tower built by mankind to reach Heaven.[citation needed] Alternatively, the Harrowing of Hell was a frequent subject in late medieval liturgical drama, and Hell could be depicted as a great gate knocked asunder by Jesus Christ, with accompanying pyrotechnics. The Minchiate version of the deck may represent Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden.[5]

Divination usage[edit]

In this manuscript picture of the Harrowing of Hell, Jesus forces open the fiery tower gate of Hell to free the virtuous dead from Limbo. The enactment of this scene in liturgical drama may be one source of the image of the Tower.
The destruction of the tower of Babel is depicted in this Bulgarian manuscript.

The Tower is commonly interpreted as meaning danger, crisis, destruction, and liberation.[6]

Some frequent keywords used by card readers are:

  • Chaos — Sudden change — Impact — Hard times
  • Crisis — Revelation — Disruption — Realizing the truth
  • Disillusion — Crash — Burst — Uncomfortable experience
  • Downfall — Ruin — Ego blow — Explosive transformation
Upside down
  • To be currently in a harsh and chaotic situation but exiting in a good manner. Indeed you are falling but landing with your feet over the soil.
  • The same of the normal position but less negative because their incorrect position can block some powers of the card.


Many differing meanings are attributed to the card:

  • To some, it symbolizes failure, ruin and catastrophe.
  • To others, the Tower represents the paradigms constructed by the ego, the sum total of all schema that the mind constructs to understand the universe. The Tower is struck by lightning when reality does not conform to expectation.
  • Epiphanies, transcendental states of consciousness, and Kundalini experiences[7] may result. In the Triple Goddess Tarot, the card is named "Kundalini Rising".
  • The Tower further symbolizes that moment in trance in which the mind actually changes the direction of the force of attention from alpha condition to theta condition. A Theta condition is that moment when information coming into the ego-mind overwhelms external or sensory stimuli, resulting in what might otherwise be called a "vision" or "hallucination."
  • Each card in the Major Arcana is a related to the previous ones. After the self bondage of The Devil, life is self-correcting. Either the querents must make changes in their own lives, or the changes will be made for them.
  • The querent may be holding on to false ideas or pretenses; a new approach to thinking about the problem is needed. The querent is advised to think outside the box. The querent is warned that truth may not oblige schema. It may be time for the querent to re-examine belief structures, ideologies, and paradigms they hold to. The card may also point toward seeking education or higher knowledge.
  • As stated above, this card often features lightning in the background; the lightning is a sign that current values and hierarchies are about to be toppled, transforming the querent and/or the situation, and upheaval is imminent. Many agree that while this change may often be difficult, it doesn't necessarily need to be a bad thing—it could be a change for the better.[8]

Alternate Decks[edit]

  • It is also called La Maison Dieu ("The House of God").
  • The Flemish Deck by Vandenborre (c.1750 – 1760) renames it La Foudre ("The Thunderbolt"). It shows a frightened shepherd cowering under a burning tree split by a bolt of lightning while sheep graze at its base.
  • In Anne Rice Tarot deck the Tower card depicts Armand in the Vampire Chronicles.
  • In X/1999, the Tower is Tokiko Magami & Tooru Shirou.
  • In the Mythic Tarot deck, the Tower is depicted with Poseidon.
  • In the Golden Dawn system it corresponds to the Hebrew letter Peh, and in the French system it corresponds to Ayin[6]

In pop culture[edit]

  • In the SNES video game Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen, the Tower is depicted as an ominous-looking tower as lightning bolts strike it during a thunderstorm, yet there are no people jumping out of the tower. On drawing the Tarot card after liberation of one of the towns, it lowers the characters' alignment by 1 or 2 points, and summons an earthquake to damage enemy units when used in battle.[9]
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, a minor antagonist of the third arc of the series called Gray Fly has a Stand called Tower of Gray, an insect-like Stand that Gray Fly uses to kill people on mass transit. It was named after this tarot card, as it is representative of the end of a journey.
  • The Tower is a boss monster in The House of the Dead 2, where it is represented by a five-headed hydra (three-headed in The Typing of the Dead). All of the bosses in the House of the Dead series (with the exception of Overkill) are named after cards from the Major Arcana.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Persona The Tower is represented in Persona 3 by Mutatsu, and in Persona 4 it was represented by Shu Nakajima. It is represented by the personas Chi You and Shiva among others.
  • In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Divination instructor Professor Trelawney tells Harry that she has seen bad omens regarding "the lightning-struck tower" in her tarot cards. These omens come to fruition in the chapter of the same title, in which Albus Dumbledore falls from the highest tower of Hogwarts castle after his death.
  • In episode 184 of the long running and ongoing anime Detective Conan/Case Closed, the television prophet Nagara Haruka predicts an ominous presence within the mansion and shows the Tower card to the cast and audience. Her prediction turns out to be true as murder takes place within the mansion


  1. ^ Bill Butler, Dictionary of the Tarot. (Schocken, 1975; ISBN 0-8052-0559-4)
  2. ^ "The Hidden Aspects of Tarot Pairings". 21 June 2014. Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  3. ^ Paul Huson, Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage (Destiny, 2004. ISBN 978-0-89281-190-8)
  4. ^ Robert Place. "The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination" ISBN (Jeremy Tarcher, 2005 1-58542-349-1) p.207
  5. ^ Huson, op. cit.
  6. ^ a b "The New Encyclopedia of the Occult" ISBN (John Geer, 2003 1-56718-336-0) p.489
  7. ^ The dictionary of the esoteric: 3000 entries on the mystical and occult traditions, Nevill Drury, 2004, p309
  8. ^ "Death, the Devil & the Tower: The Truth in These Tarot Cards". Retrieved 11 December 2014. 
  9. ^ "Ogre Battle – Tarot Cards". Retrieved 2012-04-03. 
  • A. E. Waite's 1910 Pictorial Key to the Tarot
  • Juliette Wood, Folklore 109 (1998):15-24, "The Celtic Tarot and the Secret Tradition: A Study in Modern Legend Making" (1998)
  • Geer John, "The New Encyclopedia of the Occult", St. Paul Minnesota, Llwellyn Publications(2003) p. 489

External links[edit]