There occasionally comes a time for many of us (hopefully not often) when our personal “house of cards” topples to the ground and hope temporarily vanishes, eclipsed by despair. West Coast blues master Charles Brown once memorialized the aftermath of this traumatic scenario in the dirge-like tune “Black Night.”
Tarot has a card that perfectly captures these visceral episodes of crisis, one that raises the blood pressure merely by its appearance in a reading: the Tower, sometimes called the Lightning-struck Tower and, in French, Le Maison Dieu. The positive spin on this card usually takes the form of a necessary evil, striking down obstacles to continued growth and clearing the way to rebuild once the victim rummages through the debris to salvage the few remaining unbroken bricks. I frequently see it in soured relationships where the querent needs a jolt of the Mars motivation symbolized by this card to overturn the negative cycle of self-defeating behavior. I describe its uncompromising advent as “having a Tower moment,” and its catalyst typically lands on the querent with both oversized feet (a cheating partner, a vindictive “secret enemy” or a devastating accident are all emblematic of its unexpected arrival). The only constructive advice is usually to grit one’s teeth, gird one’s loins and see it through.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been reading Alejandro Jodorowsky’s book The Way of Tarot, and am presently nearing the end of the trumps section. While his rather lurid, fantastical treatment of cards like the Devil (which does the auteur of El Topo and other surrealistic “art” films proud) leaves the rest of us gasping for air, he often has some refreshingly peculiar and, at the same time, curiously enlightening things to say. His discussion of the Tower is a case in point. Two things stood out for me: the first was the statement that the appearance of this card in a reading signifies the emergence of something that was imprisoned, a “dance of joyous separation ” but also the painful experience of “abrupt separation or expulsion;” the second was the novel portrayal of the Tower as a bracing opportunity for self-interrogation upon awakening each day, “What shall I celebrate now? I am the cataclysmic joy of living, the permanently unforeseen and marvelous catastrophe.” This turns on its head the customarily grim interpretation of the Tower as “an accident waiting to happen” and gives it a slightly bizarre, cheerful cast that nonetheless stimulates much creative thought. Some of his suggested “traditional” keywords bear out this perception: Liberation; Explosion of Joy; Dance; Great Burst of Energy; Revelation; Breaking Boundaries; Illumination. Although I normally skirt the edges of this upbeat outlook when the Tower appears, I intend to use a few of these ideas more rigorously to leaven the ominous portent that usually adheres to this card in a reading.