Tower Moments: The Tarot’s Sixteenth Major Arcana Card
(Based on the representations found on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.)
In Hellenistic astrology, the square is a disharmonious aspect between two planets. Like all classical Ptolemaic aspects, the square is ascribed to the nature of one of the planets, namely Mars. Conflict, frustration, friction, hardness, war, destruction— these are some of hallmarks of the Lesser Malefic.
In a square, the astrological signs share modalities, rather than elements in common. These are not harmonious trines between all air, earth, water, or fire signs. Rather, by 90-degree aspect, we have clashes around the zodiac.
Squares cause tension by modality. We need only look to the current retrograde Saturn in fixed-air Aquarius squaring Uranus in fixed-earth Taurus. These two planets could not be more diametrically opposed archetypally, but the clashing energy — both in fixed signs — means that these two planets are also in different elements, and tensions naturally occur. With Saturn squaring Uranus, we have the impulse for freedom clashing with the impulse to preserve the status quo; only when they move to the next Ptolemaic aspect — the trine — do we feel the easing of this energy.
Numerologically, one plus six yields the spiritually significant number seven. Seven is the number of the Chariot, the card we had previously explored within the context of the fixed stars of Sirius, Castor and Pollux. These fixed stars variously blend the complicated archetypal energies of Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Mars in an emotional, lunar-ruled astrological sign. There are inherent tensions in the Chariot: the attempt to balance light and shadow, Mercury and Jupiter, Venus and Mars. To me, breaking down the cards differently — by their constituent representatives in the Major Arcana, and by their square root — gives you another perspective.
The square root of sixteen is four — the Emperor — which may share more correspondences in common with The Tower than we realize. As previously noted, the Emperor is ruled by the fiery sign of Aries, and can foreshadow the destruction depicted on the Tower card when reversed. The Emperor reversed is a card of bareness and sterility, it can be a card of excessive control and misdirected power. In the Greek pantheon, Ares was very much a destructive force, but in his Roman incarnation, Mars’ blood-lust appears more constructive: conflict ushers in periods of lasting peace.
Howard Sasportas and Liz Greene’s lectures on the inner planets liken Mars to the Sun’s henchman. Here we have the ego principle manifested through directed, assertive action. Activated through the ram, this can mean blunt force and all its associated trauma. Mars slashes and burns; it cuts to the quick and takes no prisoners. Its desires and expressions are paramount. But, as Sasportas argues, the twin associations of sex and aggression with which Mars is associated, may be reductionist and misleading. Sometimes aggression can be good — even healthy. It can lead us to protect ourselves from predatory attacks, drive us to master the external world, achieve independence from those who might otherwise dominate us, and help us grow into what we are meant to become (The Inner Planets, 226).
In the preceding card, The Devil, we saw the consequences of excess. Potentially motivated by greed, ambition, and slavish commitment to material gain, The Devil contrasts the pure potentiality first expressed in the Lovers. In The Devil, we must confront the choices that led us to our present predicament. We may feel as though we’ve gone so far down a particular path from which we cannot see a way out. Leave it to nothing short of a Promethean bolt of lightning — a gift from individuating Uranus — to shake up our material world.
One and six represent the Magician and the Lovers respectively. Again, we are confronted by the theme of choice and by our personal agency in the art of manifestation. The Major Arcana provides us with so many options and off-ramps to our current situation, that, while the destabilizing and seemingly destructive energy of the Tower may make our situations seem dire, there are hints toward harnessing these “Tower moments” for our own highest good. A “Tower moment” is ultimately a choice (the Lovers); how we pick up the pieces is up to us and what we might have learned along our developmental path is entirely within our hands (The Magician).
According to Bernadette Brady, the astrological aspect of the square “pushes us into corners that we can’t avoid” (The Eagle and the Lark, 24). Mars doesn’t just make us uncomfortable, Mars makes us adversarial. This is where survival instincts kicks in; this is where we may get aggressive in our own self-defense. Alternatively, the Martial events in our lives can send us reeling. Like a bolt of lightning, we are shaken up by or awakened to what isn’t working anymore. The Tower throws its inhabitants out like babies with the bath water. They plunge from the highest heights which they have reached, and, while we don’t know the type of end they might meet, we can surmise that the road to recovery could be dictated by how much they’ve learned from this seemingly cataclysmic event.
When coupled with the various suits from the Minor Arcana, The Tower can represent upsets in material gain (pentacles); arguments or confrontations (wands); accidents or injuries (swords); or the end of relationships (cups). In some respects, it, too, is a card of new beginnings by virtue of forced endings designed to give us a good jolt.