The Tower represents sudden or surprising change, upheaval, revelation, chaos, crisis, or spiritual awakening. Spiritual awakening is particularly relevant when considering the Tower’s location within the Major Arcana’s third row of cards. The Devil was illusion, materialism, and imprisonment. In the Tower, the illusion is shattered.
If we compare the Tower to the Tower of Babel, it speaks to the idea that human constructions (be it buildings or even language itself) cannot ever reach or describe the divine. Language, for example, can blind us to the fact that the worldly and the divine are intertwined. This same idea that language divides the world and therefore the very way we see the world is also a sociological idea. The Tower shows (at least some of) these constructed ways of seeing or understanding the world being destroyed. The lightening can represent the divine spark which instigates change or enlightenment.
Like the Wheel, there is water at the bottom of the Tower, but the change in the Tower is perhaps more sudden and certainly not as anticipated as changes indicated by the Wheel. The water below both indicates a deeply spiritual and/or emotional experience of change. The waters below the Tower in the Efflorescent deck are much more turbulent than the waters in the Wheel. The Tower seems perhaps like a forced and much less peaceful Hanged Man. If we refused to or were unable to reach victory in row two of the Major Arcana, our perspective may be changed anyway, and it will be jarring and scary. (The people falling from the Tower are getting a new perspective whether they like it or not.)
Huszka’s depiction shows a women whose body is out of proportion and who looks pretty dismal. This is a great representation of the disorienting feeling of a Tower experience. At the very bottom of the card, we see some stairs leading down into the water (or into the unconscious). If we take these stairs and explore the meaning of our Tower experience, we may be reborn, so to speak, like the figure emerging from behind the woman. The Animals Wisdom tarot depicts a winged snake helping to destroy the Tower, and snakes can be a symbol of new beginnings and rebirth. I like the name of this card in the Animal Wisdom Tarot as well: “The Quickener.”
Paul Quinn in Tarot for Life reminds us of the saying, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable” (114). That is what we see in the Tower. (Though of course the Tower could at times represent a more positively felt revelation.) However, we have to acknowledge our Tower-like experiences as such or else we may set to work rebuilding the very same tower over and over instead of seeing that there is something better or bigger to be attended to.
Joanna’s description of the Tower imagines we are standing on the crumbling structure: “Beware. Watch each step and be forewarned: one must tread cautiously here. So pause, and calculate each step carefully, because one wrong move and everything will collapse, bringing with it a world of chaos.” This brings to mind our agency. Even when it feels like we’re being thrown through space and our foundation is gone, we do still have choices. And these choices can greatly influence how the Tower falls and what the ultimate outcome will be.
A shadow of the Tower could be this refusal to learn from these experiences. An opposite or reversed meaning could be preventing or trying to prevent a Tower-like experience.
If I were to assign an element to the Tower, it would be fire and water. Fire for the power and transformation of the card, and water for the intensely emotional and/or spiritual experience of this transformation.
Much of my life has been so traumatic, I think I actually expect most things to end is a horrible and chaotic Tower moment. Thankfully, things don’t work out that way much anymore, but even the expectation of my world crumbling around me kind of ruins (or seriously mars) many experiences. It makes it hard to enjoy living in the moment when I “know” it won’t last and will end horribly. It’s not a super helpful way to live. So I think I need to stop seeing Towers in the distance where there are none. I’ll find out later what the remaining Major Arcana cards might say about that.