Llewellyn’s Classic Tarot by Barbara Moore

Of all the cards in the tarot, the Tower is the one you least want to get. Even less than Death, which often hints at renewal, the Tower is about the fateful hand of destruction. In most depictions, a massive bolt of lightning comes from above and destroys the Tower. Fire bursts from its windows, and everyone within it is now falling to the ground.

Try as we might to avoid these “tower ordeals,” nobody is immune to facing crisis at some (often several) pivotal moments in a lifetime. But because crisis of this scale can be excruciatingly long and complex to navigate, the urge to make meaning of it all, to turn it into something productive, is tempting. 

In grappling with degenerative autoimmune disease, I often wished for a speedy redemption, for something meaningful to come out of my pain and suffering. But every time I tried, I’d be humbled by exhaustion and confusion. One day, I received the following tower-esque dream:

I dream that a tree of great significance is struck down by lightning. A bolt from above splays the giant tree in a star-like pattern. It is a numinous event which stops me in my tracks.  Before I can take in what’s happening, men come efficiently and quickly to buck up the tree into firewood. It all feels too fast and unfeeling, as if the grandeur of this loss isn’t being properly recognised.

One never imagines one can be struck down by lightning, but such as it is, disease is indiscriminate. An intervening force from nature shatters our deeply established way of life. It is swift and unforgiving, and everything we took as solid and reliable is splintered like a twig in an instant.

Sometimes, an efficient inner force wants to step in and make something useful of it all, turn it into “fuel for transformation.” But another, quieter voice urges us to stop. Don’t commodify this loss. Don’t be so hasty to make the events of heartbreak meaningful. Not before the magnitude of what’s been destroyed can be witnessed in its entirety.

In some interpretations of the Tower card, this crisis is also seen as liberation. In some way, what has been torn down was also a prison. And while our fall to the earth will result in incalculable suffering, there will be a new way to live on the other side of recovery. But please, let us not turn this heartbreak into something useful just yet. If we do, we will be tempted to walk in old ways. We will rely on tired words. We will make memes of ourselves. Easy, digestible phrases that fill a short term longing for solutions. 

Instead let us truly bear witness.  Let the fog of confusion obscure our clarity for a time. To not know how – or where – we’ll live. To be fumbling and full of grief, because what we always counted on has been struck from our horizon. And we may never be as magnificent again. 

Acknowledging this isn’t pessimistic, but rather grounding. Lightning and ground are collaborators, after all. Once you’ve been struck, you no longer live in the upper chakras alone, believing you are the creator of your reality. Or that some higher power is only benevolent, and rewards people for good. Instead you learn the paradoxical nature of life and death. 

With your nose in the dirt, you take inventory of what’s been lost, and what remains. Allowing what’s essential to reveal itself like a wild animal returning to its place of origin after a long exile. You realise that no matter how established and tall the tower was, it had fatal structural problems. A bolt of truth has revealed the injustice and inequality in the “tower way-of-life” and you won’t be able to envision a better world until you fully grieve the grandeur of our losses.

Yes, a new constellation in consciousness will emerge from this carnage, but we need to let ourselves be disoriented first. So let’s not rush the redemption. As Rumi puts it, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” Because in cleverness you rely on known ways of making the world, in bewilderment a new vision always, eventually, emerges.