Tarot 101, My Way – Major Arcana: The Tower and the Star

This is the classic “calm after the storm” scenario: the Tower topples the unsteady empire of the Devil and a soothing calm (and new hope) descends upon the ravaged landscape in the presence of the Star. There is nothing benign about the uncompromising Mars energy of the Tower; here is the “necessary” nature of the tarot at hurricane force, undoing what was done badly in order to enable a fresh start. In older decks it was often interpreted as the price paid for arrogance: God lays low the high-and-mighty with a single stroke. In our more secular times it suggests the inevitable demise of a poorly-laid foundation, often marital or financial. The only shelter from the Tower’s sweeping fury occurs when it is reversed, which suggests a “soft landing” for the expelled inhabitants, who appear to come down on their feet rather than their heads. The Tower has a well-deserved reputation for signifying accidents and other traumatic events, a steamroller that leaves nothing standing in its path. The victim is left rummaging through the rubble to see whether any sound bricks remain with which to rebuild. In psychological terms it can show a sudden revelation or (often) unpleasant epiphany, the “scales falling from one’s eyes;” the unmasking of a cheating or embezzling partner is a common outcome.

The advice of the Star is to raise one’s sights above the destruction and move toward the light, which can seem distressingly remote when standing at “Ground Zero.” The Star spells relief from worldly cares, but there is no guarantee to be found in idle dreaming. Waiting with outstretched hand for its largesse to fall from the heavens is a recipe for disappointment; it offers a signpost but not an effortless path to salvation. The yawning gulf between reality and redemption must be crossed with resolve and clarity of vision in order to make the most of the opportunity. It is usually read as one of the “good” cards, but it demands commitment to work its magic. Without clear-eyed self-examination and a purposeful stab at self-regeneration it can remain a distant hope. Shaking off the clinging debris from the Tower’s fall takes work. (I’m a firm believer in the “no free lunch” school of tarot interpretation; we only reap what we sow and nurture.)

The Major Arcana: Trump 16 – The Tower


Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Ambition, fighting, war, courage. In certain combinations, destruction, danger, fall, ruin.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Misery, distress, indigence, adversity, calamity, disgrace, deception, ruin. It is a card in particular of unforeseen catastrophe.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“Quarrel, combat, danger, ruin, destruction of plans, sudden death, escape from prison.”


This card depicts the demolition of anything in the life of the seeker that is blocking progress, emphatically but painfully clearing the way for new developments. It usually arrives abruptly and can feel like the “end of the world” until a measure of distance from “Ground Zero” is achieved. It is all-consuming for as long as it lasts (which usually isn’t overly long), and then gives way to recuperation. It has a “scorched earth” feel to it, implying a long road to full recovery. Cliches denoting sudden reversals, like “having the rug pulled out from under,” “having one’s legs kicked out,” “being blind-sided,” “being hit between the eyes” all have residency in the Tower. The challenge is to pick oneself up and soldier on in the face of bleak prospects for redemption. Many of life’s calamities come under the purview of the Tower: relationship break-ups, job terminations or demotions, serious accidents, violent encounters, anything of a threatening nature that can’t be successfully headed off or defused.

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The Major Arcana: Trump 17 – The Star


Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Hope, faith, unexpected help. But also sometimes dreaminess, deceived hope, etc.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Hope and bright prospects. Loss, theft, privation, abandonment.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“Hope, unexpected help, clearness of vision, realization of possibilities, spiritual insight; with bad aspects, error of judgment, dreaminess, disappointment.”


The Star is usually seen as a positive card of hope and inspiration, but a more useful interpretation may simply be “clarity of vision.” As an expression of “hope,” it is frequently too abstract and remote to be of much practical value, thus letting hope degenerate into “wishful thinking” unless some form of affirmation is promptly received. Waite’s dire negative pronouncements don’t square well with the other interpretations, except as they may be related to false or misplaced hopes and the resulting loss of enthusiasm and confidence. Taking the “long view” of the Star’s benevolent emanation and keeping hopes and wishes firmly in line with one’s reality are rational but not especially inspiring ways to handle its often faint whispers of the wonderful future ahead. The old political cliché “Trust but verify” has a lot to recommend it when navigating by the light of the Star.

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