Tore Down

Texas bluesman Freddie King once wrote a song titled Tore Down with the refrain “I’m tore down, almost level with the ground.” This is a near-perfect expression of the customary take on the Tower card when it appears in a reading: a cautionary glimpse at some kind of calamitous “accident waiting to happen.” In my own practice I usually follow this convention in principle while trying to look past the presumed trauma to the “next step,” ideally an opportunity to build something better on the ruins, and last year I wrote an  essay on this more common view of the card.

However, near the end of my post I mentioned Alejandro Jodorowsky peculiarly refreshing notion that the Tower should be welcomed as a cause for celebration since it represents an epiphany or sudden “lightning bolt” of realization that delivers liberation from constricting conditions or thought-forms. Depending on how badly we need “redemption,” the Tower could even be considered a fortunate card. He suggested so-called “traditional” keywords that steer well clear of the dire consequences normally ascribed to its action: Liberation; Explosion of Joy; Dance; Great Burst of Energy; Revelation; Breaking Boundaries; Illumination. Needless to say, it can be difficult to convince querents of this more upbeat alternative when they’re looking at an image of a blasted structure with anguished human figures falling from it and trying to get their heads around the necessity for its appearance in their lives.

I considered Jodo’s opinion to be an isolated case of exaggerated optimism until just recently, when I read Paul Huson’s remarkably similar observations in The Mystical Origins of the Tarot. Huson’s commentary on the Tower is more historical than mystical but covers much the same ground. He notes that, with the advent of the “Marseille-style” decks in France in the 17th century, the structure in the picture took on the appellation  “God’s House,” with the assumption that the divine lightning is shown striking down the prideful arrogance of the tower’s residents.

Huson mentions that the earlier Italian decks display what might more accurately be called the “Devil’s House,” following as it does the Devil card in the usual sequence of trumps. Tearing it down and expelling its denizens is a step toward emancipation from the bondage of compulsively self-defeating behavior that has become entrenched to the point that no other remedy will suffice. The idea of God taking a punitive swipe at the Devil’s domain seems logical since it clears the way for renewed “hope” with the auspicious Star up next. It may still be a tall order to convey this sobering message to my clients with a positive spin, but at least it provides a more compelling argument for swallowing the Tower’s unpleasant “medicine.”

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