Construction vs Cultivation: Why the Tower is not a tree

The Tower. It’s a card of clearing, of tearing down, of.....uprooting? I suppose this is why some decks (like the Wild Unknown and the Sasuraibito) portray the Tower as a tree being hit by lightning. But I take issue with this depiction for a very fundamental reason. The Tower isn’t something that’s grown, it’s something that we build.


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The Tower is an allusion to the Tower of Babel, which is itself a metaphor for, in many ways, intellectual hubris. Or, perhaps even more than that: it is a symbol of what we build when we rely solely on our own will, rather than inviting in the will of Divine—or, if you prefer less religious language, of Nature: it shows the folly of construction over cultivation.


“To build or to grow....here is the choice that every human being must make.” (‘Meditations on the Tarot’)


And the 16th Arcanum, the Tower, shows what happens when we have chosen the path of construction. “He who builds a tower to replace revelation from heaven by what he himself has fabricated will be blasted by a thunderbolt”. “[the thunderbolt is] the higher reality which makes all [that you have] devoted the best years of your life to appear vain. The tower [is] shaken, but the way of heaven [is] opened.”


Meditations goes on to say that there is “danger [in] the great misunderstanding of confusing the tower with the tree.” We, as human beings confronted with this choice of ‘building or growing’ tend to prefer the role of masons rather than gardeners. I mean, we like to think we’re in charge I suppose, and we want to think we know best/better. And so we build all sorts of towers in our lives; towers towards success and love and spirit. But this whole time we were supposed to be *gardeners*.


And so the portrayal of the Tower as a tree suggests that thunderbolts come for what has *grown*, and I just don’t think so. I think that’s what can make us cringe when we see this card come up, and can make it seem as though it’s suggestive of a chaotic universe. Thunderbolts come for the towers, not the trees. What we have in our lives as a result of “inner gardening” will not be struck down, for those things are in alignment.


The Tower is absolutely a positive card in that it *does* clear the way for us to begin to grow, but it is also brutal in its experience of humility. We can build towers that are so beautiful we cannot even recognize them for what they are. We can be masons with the best of intentions. But that is not our role here, in the 3rd line of the Major Arcana. We are meant to grow into our roles as gardeners.


(All quotes from ‘Meditations on the Tarot’ by anonymous)