Arcanum XVI, The Tower

The Tower as depicted in the Ancient Druid tarot


Esoteric Titles:
The House of God
The Hosts of the Mighty
The Tower of Babel

16th century illustration of a comet as a portent of disaster

As already mentioned in the former Arcanum, 15. The Devil, the 16th card of the Tarot sequence, often called the “Lightning Struck Tower”, has some symbolic bearing on the apocryphal Fall of Man and the “Apocalyptic End of the World”. However, the card is often dreaded and is regularly misunderstood as an ominous portent of some serious disaster to come. True enough, perhaps on a purely mundane level it signifies an imminent catastrophe, or severe and inevitable separation, but it also denotes illumination or some divine revelation. In my own design of the Tower I have chosen to represent it as a Lighthouse, the mythological idea being expressed is that the dark forces overcome the light and at the Winter Solstice the Light is reborn (“I am the Way, the Truth and the Light”). The outdated, old and redundant religious or political hegemony is replaced by a new revelation, social liberation or new order. Likewise, Darkness and Light are essentially interdependent elements, this idea is symbolically represented in a variety of cultural and religious themes throughout history. In ancient Egypt it represented the cycle of Osiris, Horus and Seth. In ancient Greek mythology the child Zeus is born in a cave and later overcomes his rival Typhon. Similarly, within the Celtic tradition the poet is born, dies, achieves immortality and is then finally resurrected. Of the 28 sacred trees Ngetal (Reed) is the Birth, Straiffe (Blackthorn) is the Crucifixion, and Quert (Apple) is the Transformation or “Gift of the Goddess” –(Immortality). On the tree of life, the ziggurat path of the lightning bolt – discharged by Zeus on Mt. Olympus in Greek myth, follows a sequence of planets which in Orphic doctrine parallels the descent and ascent of spiritual consciousness through nine planetary spheres.

This sequence is as follows:

The Tower is none other than the 27th path (Peh – a mouth) which links the sphere of Yod (Splendour) with that of Netzach (Victory). It therefore reconciles one negative aspect with a positive one on the Tree of Life. The reference to a mouth expresses the notion of direct revelation and the numerous tongues spoken at the Tower of Babel, ie; the action of literally “Babblin’ on”, scriptural or doctrinal contradictions as occurred in the land of Babylon and in Alexandria. The study of linguistics informs us that human language is ostensibly “nonsense” and no language supports a universally accepted grammar, except perhaps the language of music which can speak directly to every soul, heart and mind. In other words as unique and sophisticated Esperanto can be it never really was accepted as a universal language. Therefore sound, and its symbolic significance is being exalted to that of a primordial tongue which can literally shake our foundations. It counsels also that prophecy or direct revelation of God can occur without any warning or prolonged adherence to any type of religious training, asceticism or lavish ceremony. In ancient Greece this idea was thoroughly understood, so that some people were considered to be “Living Oracles”, as in the case of Delphi and could, if needs be, tune into their inner voice. Moreover, it suggests in fundamental Christian terms that great catastrophes are in effect the judgement, voice or wrath of God demonstrating his displeasure or retribution on mankind. Whereas there are some things in life that do not change fundamentally, the march of progress ensures that a change is indeed possible and necessary.

“The Enchanted Isle” (The Tempest) Peh

The gardens of the Palace of Versailles saw their first grand fête in May 1664, entitled the “Pleasures of the Enchanted Island”

The image and symbolism of Arcanum XVI, the Tower parallels a time when the theatre manager, James Burbage financed and constructed a dodecagonal theatre and soon after became a major shareholder in what was named ‘The Theatre’ at Shoreditch (1576). Much later the jobbing actor, William Shakspere became a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1587). Although Burbage owned the building, when the ground lease came up for renewal the landowners refused to grant it to Burbage because of crowd disturbances and street riots. Consequently, the Theatre at Shoreditch was then completely dismantled and relocated by his sons Richard and Cuthbert Burbage south of the river and renamed The Globe, Bankside in 1598 where the actor Shakspere acquired a 10 percent share in it. The first play to be staged there at the Globe was Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” a year later in 1599. Prior to that James Burbage had also bought the lease from Richard Farrant who held it from 1576 for the Blackfriar’s Theatre shortly before his death in 1596 although players were banned from inner London by the Lord Mayor. Soon after a petition begun by Elizabeth Russell, the Dowager Countess of Bedford, signed by local residents actually succeeded in banning plays being staged there (See “Shakespeare’s Nemesis”). This being the same time that the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, having personally experienced the world of street theatre (Commedia d’elle Arte) returned from his European tour, and poured large investments into the theatrical revival of London to match and emulate that of Venice, investing for example in the prestigious second Blackfriar’s Theatre with a private licence as patron of the Children of the Chapel and Oxford’s Boy players. It seems that Queen Elizabeth 1st had just awarded the Earl an annuity of £1,000 pounds to generate plays and poetry about England’s glorious historical past which led to the early histories, then comedies and tragedies attributed to the “Pseudonymous William Shake-speare”. She awarded a royal patent to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1603 to perform plays in the theatres outside the Lord Mayor’s jurisdiction. The thatched roof was replaced by tiles after a fire was started on the roofing thatch from the fireworks which were let off to resemble canon fire on June 29th, 1613 at a performance of “King Henry the Eighth”.

A contemporary artist’s impression of the interior and exterior of the Globe Theatre, London

Among the most significant watershed events that took place around that time were the Essex Rebellion initiated or led by Sir Robert Devereaux (February, 1601), the eventual death of Queen Elizabeth 1st after a long reign of 44 years (1603), the formal succession of King James 1st and the inevitable Gunpowder Plot in 1605 by Catholic conspirators Robert Catesby and Guido Fawkes. The topical allusions in the play “Richard IIIrd” reflect the attempts of the Earl of Essex to fill an unacceptable power vacuum (as the character Saturninus does in “Titus Andronicus”), while in the play “Anthony & Cleopatra” Cleopatra’s suicide, born out of sheer vanity alludes to the English Queen’s own death probably through using lead-based cosmetics over a very long period of time. The newly constituted order was of course the reign of King James 1st which might have been blown apart had not the timely actions of Sir Thomas Knyvett and the publication and circulation of the Monteagle letters that informed Protestant agents of the plot. Thomas Knyvett intercepted and arrested Guido Fawkes at the eleventh hour on the night of the 4th of November, 1605. The remainder of the conspirators were also arrested, tried, found guilty and were hung, drawn and quartered in the most gruesome manner possible such were the severity of their crimes.

An early 17th century engraving depicting the execution of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators

Although often known under the revised or alternative title of “The Enchanted Isle” (coined by William Davenant) the play of the “Tempest” can readily be attributed to the Tarot card of the Tower. Largely because it features the Count of Milan, who after his untimely demise, when his brother takes over his role in Italy he has exiled himself, along with his daughter on a remote island; and from there he attempts to restore his dominion and sovereignty on the island by the use of “angel magic”. The play parallels the need to overcome an ensuing and probable disaster by dramatic and immediate actions, to reject the conventional wisdom and act decisively in order to establish a new regime or existential freedom. Furthermore, the play of “The Tempest” has often been associated with early English colonialism and those voyages to the North Americas and the West Indies because it features a “sea-witch”, Sycorax, her monstrous feral son, Caliban, a supernatural entity, Ariel and a ship wreck. In contrast to Christopher Marlowe’s play, “Dr. Faustus” which deals with the use of magic to gain merely material or physical advantage while Shakespeare’s character of Prospero has been defined as a legitimate “Neo-Platonic White Magician” or Magus. It was rumoured at the court of Queen Elizabeth that Edward de Vere was a practising Rosicrucian magician and a 28th degree Freemason having recieved his education from none other than Dr. John Dee, who together with Sir Walter Raleigh planned to establish a commonwealth and a colony near the Elizabeth Islands named after the Sovereign (Virginia Colony). Naturally, many adventurers were attracted by the thought of easy gains and a chance to escape the limitations of Tudor England, among them being the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley who sailed there in 1609 in de Vere’s ship “The Edward Bonaventure”, at the time when “Shake-speare’s Sonnets” were being published with a dedication to him:

It would appear that an encrypted message is concealed within this set of words which was deciphered by Alexander Waugh in 2019 (the grandson of the author Evelyn Waugh). However, Henry Wriothesley (Mr. W.H) was himself ship-wrecked after encountering a fierce and dramatic storm in which the ship was lost although he and the crew were saved. The well-known “Shakespeare” play, “The Tempest” was probably written soon after to commemorate and celebrate his safe return to England.

Divinatory Meaning of this Card:

The Blasted Tower is struck by a devastating thunderbolt aimed directly at its crown, this image reflects the crisis of Prometheus and the retaliation of mighty Zeus – the Lord of Mt. Olympus.

Hebrew Single Letter PEH a mouth, tongue, opening of a bag, orifice, by word of mouth, to speak, breathe, vibrate, blow, blast, scatter, disperse, split apart, partition, a spiral lock of hair, edge of a sword, cutting edge, teeth.

The 27th path connects the sphere of Yod (Splendour-Mercury) with that of Netzach (Victory-Venus) from the left to the right hand side of the Tree of Life. In Tarot symbolism it is known as the “Quickening Intelligence” and forms one horizontal side of the Astral triad. Astrologically, it denotes the sphere of Venus acting through Mars upon the planet Mercury. Therefore, it links aspects of love or affection to action and of course the mental faculties of speech or communication. The path is linked to the Tarot card 16. The Tower or House of God, symbolically suggesting the Biblical Tower of Babel, built by human beings to exact their retribution upon God for the disasters on Earth that he failed to intervene in, prevent or totally avert. It only illustrates the inevitable folly of those who believe in an all-powerful creator in order to gain his support or favour for some personal or selfish motive. The disasters wreaked upon mankind may be the result of a natural disturbance or the affect of their own actions and much less to do with some benevolent creator. However, it is easy for the primitive mentality found in early civilisations to regard disasters as a form of wrathful vengeance, perverse interference or playfulness on the part of some superior intelligence. However, ultimately human beings can learn quite a lot from the unexpected cataclysms or natural disasters that take place, not only about themselves but the world in which they live, their neighbours and friends. Indirectly, the path also suggests the lightning, ziggurat path of the activating, exciting and stimulating energy of kundalini – the serpent power. In this sense therefore and esoterically it indicates how outworn impressions, superstitious, old-fashioned ideas and false beliefs are an obstacle in the path of the true initiate. That is the reason why tall isolated and impregnable towers of stubborn resistance are destroyed by the so-called “acts of God” so that a new and more enlightened vision or tradition may be embraced.

Positive: New insights, dramatic upheavals in work/residence unexpected and wide-spread repercussions, freedom from restrictive obligations.

Negative: Sudden collapse or psychological depression, despair or confusion. Imprisonment/release – Chaos/New order.

SPHERE: The Activating Intelligence Peh – A Mouth
Astrological: Uranus Aquarius The 11th House.
Constellation: Monoceros – The Unicorn
Sacred Gemstone: Lodestone or Lava

“We all love Shakespeare, whoever he was…”

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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,