Be the Bolt: Transforming Tarot’s Trump, The Tower

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that The Tower is probably the single most feared and reviled card in the entire Tarot deck. Although the prevailing attitude among many Tarot experts would have us take the high road and tow the party line that no Tarot card is inherently negative, and even when there’s no avoiding a negatively polarized interpretation, we’re supposed to look for the silver lining, The Tower is probably the card that provides the strongest challenge to taking this glossy perspective.

The reason for this is easy to understand when one grasps the more spiritual overtones to its meaning. On a mundane level, this card signifies the thorough and merciless destruction of essentially all the querent knows and holds dear by means of a sudden, usually unforeseen, external disaster. Spiritually, this destruction is so complete, attacking circumstances so fundamental to one’s entire way of being in the world, that the calamity bleeds into one’s internal life, taking the very ego along with it. The Tower can signify an attack on one’s sense of self.

This means that if The Tower were a card in some kind of fantasy table game, its damage level would rival that of even the Death card. While Death very rarely signifies an actual death, even if it did, the fate faced by the recipient of The Tower is arguably worse still. If you die, that’s it, the show’s over; but after one experiences The Tower, one is left alive to crawl out of the wreckage and pick up the pieces, and isn’t offered the luxury of a permanent respite. This is pretty bad news no matter how optimistic you are. The Death card can also signify deep personal change that can be challenging; the chief difference, in my experience, is that the process signified by Death is often one that unfolds more gradually, and is also often one that follows naturally from previous circumstances. In this sense, it is often a change the querent can see coming anyhow, as unpleasant as it may seem (much like the physical death we will all one day face). The Tower, on the other hand, comes out of nowhere and doesn’t waste any time shaking things up. Its damage is done by the time you have any inkling of what is occurring.

Call me crazy (or maybe just a first-degree Aries Sun-sign native with Sagittarius Rising—woot woot!), but this is probably my favorite Tarot trump. Part of me gets giddy when I turn it over. The feeling I get is similar to the rush as I’m about to board a terrifying roller-coaster. If disaster is inevitable, after all, you might as well welcome it. Resistance to the prevailing tide of destruction is what will really ruin you if you draw this card. I speak from experience.

It’s probably a highly-mitigating factor that my life has fallen down around my ankles more times than I can count, and yet I am still breathing and closer to fulfilling my wildest dreams than ever before. I credit that last point to my willingness to play the hand I’ve been dealt every time this archetype has threatened to consume my life. I’m not bragging here, but I am hoping this enthusiasm proves infectious, especially once I flesh out my perspective on this card.


As far as I’m concerned, when this card comes up and it rings true, there are up to two viable options, though I will readily acknowledge that the latter option isn’t always on the table. When it is, however, I advocate taking it, hands-down, over settling for the first option.

First, the advice I see most commonly boils down to “roll with the punches.” That is, you immediately begin the process of letting go of whatever it is that has been or is being torn down, and surrender to the current in which you’re swept up. From a rational standpoint, nothing else seems sane at all, because clinging to something that has just been pulverized is basically asking for added misery. Drop the dust and move on. More than this, find a way to turn things around into a positive outcome.

This is easier said than done, but just think about it: How many of us have dreams set aside that we would be working diligently toward if not for the fact that getting there would involve sacrificing some fundamental aspect of the life we know? I think of the age-old trope of the kid who wants to run away to join the circus, but turns back when he gets a taste of what the real-life version of his fantasy entails, or after realizing that she will dearly miss her sometimes-frustrating family members. “If only my life were totally different, I could be living a totally different life!” Even moving from abject misery into an ideal situation can be a challenging prospect when the magnitude of the change comes into focus; leaving what we know is hard. Remember, this card is also about destruction of the ego, and that is never easy–but if the lightning has already struck and you’re facing some kind of stark change no matter what you do, you’ve just lost all of those excuses for why you can’t achieve _________.

As preachy as it may sound, breaking down the old is what makes room for the new. When your Tower falls, why spend loads of time and energy building an exact replica in its place? Make some improvements! Once you get over the shock, the resulting rush of liberated energy can be very empowering. Make use of it! This is why I salivate when I see the card: I can’t help but stand in awe at what looks to me like a window of opportunity trimmed with pure potential. It seems contradictory, but that moment of chaos after a total wreck is often the most powerful moment we’ll ever experience. Don’t let such an opportunity go to waste. Necessity is the mother of all invention, including and especially self-reinvention.

There is another option that sometimes presents itself, affording us the chance to go a step further, but it involves a change in perspective.

The Tower carries an air of victimization, and is usually interpreted as something that “happens to us.” It is worth reminding ourselves that every single symbol in a Tarot card is important, and each one potentially represents the querent. When we reflect on any image of The Tower, we most commonly identify either with the people falling from its collapsing frame, or with The Tower itself.

What happens when you identify with the lightning bolt that is responsible for the wreckage?

As I’ve mentioned, the trigger event represented by The Tower is usually shocking and sudden. Nevertheless, part of the value of consulting the Tarot at all is to give us a glimpse of what may be coming down the pike—so if you’re fortunate enough to get this card in a position that correlates with events yet to come, you have time to prepare. Even when this is not the case, we often have just enough time to think on what is happening to us to intelligently formulate a course of action. The fact remains that even in the best of circumstances, the only way to get ahead of change like this is to be its agent—be the bolt! If you can, take an active role in the destruction, view it as a healthy purging process, and this will give you the best possible chance to steer the outcome to your advantage. A spirit of eagerness helps here, but if you can’t muster that, it’s understandable; do it anyway, even if you have to make The Sign of the Cross beforehand.

How does this look in practice? Well, don’t take this too literally. Let’s say the big change is the sudden onset of a loved one’s death throes—I’m not saying you should kill them yourself to expedite things and get a head-start on the change. If you lose your job, I’m not suggesting you burn your bridges with colleagues or go postal. However, if your house is being foreclosed on, you might as well get some boxes and start packing—and while you’re at it, get rid of some junk you don’t really need. Think of ways to downsize, as it’s a lot easier to move and establish a new residence with fewer belongings to cart around. Maybe the lightning bolt doesn’t totally level your Tower, but the next Tower you have in mind involves a new wing where the remnant of a wall currently stands—might as well go with the established momentum and bulldoze it!

Take a look at relationships—which of your friends are supportive and which ones ignore your plight? Take a look at habits—which ones have been serving you lately, and which ones haven’t?

Take a look at your mental view of life—is it helping you advance, or is it holding you back?

The fear response can make us cling to whatever bricks in our lives might still be intact. There is a temptation to minimize the change you’re being put through, and sometimes it’s wise to do this—but sometimes, it’s wise to address a few “bricks” that the lightning bolt missed and finish the job yourself. You may find that certain aspects of your life that are peripheral to the damage aren’t in your best interest, and while these things might have been hard to let go of before, some of them might slip away easily in the midst of the ongoing crisis. Disasters have a way of putting into perspective that which is really important. You may be so happy to have “made it out alive,” so-to-speak, that you will happily make adjustments to ensure a brighter future where “business as usual” would have seen you complacent and inactive.

Do temper your actions, and don’t lash out at what might prove to be an important cornerstone in the new ediface you’re building—but don’t let the shock of a crisis push you into regression or stagnation. Change is here—work with it!

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