Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Shake, Rattle, & Roll


A shudder in the loins engenders there the broken wall, the burning roof and tower and Agamemnon dead. --William Butler Yeats
I blithely mentioned three of the most shocking Major Arcana cards over here, and I’ve touched on The Devil and Death, so here's the other one: The Tower. This one is probably more unwelcome than the others, if you can even believe that. Mostly because it represents the type of experience that not only is painful but sudden. It’s not the reluctant acceptance of a relationship you’ve seen coming to an end but didn’t want to face it, as with Death. It’s not that you’ve known you shouldn’t have been visiting all those online gambling sites and have been watching your credit bills slowly rise, as in the Devil. The Tower indicates a sudden shock, a “bolt out of the blue,” that sends you reeling and gasping for breath. This is the telephone call in the middle of the night, the stock market crash, the police knocking on your door, the discovery of your lover in bed with another. This is the sucker punch to the gut card and when it shows up in a spread, your chest clenches and you can’t help but panic a little and cry, “What now?!”. Or it could be your washing machine breaks when you don’t have money to buy a new one, so you have to readjust your lifestyle to collecting quarters and hauling clothes to the coin-operated laundromat. “Oh?” you say, as you poke your head out from under the table, “Is that all? Whew!”
This image of the Tower is from the Tarocchi Durer by Giacinto Gaudenzi (Published by Lo Scarabeo © 1990) . It's a Majors-only deck drawn as a tribute to Albrecht Durer in a very similar style as Durer's engravings. The blast is a bolt of lightning out of the blue which explodes the tower from within, creating havoc, destruction, and loss. What a mess.

Over at The Hermitage Tom Tadfor Little has written up a really good page on the History of the Tower Card and he brings up a very interesting point. Apparently none of the early expensively made decks, those commissioned by people with the money to do so, come down to us with a Devil card intact and few with the Tower. While the church objected to the depictions of the Pope and Papesse cards of the tarot, it appears the nobility wasn’t too comfy with depictions of vice, greed, and the destruction of castles. Apparently tarot has always had a knack for making everyone fidget in their seats in one way or another.

The main thing about the Tower is it signals the disruption and even destruction of things that you thought were solid. The more comfortable we become in our “castles,” the more complacent we become, the less connected we are from others and from what is really important in our lives. We begin to believe the illusions of safety and security that we’ve built and start taking some very valuable things for granted. A Tower moment, though rarely welcome, unless it’s happening to someone you dislike very much, brings into sharp and sudden focus those things we thought indestructible and safe, and subsequently presumed too much upon.

On September 11, 2001, the people of the United States, who had not seen external aggression in their own land since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, watched helplessly as two towers in New York were intentionally attacked, exploded, and crumbled to the ground. The World Trade Center had been built specifically to resist the occasional wayward airplane from La Guardia, an earthquake, and hurricane-force winds. It symbolized capitalism and with it the life we know and understand: work, trade, making money, investing, an icon that all those living here believed to be permanent. The image of The Tower in the Haindl deck, first published in the 1980's, many years before the World Trade Center destruction, is eerie in its similar depiction of such an event. While the aftershocks of the disaster were many, a prevailing theme seemed to echo around the country brought about by the victims’ and survivors’ last moment calls on cell phones to their friends and families to say, “I love you.” For a long time afterwards we found ourselves hesitating on doorsteps and at the ends of phone calls just to say, “Hey…I love you.” Therein lies the effect of The Tower. It causes us to reflect on and appreciate more the things, the people, the relationships and the mundane daily blessings we often take for granted.

Most often The Tower isn’t nearly so devastating as 9/11, obviously. However, no matter how seemingly small the event may be, it serves the purpose of shaking loose that which has been built on a false sense of security. While no one should say the event itself was a “blessing,” not even a “blessing in disguise,” because it really bugs me when people try to pretty up nasty events and experiences with that kind of talk, what emerges in the aftermath is a deeper sense of what is truly important to you and how you’ve been missing out due to your own preoccupation with other, less important things. As a result, priorities, the foundation of our lives, are shifted, as we set to work building yet another tower, but…lesson learned. Well, we can hope, right?
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