The major Arcane of the Tarot, also known as the “Hermetic texts”, is comprised of 22 Universal Archetypes that operate simultaneously on multiple planes through the “creative process” conducted through the utilization of the 10 primary Universal Laws that govern all material manifestation. The first 11 principles involve the dissension of spirit into matter, and the second 11 illustrate the principles as “stages” in the process of transformation and ascension. The principle represented by the number “16”, also called the “lightning struck tower”, describes the dissolution of the material world that we have falsely constructed as “delusions” based on our formative conditioning and unbridled passions.
As we create an illusion of the material world, we simultaneously produce a “false image” of ourselves based on how we “identify” with our own illusions. This false image as an identification with our body and life circumstances forms what has traditionally been called the “ego”, or more accurately the “false ego”, because our “identity”, which is synonymous with “ego”, is created by our higher soul. As we begin creating imaginary realities through a story we start telling ourselves about what things mean and why, we sense ourselves through the experiences we create, and shape ourselves to be of the same nature.
We’re always the main character and author of our own life story. We create our “self” by how we create our “life experiences”. This “false reality built as an illusion” is represented by the principle of the “Devil” and the number 15, which signifies our lower, passionate nature and our false belief in the “outer appearance” of things, which are actually a façade. 16 represents the destruction of illusions, which is traumatic in nature and comes as a form of “death of the false self” that was built out of and sustained by the illusion, because we’ve also constructed our “self” out of the same illusion. So without the illusion to sustain us, we don’t know “who we are” anymore. When the illusion we built our life out of becomes apparent, so does the illusion we built our identity out of.
The Lightning Struck Tower
16 is represented by the Hebrew letter “Peh”, has a value of 80, and is one of 7 double letters (pair of opposites), and is ruled by Mars. It’s portrayed symbolically as a tower (castle) that sits alone on a pentacle shrouded in complete darkness, with no doors, and three windows that are high up. The tower is being struck by a bolt of lightning and a man and woman are falling from it headfirst into the abyss of the unknown. The tower is topped with a crown, and so is the woman, representing physical reality and the subconscious mind ruling over the self-conscious mind. The tower is constructed of 22 layers (22 principles of the Tarot), and the windows are arranged in a triangular shape, representing the Triad as the 3 aspects of the mind, soul, and reality.
The power associated with Peh is the “organ of speech” (similar to key 7), and the “mouth” as the organ we speak with that calls forth and defines our physical world. Like all double numbers, when we break it down to a single digit it provides us with a formula for not only understanding it more fully, but also for utilizing it in an intelligent manner. 1 + 6 = 7. Key 7 represents the power of the spoken word as our “will” which is how we call forth and structure our outer reality (word > world). Just as our own words and thoughts structure our existing world, they are also what we use as the means of transforming it.
The tower being destroyed by “light” is the manifestation of a world based on illusion that became a prison from which there was no escape (no doors). 1 is represented by the archetype of the “Magus” and the “art and science of architecture” as the “house” of the soul formed by whatever we consistently concentrate on. It’s the will made manifest through the spoken word as directed attention. We’re always using one aspect of our mind to communicate with the other aspects. As we “think” with our self-conscious mind using words, we’re actually instructing our subconscious mind on what to create as an outer reality.
The two figures falling from the top of the tower are the same ones represented in Key 6 of the “Lovers”, and represents the relationship between the subconscious and self-conscious in producing a unified reality. There’s no “door” in the tower, which is represented by Key 3 (Daleth), as the “fertile imagination”, and the means through which we transform our outer circumstances. It’s the doorway that connects the inner and outer as a continuation and extension of each other. We transform our existing outer reality by working on our inner representation of it using our imagination. The secret of the will lies in mastering our imagination.
On the Metatron Cube of Space, 16 represents a “place of darkness” (North) as ignorance maintained by a fear of the “unknown”. Mars rules Aries (Key 4), and Scorpio (Key 13), and is exalted in Capricorn (Key 15). When we put these together as principles that form a kind of “code for discerning”, we get the “death of an illusion that changes our constitution”. Our constitution is our character as our mental paradigm for creating our experience of our self as a reality. Mars signifies scientific observation (sight) and the force that destroys what is manifest in order to create something new in its place.
Words (as thought or speech) are “reproductive” and generate realities as their offspring. Our thoughts are expressed through our actions and form the basis for all of our activities. Thought is “action” on the higher planes, and as we think we become the manifestation of our thoughts. From a purely psychological application, this idea represents the destruction of habitual tendencies born out of our formative conditioning (subconscious training) and traditions as the activities that formed the initial foundation out of which we formed all of our illusions. The tower represents our “paradigm” (mental construct) which keeps us imprisoned by our own ignorance.
This is one of seven letters that have what’s called a “double pronunciation” as a “pair of opposites” that are complementary in nature. The pair of opposites active in 16 is “grace and sin”, or “beauty and ugliness”. All of the issues of life are directed by human speech as a manifestation of will, and ultimately result in one or the other. Sin = missing the mark, and results in maladjustment and ugliness, whereas Grace = hitting the mark, and results in the manifestation of that which is beautiful and harmonious. We form the basis for all of our life experiences through our thoughts, passions, and actions, and when used unconsciously our creation becomes our prison, whereas when they’re used with a higher form of self-awareness, become the means through which we liberate ourselves from our own delusions.
Red is the color associated with Mars, and is an “exciting intelligence” that produces change and facilitates transformation. In order to change our situation the illusion it was built out of has to be completely destroyed and its foundation reworked. When the structure we’ve built our life around become realized as delusions of our own making and fall apart, we become free of them through their destruction. As long as we maintain them on a false basis, we remain imprisoned by them. All material structures are organized, held together, and maintained through our continued belief in them and as what we give our life-force to in order to maintain them. When the physical form is destroyed, it “frees” our attention (consciousness) and will being used to maintain it, so it can be directed into other things.
This is the same process that liberates the soul from the illusion of the body at the moment of death. This symbolizes the “dark night of the soul” that follows the total destruction of an illusion that we built our life around and fashioned our identity out of. Its destruction casts us forcefully into the unknown where we “lose our identity” and no longer know who we are. This is the same process described as the “death of the false ego”, which is necessary in order to give birth to our “true self” in its wake. When we build our “self” as our soul out of material things, we render ourselves “mortal beings”, and our material identity “dies with our body”. The death of an illusion is the death of the false image created through that illusion.
The lightning represents the “Fire from Heaven”, and the tower is the “Tower of Babel” as the “house of God” that forms the exoteric structure of religious belief. Lightning destroys structures while electrifying and fortifying them. It charges water (the Primordial Substance) with new patterns as the seed of new life-forms. It symbolizes the spiraling force that “enters into” and energizes form from the inside in order to transform it into something new. The “Supreme Spirit” is the “god of the spiral force” that fertilizes the substance of life as an organized pattern based on the frequency of the charge emitted. It’s what “breaks down the material form” that imprisons the soul in order to liberate it from the ignorance of a false identity. This is the “shock” that “enlightens” the soul with the realization and connection to its higher power. This is the power that’s “drawn down” by the will of the Magus (Key 1) and to consciously create.
The power of will as the spoken word is represented by the “double edged sword” that cuts both ways. If we take the “s” off of the back of “words”, and place it on the front, we get “sword”. Speech as will is often depicted as a double edged sword coming out of the mouth as the tongue. The sword also represents the mind and the intellect as “thought”. The scepter or wand represents the “will” that’s used to direct the “spirit force”. This is analogous to the light streaming from the Hermits lantern as the “light of realization”, formed by a 6 pointed star. 6 represents equilibrium between the two minds of the material plane (Key 6) and between the higher and lower mind, symbolized by the guardian angel overseeing them.
This electric force breaks down existing forms as the means of transforming them into new ones. The soul is commonly represented as a “shape-shifter”. In the Qabalah a lightning flash is the symbol used to represent the 10-fold emanation of the Light-power. The Tree of Life is a system based on universal principles descending into form, and then being liberated from form as a process of transformation necessary in order to ascend. A “flash of inspiration” is what allows us to clearly see the truth. It breaks down the structures built on ignorance and false reasoning. This concept is represented by the garden of the Magus (will), the throne of the Emperor (constitution), the field of death (transformation), and the turning of the wheel of destiny (fortune).
The 2 people that are falling are the same ones chained to the chest of gold coins in Key 15 (Devil), and in Key 6 (Lovers), and represent the subconscious (feminine) and self-conscious (masculine) aspects of the same mind. The subconscious is the “root substance” which takes form first as mental images, and then as physical things, and is being transformed from moment to moment based on whatever qualities it absorbs and integrates to reform its energetic constitution. The subconscious is the Prakriti of the Hindus, and true knowledge makes Prakriti disappear, first as containing Purusha (identity), and then as separate from Purusha.
The woman is wearing the “crown”, the same one that tops the tower, and symbolizes the subconscious dominating or running the self-conscious, represented by the male figure of thought and action. When we create based on our conditioning, habitual thoughts, emotional reactions, and as the fulfillment of physical passions and the pursuit of pleasure, we’re enslaved by our own creations. The subconscious is motivated by emotions and passions, and when they’re allowed to dominate and run our thoughts, create reality as the expression of ignorance. We’re often completely run by our feelings and emotions instead of bringing them under the direction of our higher will. People often fail to realize they’re acting out of ignorance by saying “I can’t help it because it’s how I feel”. When our feelings and emotions are the basis for our decisions and actions, we create our life out of a fantasy. The domination of our personality by emotion and the “telepathic invasion” through a shared subconscious, is overcome by right knowledge and true self-awareness. The most prominent form of ignorance we all fall victim to come as a belief in the division of the two minds of the material plane (6).
The crown is being knocked off of the top of the tower, representing the false materialistic notion that matter and form are the ruling principles of existence. The icon of a “crown” represents “higher will”, and is commonly misunderstood as being something that’s personal and can therefore be set against the impulse originating in the cosmic purpose of Divine Providence. We often mistake will with being a power of our personality instead of our higher, human soul, and as a result, we try and create by working against our self. This is the same tendency we fall victim to when we don’t even realize or acknowledge both aspects of our own material mind. We commonly pose one aspect of our mind against the other one, usually without ever realizing that that’s what we’re doing. This is demonstrated by sayings that are often portrayed as good advice that tells us to “follow our heart instead of our head”. To deny our intellectual capacities in favor of our feelings and emotions, or vice versa, instead of realizing that all manifestation of a higher order comes through harmonizing all aspects of our self in creating the same thing.
The tower has 22 layers of masonry, built with white bricks that resemble moonlight. Bricks are made of “clay”, just as the human body is. The human body is made out of the 4 Elements as the substance of material existence. The windows of the tower are shaped into a triangle, representing the 3 aspects of the soul, mind, and reality. All material structures are built-up by human speech through the 22 principles that correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It sits on an isolated mound, representing the illusion of personal isolation which forms the basis for false philosophies and moral belief systems. There are 22 Yods falling from the electrified sky, 12 on one side, representing the zodiac, and 10 on the other representing the Tree of Life, and the forces that are analogous to them. 12 represents the archetypal principles that form the material world, and the 10 universal laws as the process necessary for creation and transformation. They’re suspended in the “air”, which is symbolic of the mind that precedes and determines physical existence and has no physical foundation.
This process of the “death of the false ego” is the second stage of spiritual unfoldment, and transpires through a dynamic series of sudden “flashes of inspiration and insights” that bring deeper realizations which reveal the illusion of personal existence as separateness as being a “false science” that’s born out of a delusion. At this stage of awakening our whole former philosophy becomes known intimately as an illusion based on residing in a predominately unconscious state and misapprehension. This is reality formed as a superficial observation of surface appearances (Key 15), memories acquired from our ancestors (genes), false reasoning, and an erroneous theory of will. Structures we form out of an illusion serve as our own prison, and when we mistakenly identify with being a body confined to a set of circumstances, the illusion of ourselves “die” with our body. It’s our own lack of self-awareness as a higher, immortal being with creative abilities that condemns us to a life of ignorance created out of an unconscious state.
The “shock” which we often perceive as being a tragedy or crisis of some kind, is what actually breaks us free of our own self-constructed prison, and often comes as what seems like “fate” that ultimately serves to break us free from a situation that we couldn’t break free from on our own. It’s the creative force that’s always transforming and evolving itself by taking on different forms. We often become complacent and comfortable in physical circumstances of our own making, and stop growing and evolving as a result. What seems like a “tragedy” that’s destroying their house is actually what’s breaking them free of their own unconsciousness. The fear of change commonly keeps us in an unproductive state where we stay in situations way to long and become a “product of them” as a result. We begin using our imagination to call forth and create the very thing we fear and only work constructively within the limitations they impose on us. We “become one with fear”, and shape our life as the expression of our fears.
All single numbers contain the full summation of the numbers it’s constructed out of, because all laws are systematically birthed out of the one that proceeds it which lays the foundation necessary for it to naturally arise as a growth process. The summation of numbers 1-6 provides us with the principles as the process for bringing about change as transformation. 1 = directed attention and focused concentration; 2 = Memory and emotion that creates from an unconscious state through automatic actions; 3 = creative imagination where we form pictures out of words and memories; 4 = our constitution as our character and mental paradigm; 5 = the connection to our higher-self and power of adaptation; 6 = bringing our 2 lower minds into a harmonious balance with each other; 7 = will as action and the unification of the inner with the outer. The bricks that are used as building blocks for material forms that house our spirit, is represented by the Hebrew letters LBNH. Letters form correspondences to numbers, and how something is spelled gives us clues as to their hidden meaning. L = Lamed = as universal justice or karma (the basis for unconscious creation); B = Beth = concentration of the spoken word that impregnates the imagination; N = Nun = death as the transformation of form that frees the spirit from the form; and H = Heh = constitution as the word made flesh.
Mars represents “war” as the energy of destruction that’s led and directed by thought and speech. It’s the destruction of fixed form by fire (will). In terms of our mind and soul, which is the “builder of our reality”, we have to destroy the old in order to build a new reality in its place. We have to take it out its roots, so it won’t grow again. In the Hindu pantheon, Shiva is the destroyer, and is symbolized by the 3rd-eye which acts as the receiver and transducer for higher knowledge. Perfection is only found in “nothingness”, and all manifestations, no matter how fond of them we are, are merely garments. In order to attain perfection, all “things” that we identify with and use to build our self-image out of, must be destroyed. We have to “die” to our “false image” in order to transform our material existence. We have to work to emancipate our soul from the prison of an organized life, which is formed out of habits and rituals that we cling to as “ignorance of our self”.
When the “eye of Horus” (Shiva) opens, it destroys the created universe, and we emerge into a whole new dimension. This idea is represented by the 3 windows and the presence of total darkness. Opening this “single eye” allows light to shine in where we can bath blissfully in its radiance. This idea is commonly symbolized by a “dove carrying an olive branch” and the serpent. The symbol of the serpent is represented by the lion serpent (Key 8) as the Xnoubis or Abraxass, as two primary forms of desire, the will to live and the will to die, both of which are feminine and masculine impulses that drive our instinctual impulses.
Love is the primary law that unites us with our own creation, but its love under the direction of will, and not what we commonly think of as the love of emotion. In all forms of Initiation, the love of ordinary and profane things, which is what most of us think of as love, has to be given up as the first step towards a higher ideal. In order to transform and ascend the material plane of illusion (maya), we have to form a deep love for truth and the spiritual wisdom of our Higher Self. This idea is clearly understood once we surrender our belief in duality and the separation of things, and instead view life and death as a single manifestation of the same energy as a full cycle.
This stage of spiritual awakening comes as a major life crisis that transforms us from the inside out. The veil obscuring the illusion falls away and we see reality with a brand new awareness that has a traumatizing affect and overwhelms us with a feeling of insecurity and not knowing what to do. We can’t go back to living a lie, yet we don’t know who we really are or how to move forward in creating our life from an entirely new identity. The slate is wiped clean, and the painting we thought was completed is now a blank canvas in front of us, empty and bare. Everything that we used to create ourselves before is no longer within our grasp, and we’re forced to create our self and our life in a whole new way. This stage of transformation is a turning point where we are either overcome by what we perceive as tragedy and misfortune, or we rise to the occasion with a new sense of self-awareness about things that’s invigorating, wide open, and filled with the potential for new possibilities. Total destruction of an existing illusion clears the way for a new creation formed out of a clear mind, open heart, and by seeing the true light of our own soul.
Dr. Linda Gadbois
Transpersonal Psychologist, Mind-Body Health Consultant, and Spiritual Teacher
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