The Tower

Earlier today, I Instagrammed about the Haindl Tarot’s version of the Tower, the Tarot Trump traditionally numbered 16. The usual Tower shows a quasi-medieval building at he moment lightning blasts off its roof. A man and woman are falling, presumably blown out of one of the upper floors.

The Tower, from the Handle Tarot

The Haindl version, on the other hand, is a lot sparser whilst presenting a far more dramatic, modern rendering. In fact, it looks like a skyscraper out of a sixties science fiction magazine. The Hebrew letter on the upper left of the Card is Peh, usually translated as ‘mouth‘. Many commentators (including Haindl’s collaborator, Rachel Pollack) see this as an ironic association on the Tower with the Biblical Tower of Babel, a tower built to reach to the heavens which Yahweh (easily affronted) demolished. At that time, the story says, mankind had one language. After the disaster of the Tower, everyone spoke with a different tongue – a babelogue.

I also see the Tower as an outpouring of energy, often repressed energy. The Handle version works well for this, showing the origin of the explosion as internal to the devastated skyscraper (perhaps some sort of nuclear fusion? Or a miniature singularity of the kind that drives starships in space operas?). Prior to the Tower, the sequence of the Major Arcana offers many warnings about repression of all kinds – intellectual, sexual -and the risks of failing to maintain a proper balance in one’s life. Think of the tension of the Chariot with its wheels heading in contrary directions. Or the Devil, notoriously presented in the Thoth deck as a rather phallic tower in its own right. And the phallic element of the Tower shouldn’t be ignored (though it equally shouldn’t be overstated).

Depending on the surrounding cards, the Tower is either a warning to deal with rising tensions or an indication that some sort of explosion is imminent and quite possibly unavoidable. It can also appear after the event, suggesting that a necessary (if drastic) release of energy has taken place and that the questioner now has no choice but deal with the consequences. The many colourful banners surrounding the explosion wrenching apart the Haindl’s version of the Tower also reinforce the idea that, hard though it may be to accept at the time, this kind of drastic upset in one’s life might be very much for the best in the long term. One should also contemplate the Star, the card that traditionally follows the Tower, a card of clarity, purity and optimism. And one unique aspect of the Haindl Tower is the suggestion that what is actually happening in the depths of the image is the birth of a star.

Note: I should say something about the rune lurking in the upper right of this card. Pollack identifies it as ‘Err’ and doesn’t provide a translation but instead relates it to the symbol used for the European Peace Movement (The Haindl Tarot Vol 1, 1990). Alternately, R.I. Page (An Introduction to English Runes, 1973, 1999), the great authority on English (or Anglo-Saxon) runes names it ‘kalc’ and relates it to the letter ‘k’. Calc most likely means chalk, he says. However, he provides two further alternatives in the Old English ‘loan word’ calic, translated as cup (chalice?) or slipper. One might make a case for relating the idea of a chalice to the tradition yoni/lingam imagery associated with the Grail but that would require a deeper dive into the Haindl and the possibility of its Wagnerian heritage than I have time or space for right now!

The Hermit

The figure of the Hermit has fascinated me for a very long time, from years before I encountered Tarot, in fact. My first encounter would have been the inner sleeve of Led Zeppelin IV (aka Four Symbols), where a tiny figure at the very bottom of a steep, rocky crag is struggling to reach a bearded and hooded sage holding a lantern whose glow forms the shape of a six-pointed star. At the age of 13, I’d yet to encounter the Tarot or Pamela Colman Smith or Aleister Crowley but I was pretty sure that something was going on here. 

The Hermit crops up in all manner of iconography. There’s a definite echo in Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World’ or Dumbledore in his tower, Gandalf wrapped in his grey cloak, Yeats in his Martello ready to “crack his wits” night after night, Caspar David Friedrich and his ‘The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog‘. Or even Yoda!

It has to be said, though, that it’s a very male archetype, the sorcerer secluded in a high img_9619place with his books and lofty insights. Women of power tend to gravitate to one another. Witchcraft, after all, is a much more social business than the solitary necromancer and his browning parchments. But a key part of the Hermit’s power is that sense that he is coming from a high place with hard-won gifts of insight and knowledge. 

The original could be seen as Moses who certainly operated from a place apart from the rest of the Israelites. From his birth to his death, he lived on a curious boundary between the secular and the divine. He was undoubtedly a wizard of some kind, able to turn his staff to a serpent and back again. And, of course, he spoke in a high place with the God of the Israelites, the challenging, intemperate Yahweh of the Old Testament. 

The Tarot Trumps’ Hermit has the number nine and is the tenth card in the sequence. If the traditional arrangement of the Major Arcana is a kind of life’s journey from birth through material success to a deeper kind of spiritual travelling, then the Hermit is on the cusp of that change, situated just before the life change indicated (recommended?) by the Wheel of Fortune. The Hermit isn’t about speculation – his is a path of learned insight into one’s situation. His message is to step back and ask “What now?” When the Hermit appears in a spread, I look for evidence of a lesson that someone either needs to learn or finally has time to take on board. The card is also often seen as heralding the appearance of a teacher or some other provider of wisdom. Reversed, it could mean the wrong teacher or a delay in the right teacher appearing or, more simply, “Not yet.”  If the questioner is looking at a change of career, the Hermit could suggestion a period of solitariness as an inevitable part of that. But the Hermit is also a promise. The lantern he carries is a spark of the divine, of your or my immortal spirit. It’s shaped like a star to remind us that we are indeed star-stuff – of the stars – and will eventually, albeit as part of a cycle of billions of years, return to the stars.