This is the fifth article in our series about the esoteric meaning of the Major Arcana. In this article, we will examine the cards XVI – XVIII. The Tower, The Star, and The Moon. If you are interested in the previous cards, XII to XV, please click here.
16. THE TOWER
- Hebrew letter: Phe (double): The open mouth of man, as the organ of speech.
- Astrology: Mars
- Element: Fire
Keywords: Explosion, Destruction, Fall, Sudden change, Chaos, Revelation, Awakening
Arcana 16 shows a tower on the top of a mountain struck by lightning. It is a scene of destruction and complete disorder and confusion. The tower is burned and two human figures, one crowned and one uncrowned, are falling together with fragments of broken masonry.
The Tower signifies goals and ambitions, which like the Tower are built on faulty foundations and only a bolt of lightning is able to destroy them. The lightning represents a flash of truth or insight that leads to revelation. This destruction is necessary in order to clear out the old defective paths of thought and instead, create new, effective and stable ones. People want so much to escape this disaster that they jump out of windows without knowing what will happen next.
The first person is a crowned king wearing blue clothes, he is the owner of the tower and represents the subconscious mind. The other person is dressed in red, indicating his active powers and represents the constructor of the tower or the conscious mind. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot)
Notice that these two falling figures are fully dressed, which indicates that something happened suddenly. Thus in this card, we see the effects of sudden illumination, where both aspects of personal consciousness, Self-consciousness, and subconsciousness, undergo a reversal of opinion during awakening.
There are 22 flames hanging around them, divided in 12 and 10. The 22 flames as a whole, represent the Tarot cards of the major arcana and the powerful knowledge that they enclose (and their correspondence to the letters of Hebrew alphabet). The ten flames on one side of the tower represent the Qabalistic Tree of Life, which is the diagram of the ten basic aspects of the Life- power understood by man. On the other side of the tower, the 12 flames represent the twelve signs of the zodiac and the twelve basic types of human personality.
In addition, the flames hanging in the air reminiscent of an occult principle: The forces of life that enter into thought are also the forces that take form in all physical things. These forces have no physical basis. On the contrary, they are self-sustaining and they are the foundations of everything else.
Sudden change. Condensing attraction, radical egoism in action. Clearing away. Restrictive discouragement. Shock. Spirit imprisoned in matter. A vital structure from which the whole body arises. Surprise. Pride, presumption, pursuit of fancies. The materialism attributed to the coarse appearances, the greed to acquire, the mania for material wealth. Insatiable ambitions and appetites. Excessive conquests. Unreasonable exploitation. Narrow dogmatism, the source of disbelief. False alchemy eager for common gold. Punishment resulting from excess. Illness, disorganization, filth, hardening, putrefaction of all that was supple and living. Ruin of empires established and maintained by violent power. The collapse of intolerant Churches that proclaim themselves infallible.
17. THE STAR
- Hebrew letter: Tzaddi (simple): The fish-hook
- Astrology: Aquarius
- Element: Air
Keywords: Truth, Practical idealism, Immortality, Faith, Hope, Beauty, Purpose, Spirituality.
There is an obvious contrast between the scene of the disaster on the previous card and this peaceful image. Arcana seventeen depicts a young girl with seven stars above her, a large, radiant eight-pointed star surrounded by seven smaller, eight-pointed stars as well. She is nude and pours the water of universal life from two containers, irrigating sea and land, while kneeling at the edge of a small lake. With her right foot rests on the water and with the left kneels on earth.
The two containers represent the two personal modes of consciousness, self-consciousness, and subconsciousness. From the container in her right-hand falls a stream of water that creates a wavy motion in the lake, which represents the activity of subconscious mind. The other container, in her left hand, pours the water on earth and its stream divided into five parts, representing the five senses.
Accordingly, her left knee is on the ground representing her practical abilities while her right foot is on the water showing her spiritual abilities and intuition. Note that her body weight rests on her left knee, on earth, indicating the fact of physical existence.
Above her shines a large central star, surrounded by seven smaller stars. The main star has eight rays as a geometric correspondence to the eight spokes of the Wheel of fortune and represents the innumerable sources of energy of the universe. It brings to mind the star of Ishtar, the goddess of the Chaldeans and because Ishtar was associated with the planet Venus, the star is also known as the “Star of Venus” or the ” Morning Star”.
The seven smaller stars represent the chakras or the ” interior stars” of esoteric astrology. They are also eight-pointed to show their correspondence to the great star.
There is a small tree with an ibis (The Holy Ibis of Thoth) rests upon it. It is the symbol of immortality. Ibis, as the symbol of the soul, will survive the body (tree), which is only a place of trial. The mountain in the background represents the perfection of the Great Work, the final achievement of occult practice.
Arcana 17, expresses hope, eternal youth, and beauty. The woman is also a representation of truth, that’s why she is nude. (Also read: The Best Tarot Books For All The Occult Students)
Hope, vitality. Immortality. Ishtar. The woman who preserves and relieves the person who is overwhelmed by the struggles of existence. Life shared out among creatures. Soul binding matter to spirit. Nature in activity. Night and its mysteries. Sleep and its revelations. Destiny, predestination. The ideal which life strives to realize. Objective beauty. Aesthetics. The cult of the beautiful. The religion of life that sanctifies what is associated with it. The idealization of reality. Poetry, fine arts, music, sensitivity, refinement, tenderness, compassion. Adaptation to necessities. Easygoing character. Innocence. Youth. Charm, seduction, attraction. Confidence, resignation, fatalism. Astrology, astral influences, occult protection, intuition, premonitions.
18. THE MOON
- Hebrew letter: Qoph (simple): Back of the head (Sleep)
- Astrology: Pisces
- Element: Water
Keywords: Imagination, Appearances, Illusions, Intuition. Fear, Anxiety, Subconscious.
Arcana 18 depicts the Moon as a disc with 32 rays on which is outlined in profile a feminine face. There is a meadow with a path in the center, illuminated by the moon. The path, set between two large towers, leads away to the horizon. A dog and a wolf are howling at the moon, while a crayfish is climbing out of the water.
The Moon is a symbol of subconscious powers, imagination, and intuition. The yellow color indicates great strength in the material field, that’s why imagination, which is lunar faculty, helps in the materialization of the thoughts.
But Moonlight is weak compared to the sun, lightly illuminates the path to higher consciousness and barely helps in understanding the real essence of things. It is the light which illuminates the path of earthly life and leads us to recognize the error and reach the dawn of full light.
As we have already mentioned, the Moon has 32 rays, sixteen principal and sixteen secondaries, these represent the thirty-two paths of wisdom of Qabalistic tree of life. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot II)
There are two massive towers on either side of the path, forming a gateway. We can not see it in the image but maybe each tower is connected to a wall. This wall, with its two towers, indicates the limits of ordinary perception and sense. But it is not the final limit. There is a vast area of experience beyond towers, and the road leading to this area is open to all those who have the courage to follow it.
The first section of the path, from the lake to the towers, seems to be a cultivated area. This shows the field of our experience because it lies within the limits of ordinary perception and sense. Beyond this section the path continues in blue, this is the area that we can not have direct access at least at the current level of development. We may enter during meditation or sleep but the knowledge will be imperfect.
Note that the path has ups and downs, as a reference to the hermetic law of rhythm. Nevertheless, the path itself is a continual ascent. The path begins in a small lake that represents the subconscious mind, is the same lake as on cards 14 and 17.
A crayfish crawls out of the lake, an animal that uses its shell as a defense against any external attack. It symbolizes the early stages of consciousness unfoldment, where the student thinks that he is separate from the rest of nature.
On either side of the path, there is a dog and a wolf howling at the moon. Both are animals of the same genus. The dog symbolizes the tamed aspects of our mind and the wolf the wild aspects of our mind. But both represent our fears in the presence of that place of exit where there is only reflected light to guide us.
Objectivity. External appearance. Unnecessary fear. Visible form. Hidden enemies. What comes within our senses. Illusions of materiality. Danger. Sorcery. Imagination, whims, fads, fantasies, exaggeration, errors and prejudices, mental laziness, credulity, superstition. Indiscreet curiosity, false knowledge, the art of the visionary. Intellectual passivity, impressionability of the imagination, clairvoyance. Self-criticism. Sea voyages, navigation, long and difficult research. Work exacted. Material slavery. Ambiguous situation. False security, perils, traps. Flattery, deception, vain threats.
- Arthur Edward Waite, “The Pictorial Key To The Tarot” 1911 (aff.link)
- Oswald Wirth “Tarot of the Magicians” 1927 & 1985 (aff.link)
- Paul Foster Case “Introduction to Tarot” 1922 (aff.link)
- Papus “The Tarot of the Bohemians” 1896 (aff.link)