by Arthur Edward Waite, originally published 1910.
Occult explanations attached to this card are meagre and mostly disconcerting. It is idle to indicate that it depicts min in all its aspects, because it bears this evidence on the surface. It is said further that it contains the first allusion to a material building, but I do not conceive that the Tower is more or less material than the pillars which we have met with in three previous cases. I see nothing to warrant Papus in supposing that it is literally the fall of Adam, but there is more in favour of his alternative—that it signifies the materialization of the spiritual word. The bibliographer Christian imagines that it is the downfall of the mind, seeking to penetrate the mystery of God. I agree rather with Grand Orient that it is the ruin of the House of We, when evil has prevailed therein, and above all that it is the rending of a House of Doctrine. I understand that the reference is, however, to a House of Falsehood. It illustrates also in the most comprehensive way the old truth that “except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”
There is a sense in which the catastrophe is a reflection from the previous card, but not on the side of the symbolism which I have tried to indicate therein. It is more correctly a question of analogy; one is concerned with the fall into the material and animal state, while the other signifies destruction on the intellectual side. The Tower has been spoken of as the chastisement of pride and the intellect overwhelmed in the attempt to penetrate the Mystery of God; but in neither case do these explanations account for the two persons who are the living sufferers. The one is the literal word made void and the other its false interpretation. In yet a deeper sense, it may signify also the end of a dispensation, but there is no possibility here for the consideration of this involved question.
by S. L. MacGregor Mathers, originally published 1888.
Ruin, Disruption, Over-throw, Loss, Bankruptcy.
These in a more or less partial degree.
by A. E. Thierens, originally published 1930.
“Occult explanations attached to this card are meagre and mostly disconcerting.” (W.) The reason for this is easily seen: the principles of Uranus and Neptune were not much known in antiquity save that they were the general principles of the Heavens (the Air or also the atmosphere) and the Ocean, and as such we find them in the Pantheon and in the original Tarot, not yet as the much later discovered planets, which personify these general cosmic principles. Later ages added very little, if anything at all, to those original explanations. Still Ouranos and Poseidon were known in Greece as well as Dourga and Varouna in India.
And the stone tower struck by a flash of lightning is another version of the legend of Ouranos mutilating his son Chronos, which means, that Heaven is not content with a body of fixed dimensions and form, nor any heavenly force with the limitations put to it by physical authorities or architects. This may warn man, not to build upon physical existence alone or to think himself safe upon a material basis, however high and solid it may appear from a material point of view. The general meaning, however, is not incidental but essential. “… the ruin of the house of life, when evil has prevailed therein” (W.) is one of many possible occurrences; it may signify ‘blighted ambitions and hopes,’ etc. (P.), but the universal and every day significance is: the renewal of the form, or rather of embodied life, by the force of Heaven, and of microcosm by the life of macrocosm, which incidentally of course breaks up forms here and there, if they are no longer fit for survival; the house of doctrine as well as every structure made by vanity, dogmatism and separativeness.
The Hebrew letter Ayin is addicted to this card. P. utterly fails in giving any elucidation of this relationship. W. has put it very clearly in this quotation: “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”
So the card of the Tower signifies the relation between macro- and micro-cosm and will mean rupture, sudden disillusion, disenchantment, but also it symbolises intuition, renewal, help from above and clear insight in relation to vanity and sham projects, illusion and meaningless formalism.