XV. Turris - Purgos - Tower (15, 16)

Prior Pentaculi - First of the Pentacle

Dant clara incendia lucem. (Bright blazes bring illumination.)
none, per se, but: "The way of Zeus to Kronos' Tower"; Omphalos Mundi; Mt. Meru.
3+6 = Time + 6.Offspring/IV.Justice/Return (Water); 5+5 = Time + 5.Crisis (Fire).
3+6+6 = Time + V.Crisis.
Greek Letter = Omicron:
Omphalos = navel, center; Oikopedon = ruins of a house; Olethros = destruction, ruin.
II: Name: Tui = the Joyous. Image: Lake. The Third Son. Northeast in the Earlier Heaven. The Joyous "means smashing and breaking apart; it means dropping off and bursting open" (Shuo Kua ch. 3).


The scene is dominated by a beehive-shaped mound, on which stands a tall, nearly cylindrical, brick ziggurat, divided into seven stories by horizontal terraces, above each of which there is a round window, lighted from within by colored light (from top to bottom: violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red).

A massive brass gate, which is set into the base of the ziggurat, has been blasted open; through the triangular opening we can see a fiery spark deep in the mountain. From the opening, flow four rivers (dark blue, white, yellow, red - to the south, east, north and west, respectively), which cascade down the mountain and merge with the surrounding dark, seething ocean. Decoration on the four sides of the ziggurat corresponds in color to the rivers: (S) sapphire or lapis lazuli, (E) silver, crystal or diamond, (N) gold, and (W) ruby. A pathway or ramp winds three times around the mound before terminating at the gate.

From an annular hole in the clouds directly above the tower, a lightning bolt (double-ended, each end comprising four petal-shaped flames around a central flame) strikes a silver, hemispherical shrine, which crowned the ziggurat, but now tilts off. Two figures, a woman in red and a man in blue, plummet head-first from the tower, and drop-shaped bits of burning material, ejected from the shrine, fall around them.


The lightning bolt destroys the outworn walls. Two characters are overthrown; each falls, Returns to Mother Earth. The Sacred Mound Is quickened; there the spark of life is found. Accept the holy blast that overhauls!


The tower is ambiguous: is it a fortress or a prison? Indeed there is little difference, for we easily may become prisoners of our own defenses.

The tower is the World Axis, the center of being, and the divine illumination has struck at its core, demolishing it, but igniting in its depths the spark of new life. The falling figures, representing head and heart (reason and emotion), were imprisoned in the tower's dogma and defenses. Though now released, before they can be reborn they must "come back to the earth" of the body and must be submerged in the Abyssal waters of the unconscious, which have been quickened by the lightning. The manna from heaven, falling around them, will sustain them through the trials of this transformation.


The earliest names for this trump are The Arrow (La sagitta, c. 1500), The House of the Devil (La Casa del Diavolo, 1550), The Fire (il Fuoco, 1585), The Thunderbolt, The House of the Damned, and The House. In the Tarot de Marseille it is called The House of God (La Maison [De] Dieu), which most likely resulted from a misreading of La Maison De Feu (The House of Fire) or La Maison [De] Diefel (The House of the Devil). (Dummett 128; Kaplan I.3, 30; Nichols 284; Sharman-Burke 105) Thus, the trump's oldest titles call attention to the destruction (by fire or thunderbolt) of the "Devil's House," which is a significant clue to the trump's meaning.

Moakley (95-6, 98-9) interprets the XV.Tower as Hellmouth into which XIV.Devil is carrying Judas (XII.Hanged Traitor). Hellmouth, often shaped like a giant dragon's mouth, was a typical fixture of medieval stage sets. It was sometimes shown with winged demons flying around it, which she thinks may be the origin of the falling figures of modern tarot decks. For Crowley (107), the Tower represents "the Jaws of Dis" (cf. XIII.Death).

The tower, one of the key symbols of the trump, is ambivalent: it represents both protection and confinement; it is both a fortress and a prison. Therefore, the tower itself teaches a lesson: that the most invulnerable defenses may become the most imprisoning bonds (cf. the shield in VIII.Victory). It is also ambivalent in being, on the one hand, feminine and protective, and, on the other, phallic and inaccessible. Further, the tower which houses a maiden or princess is simultaneously protective and confining, a symbol of virginity (Cooper s.vv. Garden, Tower).

The lightning flash then represents the loss of virginity: the bolt that ruptures seemingly impenetrable defenses, and permits escape from confining structures. Lightning is a common symbol of masculine virility, which can illuminate or destroy. It descends from the heavens with the fertilizing rain and quickens the soil. Indeed, lightning may burst through the earth and open a passage to the underworld, for it represents the descent of celestial illumination, an unpredictable gift of the gods. (Biedermann s.v. lightning).

The lightning strikes the shrine at the summit, thereby consummating the Sacred Marriage, which takes place at the top of the ziggurat (see below). From there it descends through the tower into the surrounding Abyssal waters, Maria, quickening the fluids of the cosmic womb, making them igne sacra inflammata (inflamed by sacred fire), an event symbolized in ancient Greek ritual (and still in Christian consecration of the baptismal font) by plunging a firebrand into holy water (Fairbanks 100; Walker 25); recall also the Holy Water (Hudor Theion) discussed in 7.Temperance. The light-bringing bolt is Lucifer and Krishna, the heavenly phallus, which inseminates the Abyssal waters, in which primordial life originates; the Tower bursts like the Cosmic Egg (Case 170; Nichols 285; Walker 116).

As in the Middle Pillar Exercise (e.g. Regardie III.55-9), the celestial power is drawn down from the heavens, through the seven levels, which symbolize the chakras, represented by the seven colors of the rainbow (Judith 324-7). (Assignments of colors to the chakras vary; see for example Eliade, Yoga 241-3, or the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana in Avalon.) The seven levels of the tower also represent the seven planets and the seven heavenly spheres (Butterworth, Tree 163; Eliade, Sham. 267). (The Middle Pillar, of course, is the Axis Mundi, as is the Tower; see below.)

In our image the keraunos (lightning bolt) is represented in the traditional way as the sceptre of Zeus Keraunos (Jupiter Fulgur): a double-ended bolt, each end comprising four flames surrounding a central flame; it is essentially identical to the Tibetan dorje, or Hindu vajra, sceptre. (See 3.Emperor for more on the shape of the Keraunos.) The inseminating bolt also survives in the Golden Lance of Sir Lancelot (Lance d'Or > Lanceor > Lancelot), born of the Lady of the Lake (the Lily Maid, or Virgin Lotus), arising from the Abyss. (Butterworth, Tree ch. VI, pll. XX-XXI; Walker 25)

Thus the keraunos comprises ten flames, which traditionally surround a central kernel, the Bindu, from which the rest of the keraunos emanates. (One is reminded of the ten Sefiroth surrounding Daath, the eleventh, hidden in the center.) In Sanskrit, bindu means "point," and in philosophy represents the state of active consciousness in which the "I" identifies itself with the total "This" (Avalon 34). Here the lightning bolt is the illumination brought by the Bindu, the prima materia from which all is created and to which it all returns; the fiery bolt is the cosmic logos of Heraclitus (Butterworth, Tree 225), who also says (DK 22B 64), "Keraunos steers all things."

The lightning bolt strikes deep into the base of the Tower, igniting Muladhara-Chakra, the Root Chakra at the base of the spine (sushumna, represented by the Tower), where Kundalini the Python sleeps. The path which circles the mound represents the Python, who is wrapped three times around the World Navel (at Delphi). (Biedermann s.v. tower; Butterworth, Tree 80; Eliade, Sham. 267)

Deep the sacred mountain the Celestial Bolt unites with the Abyssal Waters to create the Para-Bindu (Supreme Bindu), which is the hermaphroditic union of two seeds, Shiva and Shakti, and "the chief root of liberation" (Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, v. 42; Avalon 41-2, 430; Butterworth, Tree 126-7). Thus the bolt has ignited the monadic soul-spark, the scintilla (cf. VII.Temperance), which can be seen through the gate, deep in the heart of the sacred mountain, in the foundations of the column (spine or world axis); it represents "supreme truth" (Butterworth, Tree 163, 166; Eliade, Yoga. 235; Jung, MC 48-56).

The monadic soul-spark is visible through the square tunnel, which represents the generation of the four elements, and through the triangular arch, which represents the synthesis of the elements into the three alchemical principles (sulphur, mercury, salt). The mound itself represents the synthesis of the three principles into the quintessence. The whole procedure is described in the Rosarium Philosophorum (1550): "Out of a man and a woman make a round circle and extract the quadrangle from this and from the quadrangle the triangle. Make a round circle and you will have the philosopher's stone." (Jung P&A, 128)

The union of Abyss and Bolt is the source of the drop-shaped bits of burning material, ejected from the hemispherical silver shrine and falling from the sky; they are puridia, bits of divine fire (Butterworth, Tree 224), positive energy (Simon 47), the manna from heaven (Nichols 293), the divine sustenance that will nourish the people's spirit during this crisis and will transform their being. One commonly finds that at the World Axis a bowl or the crescent moon showers Soma, the nectar of the gods, over the World Mountain. The moon-shrine represents the Sahasrara-chakra, the crown chakra, a receptacle for Amrta (nectar or ambrosia). The tilting shrine, looking like a quarter moon, shows that divine illumination, the bolt from heaven, has descended to the Ajna-chakra and opened the third eye. (Butterworth, Tree 111, 114-5, 120)

Bindu is also the name of the dot which indicates nasal breathing in Sanskrit (the anusvara); it corresponds to those similarly spiritual letters, the I of the Roman alphabet, the Iota of the Greek alphabet, and the Iod of the Hebrew alphabet - in all cases the smallest units of writing. Of course, in many interpretations of the Tower the falling bits of fire represent Iods, traditionally identified with the element Fire (e.g. Case 172; Pollack I.107).

The flash of divine illumination is described in the myth of Dionysus' birth. Semele is enamored of Zeus (representing divine illumination) and, goaded by Hera, wishes to experience the full glory of celestial union. Zeus, obliged to grant her request, descends as a thunder bolt, which incinerates her. However, this apparent disaster is the means of a double transformation. First Zeus rescues the unborn Dionysus, the god of ecstatic illumination, from the ashes, and incubates him in his own thigh, whence he is born. Second Semele, reduced by the bolt to prima materia, is resurrected as a goddess, for she had become the mother of a god. (Gantz 473-7)

So also, being hit by lightning is thought to confer instantaneous shamanic initiation (Cooper s.v. lightning); the experience blasts open the gates of the underworld.

In both cases we see the sudden, transformative experience, which shatters accustomed, seemingly secure structures, and sows the seeds of new life. As Jung (Archetypes, 295) says, "Lightning signifies a sudden, unexpected, and overpowering change of psychic condition."

The Tower, which is the only man-made structure in the Major Arcana, represents the structures we build both within and around ourselves: secure and protective, but also narrow and constricting. Like the Labyrinth constructed by Minos, which hid the bestial Minotaur, the Tower is a facade, a mask, a persona, an artificial construction which hides the beast within. It defends us from the outer world, and ultimately divorces us from it. As Poseidon's earthquake demolished the Labyrinth and exposed the Minotaur to public view, so also the celestial bolt tears down our facades to reveal the inner beast, an eruption of the unconscious. (Case 172; Pollack I.107; SBG 67-8; Sharman-Burke 105-6)

The lightning bolt is a Gestalt shift, the collapse of false or outworn values, the shattering of old forms and ideas, and the disintegration of old systems. It comes as a stroke of illumination, a gnosis granted by the gods, which reveals in a flash the weaknesses of the old structure. (Case 169; Nichols 290, 293; Pollack I.109; SBG 67; Sharman-Burke 105)

The tower is especially a symbol of the Axis Mundi (World Axis), which connects heaven and earth (Biedermann s.v. tower), and represents an intended means of celestial ascent (Cooper s.v.), a means of psychic elevation, but also imprisonment (Nichols 290). The tower connects heaven and earth, the above and the below, the worlds of being and becoming (Nichols 284).

The Tower is ostensibly a means for matter to ascend to spirit, but there is a flaw in its conception. Like the Tower of Babel, it stands too tall, and its towering ambition is crowned by the silver dome, the supreme principle, which exalts its rigid structure, but separates the Tower's occupants from the heavens. Indeed, the tower's crown is intended to call down celestial lightning to consecrate the sacred marriage consummated in the dome, and so it does, but the heavenly blast (the descent of spirit into matter) is so powerful that the artificial structure disintegrates, exposing - and freeing - its occupants, who tumble into the Abyss, for the bolt is directed at the edifice, not its inmates. (Nichols 283-4, 292; Walker 117)

The two figures fall head-first from the summit of the Tower, which represents the overthrow of cognitive structures. The figures are clothed because they are prisoners of the artificial, and the contrasting colors of their clothes represent duality, for the celestial bolt destroys dualistic thinking and bursts the bonds of language, which limit the perception of reality. When divine lightning destroys the Tower of Babel (i.e. Babylonia = Bab-ilani = gate of the gods), human language becomes confused. The man is dressed in blue, representing the intellect, and the woman in red, representing emotion; both are turned upside-down by the bolt. (Case 171; Eliade, MER 14; Nichols 289; Pollack I.107-9)

The tower and the lightning bolt are both symbols of masculine virility. Therefore, this trump symbolizes a new god overpowering an old god, a new spiritual principle replacing the old. (Walker 116) Indeed, since the World Axis is "the way of Zeus to Kronos' Tower" (Pindar, Olympia II.68-74), we may see XV.Tower as symbolizing Zeus overthrowing Kronos and destroying his father's tower, thus inaugurating a new divine regime:

Whosoe'er can thrice endure In either biding-place their souls to save From all transgression pure, These tread the Way of Zeus to Kronos' Tower, Where round the Happy Islands hour on hour The ocean breezes blow; And there are blossoms of clear gold that grow On shining trees, or rest On the fond water's breast, And wreaths thereof they twine round arm and brow. (Pindar, Ol. II.68-74, trans. by C. J. Billson, with modifications) The celestial fire descends from the Pole Star, which is the Omphalos Caelestorum (Navel of the Heavens), out of the clouds (which usually surround it), down through the tower, which is the pillar of the World Axis, into the mound, which is the Omphalos Mundi (World Navel) (Biedermann s.vv. tower, omphalos; Butterworth, Tree 49-50; Eliade, Sham. 266-7). Several Indian reliefs show the clouds over the tower standing on the World Navel (Butterworth, Tree pll. X, XI).

The Tower is a ziggurat, that is, an Assyrian or Babylonian temple tower, which represents the Indians' Mt. Meru (the Ural-Altaic Sumeru), the mountain of the Omphalos Mundi (World Navel), the yoni-mound at the Center of the World (Butterworth, Tree 165; Eliade, MER 12, Sham. 267; Walker 25). In Assyrian zigguratu or ziqqurratu means "summit." A ziggurat's corners are oriented to the cardinal compass points, and typically it has three or seven stories. A ziggurat was intended to establish the union of heaven and earth; thus, "The ziggurat of Marduk at Babylon was known as E-temen-an-ki ('Foundation of heaven and earth')" (Black & Green s.v. Tower of Babel). The Sacred Marriage was sometimes celebrated in the shrine at the top. (AHD s.v. zigurat; Black & Green s.v. ziggurats; Eliade, Sham. 267; Nichols 283). In Buddhist cosmology, the four rivers, which originate on Mt. Meru/Sumeru, the Axis Mundi, flow with water (blue-black), milk (white), honey (yellow) and wine (red), which correspond to the four alchemical processes (nigredo, albedo, citrinitas, rubedo) and the four humors (black bile, phlegm, yellow bile and blood). The corresponding sides of the pyramidal peak of Mt. Meru are south = blue (lapis lazuli or sapphire), east = white (crystal, silver or diamond), north = yellow (gold), west = red (ruby). The four islands surrounding Meru are also associated with the four material elements, S = fire, E = air, N = earth, W = water. (Presumably the central island, on which Meru stands, corresponds to the fifth element, the quintessence.) (Butterworth, Tree 2; Waddell 80-1; Walker 28-9) In Aristotelian terms, the sides of Mt. Meru correspond to the qualities, S = hot, E = dry, N = cold, W = wet.

The four liquids, water, milk, honey and wine, are the libations which Circe told Odysseus to make before visiting the dead (Od. X.519f, XI.27f); they flow in four streams from Calypso's cave on her island Ogugia, which is the Axis Mundi, for it is called the Navel of the Sea (Omphalos Thalasses). Calypso is a daughter of Atlas, "who knows the depths of the whole sea and himself holds the pillars that keep earth and sky apart" (Od. I.50ff). The fire in her cave recalls the fiery wind that divides the waters at the foot of Narayana (the indwelling spirit of the world) into the four rivers, and "supreme truth," which is hidden in a cavern deep in the mountain. (Butterworth, Tree 8-9, 163, 166; Eliade, Yoga 235).

In Greek mythology the entrance to Hades' realm is at the confluence of four rivers: Pyriphlegethon (Blazing like Fire), Cocytus (Kokutos = Shrieking, Wailing), Styx (Stux = Hateful, Chilling) and Acheron (Grieving, Flowing, cf. the white poplar, Acherois) (Biedermann s.v. rivers; Donnegan s.vv.; LSJ s.vv.). These rivers also correspond to the four Aristotelian qualities: Pyriphlegethon = hot, Cocytus = dry, Styx = cold, Acheron = wet.

In old tarot decks The Tower was sometimes called The Fire, and the World Navel is often associated with fire; for example, the central mountain is often burning or a burning Tree grows on it. This spiritual fire represents the heat generated by the tapas (asceticism) of awakening Kundalini. The Central Fire is one of the principal doctrines of the Pythagorean tradition. (Butterworth, Tree 88, 115; Dummett 128; Kingsley ch. 13)

The tower also has the shape of the athanor or "Philosophical Furnace" of the alchemists, which was also called the Sepulchre and the House of the Chick; see especially the illustrations in the Mutus Liber (1677) (Read 152). Simon (49) observes that the tower, like the athanor, represents transmutation and rebirth, for an alchemical text tells us that "when the son has become strong enough, he must break the chalice as the chick breaks the eggshell that holds him."

So also the two figures are released, reborn, from the tower as from an egg. They fall to earth, once again grounded in everyday reality, their theories and values shattered. Such a return to the real is a necessary consequence of a confrontation with Pan ("the Devil"; see trump XIV), who resides, like the Minotaur, in the labyrinthine Tower. Acknowledgement of the shadowy beast within can provoke the inner integrity necessary to further progress. (Nichols 285; SBG 67-8; Pollack I.107)

The Tower has the same shape as the dice tower (pyrgos or turricula) employed by I.Magician, which reminds us that it is Hermes the Magician who rolls the dice that unleash the bolt from the blue. The entire mountain-tower complex also appears in XIII.Death.

Many myths teach the futility (and undesirability) of attempting to build impregnable towers; when the time for impregnation arrives, it will happen. Recall how King Acrisius closed up his daughter Danae in a brazen tower, yet she was visited by Zeus in the form of an impregnating golden shower, thus begetting the hero Perseus. So also Aelian (On Char. Anim. XII.21) tells us that the Babylonian king Seuechorus had his daughter put under guard, since the Chaldeans had foretold that he would be deposed by his grandson. Yet she became pregnant anyway, and when the child was born, Seuechorus threw him from the tower where she had been imprisoned. He was rescued by an eagle, who set him down in a garden, where he was raised by its keeper. The baby was called Gilgamos (i.e. Gilgamesh) and became, as foretold, king of Babylon, and (according to some) the founder of the Achaemenids.

As will be explained later (XVII.Moon), XV.Tower corresponds to the Sefirah Hod (Glory, Splendor, Beauty, Majesty), which, according to Parpola (181), corresponds to the Akkadian gods Adad (Sumerian Ishkur) and Girru (Sumerian Gibil), who have the same mystic number, 10. Both gods had the epithets Sharhu and Shitrahu, which mean "glorious, splendid, proud," as does Hod.

The lightning bolt of XV.Tower represents Adad/Ishkur, who embodies the power of storms, thunder, hail and floods. He is symbolized in Mesopotamian art by a forked lightning bolt, and thunderheads were called "Adad's bull-calves"; in writing, the same sign was used for "wind" and for "Ishkur." Adad is the "oracle god par excellence" and is called Lord of Oracles, since his lightning storms bring celestial illumination to earth. His number is 10, and he is the son of Anu (XXI.World), whose number is 1, the progenitor of 10, so Adad and Anu shared a double temple with twin ziggurats. Likewise Girru/Gibil, who is also a son of Anu, is the god of fire in all its aspects, creative as well as destructive, which characterizes the bolt in XV.Tower. (Black & Green s.vv. Gibil, Ishkur, figs. 89, 96; Parpola 181)

The numerical values of O KRONOU PURGOS (Ho Kronou Purgos, The Tower of Kronos) = 1633, which reduces to 3-3+6-1 = 5 in the Hendecad. Thus XV.Tower has the character of the Pentad which, according to the Pythagoreans, means novelty, breakdown and new direction; they called it "Alteration" and "Nemesis," the punisher of hybris. (TA 34-5, 40; see also the 5s in the Minor Arcana)

Trump XV signals the end of the Triumph of Time, who in his manifestations, as Age (XI), Betrayal (XII), Death (XIII), Damnation (XIV) and Destruction (XV), obliterates the preceding Triumph of Virtue. Time's Triumph is superseded in turn by the Triumph of Eternity (trumps XVI-XXI). In particular, as the First of the Pentacle, XV.Tower represents the Celestial Bolt destroying the fortress of trump XIV.Devil, the Second of the Pentacle, and also of trumps XI, XII and XIII, all of whom live in the same house.

"What use are fortress, trench, can moat or wall prevail Against the lightning hurled by Heaven's Lord and Master? And sentry's watch, but little can avail, alas! 'Tis God's protection only can avert disaster." - Hohberg, 1675 (quoted in Biedermann 206)
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Last updated: Mon Jun 7 19:46:30 EDT 1999