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Tarot picture
No. 17

Tarot 17

The Fire picture is also called the Tower, Tower of God, and more. A stone building struck by lightning with its top aflame and bodies tumbling out of that suddenly created ruin, goes back to the very earliest printed tarot cards (the Rosenwald and other decks, ca. 1500). In the earliest decks the building is a castle, and in Italy in the 1400s and 1500s, the picture was usually called "Fire", and there is no suggestion of an underworld.

Other Italian picture captions from the 1400s are "The Arrow", La Sagitta, and the Thunderbolt, la Saetta, In the Belgian and Bolognese tradition the picture is called "Lightning" or "Thunderbolt" also, and the fiery lightning bolt is shown striking a person or tree. Underneath the tree is a startled shepherd and a flock of sheep.

The core idea of the card seems to be fire or lightning shooting down from the heavens, perhaps as divine punishment. The Tower as an item of the picture and a title, may bring to mind the Tower of Babel.

It was the French title from the Marseille deck that gave rise to the modern name of the card, "The Tower". The picture usually shows fiery imagery, and the fire usually comes down from the sky. It seems connected with ideas of divine purgation, and punishment of hubris.

In the Rider-Waite deck, the Tower's crown is being blown off by the impact. The blast sends humans out of the windows.

Possible Alignment

In the coding system that is applied, the Fire (Tower) is placed in the same fifth life field (area) as the Emperor.

Emperors and Castles (Towers) tend to go together.

Raining fire tells of some way to overcome a tyrant's stronghold, although bulwarked, solid and tall.

Castles and other prides of owners may be taken.


Tarot study, Literature  


Agrell, Sigurd. Die pergamenische Zauberscheibe und das Tarochspiel. Lund: The University of Lund, (Sweden), 1936:147-48.

Alexander, Skye. The Only Tarot Book You'll Ever Need: Interpret the Cards That Hold Your Future. Ill ed. Cincinnati, OH: Adams Media, 2008:91-92. Online at Google Books (limited view)

Farley, Helen. A Cultural History of Tarot: From Entertainment to Esotericism. London: I. B. Tauris, 2009. ⍽▢⍽ Helen Farley is Lecturer in Studies in Religion and Esotericism at the University of Queensland. Her book is a researched and well written study of tarot symbolism and the changing imagery in the cards. She explores ways in which the tarot reflects aspects of European culture from Medieval Italy until our times.

Huson, Paul. Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage. Rochester, VM: Inner Traditions / Bear and Company, 2004:129-39. Online at Google Books (limited view).

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