(Draft of a Translation of Paul Marteau’s Le Tarot de Marseilles)
The number 16 can be expressed in the form 10 + 6. 10 represents a completed cycle, but one which is renewed indefinitely, therefore the universal cycle; and 6 symbolizes Involution and Evolution, climbing and descending, construction halted and construction resumed. 10 + 6 = 16 manifests the power of the man who wants to undertake everything, but who, being limited, is not able to attain finality. It is a construction fatally unstable.
General and Abstract Meaning
The Tower shows THE LIMIT OF HUMAN POWER AND ITS INCAPACITY FOR PERMANENT CONSTRUCTIONS.
The preceding card, the Devil, signified (among other things) evil; but evil, being a figment of human interpretation, has no actual existence, because there are only forces which are striving to progress. The Tower comes after the Devil because it represents human progress, which is always the reconstruction of that which will always be demolished, and that is the same principle as progress.
The Tower signifies, therefore, that everything built by man is destined to be destroyed, whether it is a mental construct or a physical one, because all that is rooted in matter must disappear.
The tower symbolizes a flawed construction, faulty, in which man encloses himself through deliberate vagueness [obscurantisme]. It is the color of flesh, since it is built by means of the vital energies of Man on the physical plane.
The windows are blue; the wise man who builds his tower above all maintains his observance of spirituality.
The yellow battlements signify that man constantly desires to crown his work and place on it the seal of Intelligence, but this is an intelligence entirely human and without efficacy. Fire destroys the works of man, but by its yellow color, such as the Sun has, he specifies that they will be purified by their grounding in the earth, by whose contact it draws vital natural energy and is invested with the capacity for beginning again.
Besides, fire is the force which Man is always able to avail himself of in the divine in order to continue his task which, however, he never achieves. It also represents the purifyng fire which man will pass through when he forsakes his ephemeral edifices in order to proceed into the divine plane. The flame, with its red coloring, also indicates its activity in the material world and, by its yellow color, its divine intelligence.
The blue and red man, touching the ground with his hands as he falls, shows that whatever it was that caused him to fall–material or spiritual–he avails himself of the flowing forces of the earth as he presses his hands on the ground in order to begin his task anew. With his semi-circular pose, reminiscent of the action of the outstretched hand with which one performs an action in the outer world, the active pole is symbolized. It thereby characterizes the man who has functioned in such an environment, who has played and lost his constructive combination.
The second figure, whose fall has the opposite meaning of the first one and who is what looks to be a horizontal position symbolizes the second pole, the passive pole, and so likewise he is falling harder, because Man becomes, through inertia, incapable of mastering the forces which he has seized, loses their support he was depending on, and falls down in the material world.
His fall is not the direct result of his actions, but a slow descent produced by remote causes.
The balls are the seeds of this construction falling to the ground to be germinated anew; the red and blue signify that the reconstruction will be material and spiritual. The white ones represent the apparent futility of effort. None are yellow, because Divine Intelligence does not preside over this Card, which refers exclusively to human works. The balls represent, by their number, the multiple ways which Man is able to build constructions on the physical plane; they are the contributions of men coming from different backgrounds.
The ground, yellow with tufts of green grass, indicates that the sun, made fertile through the work of man, bears fruit.
Orientation of the Figures
The position [of the tower] is head-on, indicating a direct, violent action.
Specific and Concrete Meaning
The name of this Card, “LA MAISON-DIEU,” comes from that which God, being omnipresent, is even in the building which Man is building, but, as He does not intervene and, as Man is in the dark, his constructions are imperfect and doomed to destruction. Born from the mind of Man who believes them to be soundly built, they are devoured by the same flame of his desire and, therefore, bring about their fall. The tower, built of dense material, is too concrete to give access to the subtlety of the spiritual current represented by the lighting bolt; it disintegrates. The tower also signifies that Man, believing himself to be so powerful, raises himself up to extend his domination, but as his free will is so limited, he sees it fall apart while believing it definitive, and then begins anew. It also symbolizes man trapped in his own ideas and construction of theories which vanish in the face of experience.
Meanings as They Relate to the Three Planes
MENTAL. An indication of the danger of continuing on a certain path, with a fixed idea, and a warning to avoid the consequences on pain of collision and annihilation.
SPIRITUAL. Domination of other beings with neither charity nor love, exercised over others with despotism, and which, sooner or later, will be rejected out of affection.
PHYSICAL. Project abruptly stopped. Dramatic turn of events, unexpected shock. Warning to be on one’s guard in business. The flame uncrowning the tour can be interpreted as being freed from prison.
With respect to matters of health, an indication that one has exceeded the limits of his vital owers and that he is in risk of a serious affliction. As a consequence of some sickness, recovery after a painful condition.
INVERTED. Great cataclysm, utter confusion.
In sum, in its Fundamental Sense, “THE TOWER” represents constructions of men which are ephemeral and fertile, always destroyed, always resumed, painful because they ruin ambitions, beneficial because they constantly increase the riches of wisdom.