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Death/Devil/Tower Research

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.tarot,alt.divination,alt.pagan.magick,talk.religion.misc,alt.mythology,alt.astrology,alt.occult
From: (nagasiva)
Subject: Death/Devil/Tower Research (LONG)
Date: 12 Jan 1998 13:28:09 -0800

49980102 aa2 Hail Satan!

        Research on the Connections Amongst the Tarot Cards
        Death, the Devil and the Tower (XIII, XV and XVI)

        by nagasiva (


        the tarot cards Death, the Devil and the Tower all
        suggest deep mystery, dynamic and sometimes cataclysmic
        change.  their commonalities may be found in
        astrological, qabalistic and mythological associations.

        the traditional names and attributions of the cards are:

         XIII Death/Lord of Gates: Scorpio, Pluto, Water, Nun
         XV   The Devil/Typhon: Capricorn, Saturn, Earth, Ayin
         XVI  The (Blasted) Tower/War/The House of God/
                The House of the Devil: Mars, Fire, Peh.

        Brief Overview of Connections

        the astrological commonalities surround the sunsign
        of Scorpio, the planets Mars and Saturn.  Mars is
        exalted in Capricorn (cf. Crowley below) and rules
        the sign of Scorpio.  it is traditionally associated
        with Atu XVI, The Tower.  there are saturnine symbols
        or themes within all three cards, and a popular
        version of Atu XV (Smith-Waite) has aquiline feet,
        also suggestive of Scorpio (cf. Case below).

        on the Lurianic Tree of Life as paths are usually
        portrayed in paired matchings with the Higher Cards
        the three mark out a triangle directly below Sphere 6,
        Tiphareth, across which Atu XIV, Art or Temperance,
        is usually found.  as such they form the structure
        between the Spheres of Venus and Mercury, 7 and 8,
        Netzach and Hod, Victory and Glory, respectively),
        underlying Beauty, Tiphareth, the Sphere of the Sun.
        this region is often described as the World of
        Yetzirah, Formation, within which dwell spirits.

        traditionally rendered, the symbolism of the three
        cards implies a trifold Threat-Punisher-Penalty,
        and this is most plain in the associations where
        Death is the Penalty for the Original Sin or Wage
        of Sin generally; the Devil is Satan or Sammael,
        the Tempting Serpent, Angel of Death and Tormentor
        of Lost Souls; and the Fall is from Grace or is a
        Righteous Punishment.

        these cards are, by modern expositors, given
        explanations and interpretations that are easier
        to accept than this, transcending Biblical
        paradigms and settling for psychological or
        mystical allegories.

        in general, Death is treated the least deeply of
        the three, and the Devil and Tower are typically
        combined into some form of relationship, be that
        over-extension and repercussion or challenge and
        revelation.  Death is most often facilitated as
        a certain type of change.  the Devil is either
        explained as a Guardian or Adversary, sometimes
        pacified by submersion in a form of Pan, and the
        Tower's rupture is emphasized as a massive entry
        of extraconscious power (divine, unconscious),
        usually alluding to Babel or a pretension (the
        Tower of God or the Tower of the Devil) which
        brings judgement, with repetition of the
        revelation and conversion of St. Paul at Damascus.

        Readings for Your Pleasure

        Crowley's commentary, as usual, was the most
        cogent, all of which is included here:

        [on XIII]

        The card itself represents the dance of death; the
        figure is a skeleton bearing a scythe, and both the
        skeleton and the scythe are importantly Saturnian
        symbols.  This appears strange, as Saturn has no
        overt connection to Scorpio; but Saturn represents
        the essential structure of existing things.  He is
        the elemental nature of things which is not
        destroyed by the ordinary changes which occur in the
        operations of Nature.  Furthermore, he is crowned
        with the crown of Osiris; he repesents Osiris in the
        waters of Amennti.  Yet more, he is the original
        secret male creative God: see Atu XV.  "Redeunt
        Saturnia Regna."  It was only the corruption of the
        Tradition, the confusion with Set, and the Cult of
        the Dying God, misunderstood, deformed and distorted
        by the Black Lodge, that turned him into a senile
        and fiendish symbol.


        [on XV]

        On the Tree of Life, Atu XIII and XV are symmetrically
        placed; they lead from Tiphareth, the human conscious-
        ness, to the spheres in which Thought (on the one hand)
        and Bliss (on the other) are developed.  Between them,
        Atu XIV [Art, formerly Temperance] leads similarly to
        the sphere which formulates Existence.  (See note on
        Atu X and arrangement.)  These three cards may
        therefore be summed up as a hieroglyph of the processes
        by which idea manifests as form.

           [the only text in Atu X which pertains to the
            three cards of our study is the following:

               But this card, like Atu XVI, may also be
               interpreted as a Unity of supreme attain-
               ment and delight.  The lightnings which
               destroy, also beget; and the wheel may
               be regarded as the Eye of Shiva, whose
               opening annihilates the Universe, or as
               a wheel upon the Car of Jaganath, whose
               devotees attain perfection at the moment
               that it crushes them.]

        This card represents creative energy in its most
        material form; in the Zodiac, Capricornus occupies
        the Zenith.  It is the most exalted of the signs;
        it is the goat leaping with lust upon the summits
        of the earth.  The sign is ruled by Saturn, who
        makes selfhood and perpetuity.  In this sign, Mars
        is exalted, showing in its best form the fiery,
        material energy of creation.  The card represents
        Pan Pangenetor, the All-Begetter....

        The three vowel-consonants of the Hebrew alphabet,
        Aleph, Yod, 'Ayin, these three letters form the
        sacred name of God, I A O.  These three Atu, IX,
        O, and XV, thus offer a threefold explanation of
        the male creative energy; but this card especially
        represents the masculine energy at its most
        masculine.  Saturn, the ruler, is Set, the ass-
        headed god of the Egyptian deserts; he is the god
        of the south.  The name refers to all gods
        containing these consonants, such as Shaitan, or

        Note that Shabbathai, the "sphere of Saturn", is
        the Sabbath. Historically, the animus [sic] against
        witches pertains to the fear of the Jews; whose
        rites, supplanted by the Christian forms of Magic,
        had become mysterious and terrible.  Panic suggested
        that Christian children were stolen, sacrificed, and
        eaten.  The belief persists to this day....

        [on XVI]

        ...the doctrines of Yoga, especially those most
        widely current in Southern India, where the cult
        of Shiva, the Destroyer, is paramount.  Shiva is
        represented as dancing upon the bodies of his
        devotees.  To understand this is not easy for
        most Western minds.  Briefly, the doctrine is
        that the ultimate reality (which is Perfection)
        is Nothingness.  Hence all manifestations, however
        glorious, however delightful, are stains.  To
        obtain perfection, all existing things must be
        annihilated.  The destruction of the garrison
        may therefore be taken to mean their emancipation
        from the prison of organized life, which was
        confining them.  It was their unwisdom to cling
        to it.


        The dominating feature of this card is the Eye
        of Horus.  This is also the Eye of Shiva, on the
        opening of which, according to the legend of this
        cult, the Universe is destroyed....

        Bathed in the effulgence of this Eye (which now
        assumes even a third sense, that indicated in
        Atu XV) are the Dove bearing an olive branch and
        the Serpent....  The Serpent is portrayed as the
        Lion-Serpent Xnoubis or Abraxas.  These represent
        the two forms of desire; what Schopenhauer would
        have called the Will to Live and the Will to Die.
        They represent the feminine and masculine impulses;
        the nobility of the latter is possibly based upon
        recognition of the futility of the former.  This
        is perhaps why the renunciation of love in all the
        ordinary senses of the word has so constantly been
        announced as the first step towards initiation.
        This is an unnecessarily rigid view.  This Trump
        is not the only card in the Pack, nor are the
        "will to live" and the "will to die" incompatible.
        This becomes clear as soon as life and death are
        understood (See Atu XIII) as phases of a single
        manifestation of energy.
        _The Book of Thoth_, by Aleister Crowley, Samuel
          Weiser, Inc., 1981; pp. 91, 99-109.

        Crowley's text applies particularly to the Thoth
        deck but by no means is its significance limited
        to this.  he was one of the authors who commented
        on the traditional symmetry of XIII (Death) and
        XV (Devil in association with Life), and one of
        the few who explained the relationship betwixt
        XV and XVI (Tower) in more than strictly moral
        terms.  his commentary on the saturnine symbolism
        of the cards was also quite insightful.

        Rachel Pollack inspires with her discernment of
        pattern even while she fails in the simplicity
        of her psychological and mystical analyses.
        nonetheless, I feel it valuable to include the
        entirety of her comment on the relationships:

        [on XVI]

        The Tower's meaning depends on how we view the Devil.
        If we see the Devil as simply illusions then the
        Tower shows them shattered by violent upheaval.
        However, if the Devil signifies release of repressed
        energy, then the illusion shattered by the lightning
        is nothing less than the veil of consciousness itself.


        ...given no other outlets the unconscious energy will
        erupt all around us, and... we can use this experience
        to find a better balance.  Some decks call this card
        'The House of the Devil'; but others call it 'The
        House of God', reminding us that it is spiritual
        force which destroys our psychic prisons.

        There is a deeper meaning in the linking of God's
        and the Devil's houses, a meaning implied even more
        directly in the fact that the Hebrew for 'snake'
        bears the same numerical value (and is therefore
        seen as equivalent to) the word for 'messiah'.  The
        Devil is God's shadow.  In trump 15 we saw that the
        person seeking unity with life must bring out the
        energy normally repressed by the conscious person-
        ality.  By embracing the Devil, however, we endanger
        that calm and balance shown in Temperance.  We set
        the psyche on a violent course leading to the explosion
        of the Tower.  Jung described consciousness as a dam
        blocking free flow of the river of the unconscious.
        Temperance acts as a kind of sluice, letting the
        waters through at a controlled rate.  The Tower blows
        away the dam completely, releasing the locked up
        energy as a flood.

        Why take such a dangerous course?  The answer is that
        no other way exists to finally go beyond the barrier
        of consciousness, or to break free from that which
        separates life into opposites and which cuts us off
        from the pure energy contained within ourselves.
        The veil across the temple is the conscious
        personality, protecting us from life itself.  As
        mystics, shamans, and ecstatics have testified,
        eternity is all around us, blinding and overwhelming.
        The unprepared mind cannot encompass such power,
        and so consciousness comes to our rescue, closing off
        the major part of our spiritual energy, parcelling
        experience into time and opposing categories.

        The mystics will tell us as well that revelation
        comes as a lightning bolt which destroys the illusions
        of the material world in a single blinding flash, like
        that seen by Paul on his way to Damascus, or that
        which struck Buddha under the Bo tree.  No matter how
        long the meditation, the years of prayer or occult
        training, the truth comes all at once or it does not
        come at all.  Which is not to say that the preparation
        was meaningless.  The work shown in the first two
        lines of the Major Arcana serves a double purpose.
        Not only does it make us strong enough to withstand
        the lightning when it comes, it also puts us in a
        position to bring about the lightning.  All occult
        practices begin with one assumption: that it is
        possible to call down the bolt of revelation, that a
        person can take definite steps to make this happen.

        These steps include the teaching, the meditations,
        the ego death, and finally the embracing of the Devil.
        By releasing that energy we get past the barriers
        of repression and open ourselves to the lightning.
        For the spirit exists all the time; it is we who are
        blind to it.  By going into the darkness of the self
        we open ourselves to the light.

        Obviously, this is a dangerous process.  The unprepared
        person can become trapped in the illusions of the Devil.
        We will see also that the release the energy carries
        its own dangers as the psyche tries to integrate it
        with the conscious awareness.  The hero on the way back
        from the centre of the labyrinth can become lost if he
        has not carefully prepared himself.
        _Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom_, by Rachel Pollack,
           Aquarian Press, 1980; pp. 100-8.

        Pollack favors a restricted and possibly faulty
        Jungian approach that bears fruit even while it
        participates in worn themes (e.g. 'going into the
        darkness in order to get to the light', etc.).
        her focus on the shadow ('darkness') and embracing
        the Devil is refreshing while it may also be naive.

        contrast this with a small comment from Vicki Noble
        and Jonathan Tenney, who speak of XVI and XV with
        more of a focus on battle-mentality:

        The Tower is an image of disruption and change.  The
        power generated within the self by the battle to
        overthrow the Devil bursts up through you, causing
        enormous changes in your psyche, an eruption of
        selfhood.  This is the Plutonian aspect of the card,
        and very appropriate during this decade when Pluto
        is at home in Scorpio, putting us all through
        enormous changes within.
        _The Motherpeace Tarot Playbook_, by Vicky Noble and
           Jonathan Tenney, Wingbow Press, 1988; p. 31.

        or the more general analysis of XIII by Ziegler:

        As a rule, the card Death does not mean physical
        death.  It generally points to radical external
        transformation.  (The card XVI, The Tower, is the
        expression of internal change.)
        _Tarot: Mirror of the Soul_, by Gary Ziegler,
           Samuel Weiser, 1988; p. 41.

        these are less specific and yet provide none of
        the dualism and simplicity offered by Pollack.
        instead consider the insight of Kenneth Newman,
        who is probably more attuned to conservative
        Jungian psychology when comparing XVI with XV:

        The fact that there are two figures depicted, one
        falling to the right and the other to the left,
        shows this to be, as in Arcanum XV, another
        phenomenon taking place at the threshold of
        the unconscious or at the moment of its first
        conscious appearance.  While in the Devil the two
        figures are tied down to earth, here we find them
        thrown to earth.  Each arcanum, therefore, speaks
        in behalf of knowing one's human limits, which is
        precisely what the shadow does.  Thus, the two
        arcana following Temperance illustrate two aspects
        of the shadow incurred upon acknowledgement of the
        unconscious, but also the dangers in identifying
        with either, namely, a negative and a positive

        Just as having a shadow does not imply we are the
        Devil, having an aspiring, creative spirit does
        not identify us with God, and the lightning
        serves to remind us of this fact.
        _The Tarot: A Myth of Male Initiation_, by
           Kenneth D. Newman, C.G. Jung Foundation for
           Analytical Psychology, Inc., 1983; pp. 74-5.

        this leads us back to more traditional Hermetic
        commentaries and their punitive themes.  the thread
        seems to be too great an involvement with or attachment
        to the material realm, possibly symbolizing a
        particular malady of placement on the Tree of Life,
        possibly fabricating the basis for a moralistic
        theosophy within which to describe the Higher Cards:

        [The Devil's] feet are the claws of an eagle.  The
        eagle is the bird corresponding to the sign of Scorpio.
        Here the eagle's claws refer to the materialization
        and misuse of the reproductive power, and its
        debasement in the service of sensuality.
        _The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages_, by
           Paul Foster Case, McCoy Publishing, 1947; p. 158.

        the Ciceros seem to follow in this theme but with a
        bit more balance and style:

        The whole figure shows the gross generative powers of
        nature on the material plane, and is analogous to the
        Pan of the Greeks and the Egyptian Goat of Mendes (the
        symbol of Khem).  In certain aspects, the Key
        represents the brutal forces of nature, which to the
        unbelieving man only obscures and does not reflect the
        luminous Continence of God.  It also alludes to the
        sexual powers of natural generation.  Thus therefore
        the Key fitly balances the symbol of Death on the other
        side of the Tree of Life.
        _The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot_, by Chic and Sandra
           Tabatha Cicero, Llewellyn Pubs., 1991; pp. 59-60.

        while the Epiphany Press (an anonymous author) goes
        right off into Christian dualism proper as it begins
        expounding on the XVI:

        This Key depicts the second stage of spiritual
        development, or the stage of waking from the nightmare
        of delusion depicted by the Adversary [Key XV].  As
        long as dreams remain pleasant, man is content to
        enjoy their illusions, regardless of how fleeting
        or unfounded they are; and as long as Life serves
        him up ease and material goods according to his
        fancy, he finds no reason to seek beyond the level
        of his body and brain.

        But dreams can only last so long, and it is time for
        him to arise and get busy with his own development
        and that of his fellows.  Then a vicious nightmare
        may be just the thing needed to startle him awake
        into reality and to make him glad to rise.  He
        eventually becomes grateful -- both for being free
        of the terror, and for the nightmare itself, which
        set him free from fanciful delusions.

        In the same way, you are reluctantly grateful to
        the person who strips off the blankets and forces
        you to rise, to enjoy the sunshine of reality.  For
        your dreams have been unbearable delusions brought
        about by Adam's fall into the realm of sense where
        the devil tried the old "world."  What relief to
        know it was false and that you are free, even though
        to the average man, this unreality is all he
        believes in.

        The "eye" of Ayin [associated here with XV] enabled
        us to receive visual impressions.  Now the "mouth"
        of Peh makes possible our expression of them.
        While in spiritual darkness, one gathered impressions
        and founded opinions on things seen in the realms
        of sense, depicted here by the earthly-brown foundation
        on which the structure is built, of the same color
        as The Adversary....


        In Key 13 Scorpio, co-ruled by Mars, brought about the
        end of physical manifestation as applied to generation
        and regeneration.

        In Key 15, Capricorn finds Mars exalted and sight is
        again exalted, but superficially so.  Superficial
        sight had carried man as far as it could -- too far
        in fact, as in the case of Paul, who over-zealously
        defended the words of the Pharisaic Hebrew law in
        which he had been educated.

        Then came the searing flash of realization which
        blinded and threw him to earth.  And he heard the
        words of Christ Jesus, through the voice of Spirit,
        speaking to him from the heavens.  In one moment,
        the structure of centuries was for Paul broken.
        And he was alone, blind, reversed in belief, not
        knowing where next to turn.
        _Jewels of the Wise_, no author stated, Epiphany
           Press, 1979; pp. 145-8.

        Steiger and Warmoth's note on Atu XVI makes a valuable
        palate cleanser:

        In the negative aspect, the struck tower symbolizes
        "the dark night of the soul" when the spiritually
        untested and immature querent is confronted with
        his total confusion by truth denuded of all her
        vestments.  In this negative aspect, *La Maison Dieu*
        [The House of God] has been referred to as the "Fall
        of the Angels," the fall or descent being in terms
        of the Pilgrim's "fall from grace" in Arcanum
        fifteen because of his own lack of good judgement,
        karmic debts, or the misuse of his own free will.
        _The Tarot_, by Brad Steiger and Ron Warmoth,
           Award Books, 1969; pp. 120-2.

        and for des(s?)ert, I'll include an extensive excerpt
        by R.J. Stewart from his Merlin Tarot.  it appears that
        he has altered the structure and enumeration of the
        cards substantially, using a Tree of Life arrangement
        which fits the three cards in question -- 10/The
        Guardian (Devil) 11/Blasted Tower and 12/Apple Woman
        (Death) -- around the Sphere of Geburah (extending to
        Hod, Tiphareth and Binah respectively).

        The Guardian [XV] is a male lesser reflection of
        the most powerful catabolic image: Death [XIII],
        or The Apple Woman....

        Just as ancient legends and rituals initiate us into
        mysteries of nature, so does The Guardian initiate
        us into the mysteries of the nature of the Solar
        World.  Indeed, he exists to protect us from
        approaching levels of consciousness which might
        destroy us or drive us mad; his highest reflection,
        in a feminine archetype, is Death.  In the old
        legends she would be his Mother, the Great Mother
        of death and change to whom we must all return,
        even the gods.  If we have understood and passed
        The Guardian and his test, death can hold no fears.
        If we are not able to understand upon this higher
        level of awareness, we return to the nature cycle
        of life, death and rebirth.


        [In the Merlin deck a] narrow Path leads to a distant
        Tower; we shall encounter one aspect of this structure
        shortly in the Trump The Blasted Tower, though this is
        not its sole aspect.  The Guardian prevents us from
        approaching this awesome stronghold; he protects us
        from the devastating power that it contains.  The Tower
        is the last *artefact* or human building that we find
        in the Ascending Path, and it may be blasted away by
        divine lightning.  If we learn the lessons of The
        Guardian, we learn to transform ourselves through
        harnessing the taking forces and balancing them
        within ourselves.  If we enter into the Tower with his
        blessing, we can delve into its mysteries of energy,
        which are the ever-present Dragons hidden in the Hill
        below.  The Guardian teaches the higher mysteries of
        the Element of Fire.

        [on XVI]

        In his role of Lord of the Animals, Merlin flings a
        set of stag's horns with great force, and kills a
        man looking out of a high tower.  His victim is a
        lover or potential new husband of Guendoloena, the
        wife whom Merlin abandoned when he was driven mad
        by grief.  This motif was originally connected to
        nature, to a cycle of the seasons.

        Conflict between the Lord of the Animals, the Lady
        of Flowers, and a rival lover has become attached to
        Merlin in his role as primal magician of the Land.
        It seems no mere story-telling ploy that the Lord
        of the Animals and The Tower are brought together
        in the *Vita* [_The Vita Merlini_, by Geoffrey of
        Monmouth]; in esoteric tradition they are connected
        in a very specific manner.  The ancient god of
        guardianship over life and death is a natural or
        imaginative form for abstract potent forces symbolised
        by The Blasted Tower.  Both images represent the
        catabolic effect of energy, destruction of form,
        or purification.  While The Guardian mediates this
        process to both life forms and consciousness,
        The Tower reveals a higher order of the same energy
        upon a cosmic scale.


        The Tower is built upon a Mountain Peak, but it is
        not one of the highest peaks revealed in the tarot.
        It symbolises the highest point at which personality
        may remain within consciousness; beyond this peak,
        awareness becomes transhuman.  This theme is dealt
        with repeatedly in higher Trumps....  The Tower is
        one of three Trumps (Guardian, Tower, Death) that
        relate to the 5th Sphere of Severity and The
        Wheel of Justice.
        _The Merlin Tarot_, by R.J. Stewart, Aquarian
           Press, 1988; pp. 105-115.

        and as an afterdinner mint, let us allow Colin
        Wilson to perhaps overgeneralize in summary as
        he claims that:

        The ominous symbols of the Tarot -- the Hanging Man,
        the Tower Struck by Lightning, Death and the Devil --
        are intended less as omens of disaster than as shocks
        to jar the mind out of 'the triviality of every-
        dayness,' to induce concentration upon the essentials.
        _The Occult_, by Colin Wilson, Random House, 1971;
           p. 118.

        copyright 1998 tyagi nagasiva, authors cited.
        permission granted to copy to cyberspacial forums
        without profit from so doing provided this notice
        and proper attribution on all quotes is maintained.

(emailed replies may be posted);; 408/2-666-SLUG
  join the esoteric syncretism in alt.magick.tyagi; 

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