temptations & tower from the practical magic inner witch tarot

may 2023: on fault lines

essays May 1, 2023

hello, friends. welcome to may.

this month, we're soldiering on through this particularly intense portion of the major arcana, looking at another of the most-feared cards in the deck: the tower. associated with chaos, destruction, and permanent change, this is one of those archetypes that people rarely want to pull, and typically prefer not to engage with at all of they can help it.

yet as with every card, there are powerful lessons here, reminders and wisdom that we can carry forward with us into this new month.

grab something to drink, stretch out your shoulders and neck, and let's get into it.


mount saint helens, may 18th 1980

when i was young, i developed a burning desire to study volcanos. my grandparents lived about fifty miles from the stratovolcano loowit (also known as mount saint helens) when it erupted in may of 1980, five years before i was born. the sky was eclipsed by a fifteen-mile high column of ash, choking out the light for more than nine hours and killing 57 people, 7,000 animals, 12 million fish. my grandmother scooped some of the ash off of their car’s hood and saved it in a jar for years, a reminder of how quickly and powerfully the landscape of their life had changed.

it took green vegetation almost a decade to return to the mountainside. about ten million trees have been replanted in the area over the last 40 years.

as a kid i was obsessed with the historic explosion, pouring over photographs of the aftermath and begging to climb to the crater when we visited the area as a family. (we never did make it to the crater, though in my parents’ defense it involves a 10-mile hike.) i used all of my allowance money at the visitor’s center to buy books and postcards and even a little souvenir pen with a cartoon volcano that you could flip and watch plumes of smoke and magma move. i thought mount saint helens was the coolest thing i’d ever seen in my young life, and morbidly loved that this mountain had dramatically blown its own top off and permanently altered an entire ecosystem.

mount saint helens, part of a string of volcanos in the cascade mountain range known as the pacific ring of fire, is located on what scientists literally call a destructive plate boundary. hundreds of tiny earthquakes in march and april served as warning signs for the eventual may explosion, but even with evacuations and monitoring, no one was prepared for the largest landslide in recorded history. all that tension building under the surface, and in one moment, the sky darkened, time stopped, and the earth shook.

a rather on-the-nose metaphor, but the tower is rarely subtle. after death's inevitable end, after temperance's messy recovery, after the devil's surrender, the tower erupts, demanding our full attention.

and look, there's a reason that the tower is associated with mars, planet of action, drive, and passions, as well as the number seven, digit of interrogation, questing, and truth-seeking: the tower doesn't fuck around. this is not an energy that wastes time, but rather one that needs to know what is underneath and within, what is buried, what is hiding. anything that we didn't release with death or willingly expose with the devil now forces our hand: this is the moment when things are ripped open, bursting free, shredding restraints. the tower demands truth, and if we don’t move willingly, we’ll be dragged along kicking and screaming instead.

even if we heed the devil’s warnings, we can’t avoid change forever.

in general, we want the things that we love to be solid, dependable, constant, regardless of how we ourselves are growing and changing. but we all live on some kind of fault line. nothing is ever completely, absolutely, permanently reliable — everything has its limits, imperfections that may eventually lead to something unexpected.

that's not to say that everything you love will eventually fall apart. it's just a reminder that even achilles had a weak spot. even mountains can explode. even smart people do stupid things.

what ends is a doorway, not a finality. -amaya rourke

in devil moments, in tower moments, the emphasis is often on survival, on just getting to the other side. but to truly engage with this archetype, the tower demands more than just navigating rapid changes. there has to be an ability to dive under the surface, to identify the tension points. we have to be willing to look at our situations, ourselves, from all sides.

and this can be a painful process. there are aspects of myself, parts of me and my history, choices i’ve made and actions i’ve taken, that don’t always make rational sense. we all have contradictions within us, but when those contradictions cause intense friction, it can be disorienting to try and understand, to make our truths to line up in a logical way. it can leave us feeling like we don't know who we are at all.

but this kind of brutal honesty is not only for the sake of penance or punishment. we don't have to let ourselves drown, don't have to make ourselves suffer, just to prove all that we've learned. eventually we will fight our way to the surface, even slowly drag ourselves to something resembling solid ground.

eventually, we can find our footing again.

i'm swimming back / see you don't have to make it bad just 'cause you know how - anti-curse, boygenius

this piece of the major arcana's story, from temperance to the devil to the tower and eventually to the star, is not only a chapter about finding, losing, and regaining control. it's also about grappling with who we are, in various stages: the parts we're proud of, the parts we hide, the parts that reveal themselves whether we like it or not. it’s about acknowledging our own fault lines, the places within us that aren’t quite as sturdy or indestructible as we’ve always thought.

an essential truth is at the heart of the tower: we are active participants in both creation and destruction, even if (especially when) we try to remain passive, ignorant, or uninvolved.

for many of us, it’s more comfortable to treat the tower the same way that we treat death: as something inevitable, something that we are powerless to stop, something that we simply have to endure and accept. but we cannot understand the tower only and always as an outside force. as diana rose harper so brilliantly explores in a 2020 post, when we only see the tower as something that happens to us, it can be a way of letting ourselves off the hook, of shifting blame, of claiming that something isn't our fault.

the tower is powerful, disturbing, impossible to ignore, precisely because the tower comes from within us: the result of long-term friction, of letting huge truths remain hidden. and it’s only in fully accepting this reality that we can start to work with it, that we have any hope of moving through it.

just because destruction can be scary doesn't mean that it isn't necessary, even beautiful.

becoming friends with the concept of destruction - and the large and small ways in which you are already a destroyer - will increase your capacity to create what you actually wish to see in the world. - diana rose harper, making friends with destruction

who are we, when something solid turns to dust beneath our hands? do we like the person we see in those frantic, scrambling, desperate moments? what does it feel like when others can suddenly see our flaws and fears, when we are revealed in our entirety? who are we in fear, in anger, in loss?

i like to think of myself as someone strong and calm in an emergency — and indeed, when the challenge is external, i can rally with the best of them, can take charge and solve problems quickly. but when cracks emerge from within? when i have to contend with personal mistakes or failures? i'm not always proud of who i am in those moments, of what i say, of how i behave. i'm sometimes slow to recognize just how grave my own errors have been, reluctant to admit what i've broken.

yet the tower reminds us that those ugly, scared, cracked and shattered pieces are also important parts of us. the things that we typically keep hidden are not any less authentic, even if we find them uncomfortable to reckon with. and we can't hope to repair something unless we admit first that it's damaged.

the tower creates opportunities for transformation, for leaving something behind. but which parts of us survive the destruction, and which do we let die? what, and who, will still be with us when the dust settles, the light reappears, the tomb opens, and we eventually reenter the world, remade and reborn, renewed, resurrected?

i smell like scorched earth, gunpowder, and night terrors. could you ever love something that falls apart so easily? -christina rombi

you may have noticed, but i’m not an ecologist, or a geologist, or a volcanologist. i didn’t do particularly well in school, especially in math or science, and quickly realized that the arts (and shop class) were where i could really shine. things change — after all, i also once thought that i was a straight cis woman.

you live, you learn.

i have a life now that i never even knew was possible when i was that skinny-legged kid in lavender bifocals, gaping at an active volcano, wondering if i’d ever get to climb into the crater. i live in a city i love, that’s too expensive but that i never want to leave, with a woman i adore and friends who are family and dreams of a quiet patio with an herb garden. i write, and read, and take photos, and plan my next projects. i pull cards for people, and teach classes about numbers, and wonder what else might be in store for me.

i try to be brutally honest with myself, even when it’s terrifying. even when i don’t like what i see. even when i don’t understand parts of myself, or worry that i never will.

i still think that the cascades are the most beautiful mountains i’ve ever seen. i still think that volcanos are fucking cool. and i still want to keep learning what might be brewing beneath my own surfaces, building tension, creating pressure. i want to fly high, and dive deep, and examine every little fault line in my foundations — even when it's terrifying.

eruption is just another word for breaking free.

tower from the practical magic inner witch tarot

when you think about the tower, when you think about your personal fault lines, when you think about things getting destroyed and reimagined and created anew, it’s okay to be scared shitless. but it’s also an opportunity to ask yourself real questions, and to give yourself the time to actually answer them.

who am i tired of trying to be?

what truth is making itself known, refusing to hide any longer? what is erupting, and why now?

am i pretending to be in control, or am i willing to surrender to something bigger, something wiser, something that lives within and around me?

is there any relief in this shift, even if there’s also anger, fear, doubt?

does any part of this feel true, feel right, feel good? what feels honest?

am i falling, or am i flying?

there is a love that is as strong as death - the love you discover for yourself when, as audre lorde writes, you define yourself for yourself. i buried my old self years ago. do not look for her; she is not there. -jeanna kadlec, heretic

what are you really destroying, and what might that empower you to someday create? which version of yourself, your future, your desire, are you ready to bury? what truths are revealing themselves, and how does that change the way you see yourself?

and in burying a past self, who are you now free to become?


wishing you a bold, transformative, and eye-opening may, friends.

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Meg Jones Wall

photographer, writer, tarot reader. bisexual/queer, she/they. nyc.