Welcome to the Real Life Lessons from the Major Arcana series. We've gathered together 22 of the best Tarot readers to share their personal stories and interpretations of the Major Arcana cards.
Discover new meanings and spiritual lessons behind the Major Arcana cards, through real-life experiences and stories. And watch as the Tarot cards truly come to life!
Earthly Goddess Maia Toll shares her own harrowing experience with this card during a cataclysmic time, 9/11. Read on…
After 9/11 I wrapped my Rider-Waite deck in white silk and put it high on a shelf in the dining room’s corner cupboard.
It was this card—The Tower—that I couldn’t have sneaking up on me unawares, that was now far heavier than every other card in the deck, swaying spreads and listing meaning every time it jolted into view.
September 11 was a stunningly beautiful day in New York State. I took my fourth grade class down the hill beside the school to perform some quickly made up science experiment—a simple excuse to get outside.
The kids scattered under the trees, and I settled down to watch them. While my private school teacher’s pay was pitiful, the freedom to run my classroom as I saw fit more than made up for it. No one would care if we spent the entire day outdoors.
I tilted my head toward the sky as a vibration pulsed, then droned, through the air. A tousle-headed boy pointed toward 3 fighter jets flying south in tight formation. He ID’d them by make and model as they disappeared. Stewart Air Force Base was nearby, so I assumed the jets were on training exercises, but the skinny blond boy shook his head. Apparently those jets were the wrong kind to be arcing over the schoolyard.
It wasn’t long before the day began to falter, stumbling step by step toward the chaos that would engulf us as we located family and friends (or didn’t) and watched the endless loop of destruction on our TVs.
For me it began innocuously: the art teacher walked down the hill to where I was standing, casually linking arms with me and tilting her face to the sunshine. When the little eyes stopped watching and returned to scouring the ground for whatever leaf or bug I’d asked them to collect, she leaned in and murmured Don’t react, okay? I’m about to tell you something and you can’t freak out.
The Twin Towers had been attacked.
When I look at The Tower card, I remember the chaos of that day. Not only what CNN was showing—people literally falling or jumping from flaming skyscrapers, uncannily reminiscent of the card itself—but the uncertainty, the rumors, the fear, and the shattering of one of the most perfect days I can remember.
This is what The Tower card does: it shatters the illusion of perfection and permanence.
But that’s not why I put my Rider-Waite deck away.
I put it away because The Tower, as it is drawn in that particular deck, is meant to evoke fear. And fear is never the best response to chaos, transition, and change.
I watched fear take root in the Hudson River towns north of New York City. I watched how the initial sense of community, of coming together, changed to an ugly sort of patriotism that sought to segregate and hate. I remember a dinner party, a casual potluck with guitars and singing, where I was hushed for speaking against the coming war, as my circle of friends looked surreptitiously over their shoulders to see who had heard.
When The Tower appears and we answer it with fear, we create our own chaos and perpetuate the destruction. The Tower becomes a cancer, gnawing away our joy, our love, our hope.
While I need to be reminded of the kind of transformation that springs from complete destruction, I don’t need to do it on a wave of adrenaline and trepidation. I don’t need to see flaming bodies falling from the sky.
In my mind I’ve replaced this card with The Butterfly or The Phoenix, symbols that allow change to take me down to the ash and cinder implied by The Tower without the fear-mongering.
The Phoenix rises on the flames, becoming a firebird before eventually burning out, returning to ash to rise again. The symbolism of the Tower can feel like a one-time catastrophe but the Phoenix reminds us that life is not linear but cyclical. It reminds us of the power of allowing small deaths so we can be reborn within this lifetime.
When we know that each destruction cycle leads to recreation, there is space for fear to fall away.
The Butterfly archetype teaches a similar lesson. When the caterpillar crawls into its cocoon, it doesn’t stay safe and snug and whole in its quest for flight. Instead it dissolves completely. If you open a cocoon, you will find neither a caterpillar nor a butterfly; you’ll find DNA soup.
The Butterfly is born from complete dissolution of everything it was before. I wonder sometimes if the caterpillar resists the cocoon.
But I choose to believe it goes willingly, joyfully even, knowing that this is the way to its wings.
About Maia Toll
Hi, I'm Maia Toll storyteller, truth speaker, entrepreneur & teacher. My joy? Empowering women to trust themselves enough to own their wellness, their sacred, and their truths. I blog at www.maiatoll.com and head up a radically normal network of conscious women in my Witch Camp Community.
Loved this story? Download all 22 stories for the Major Arcana and bring the Tarot cards to life! Best of all, it’s 100% free!