That its name was changed from the House of God to the Tower is a good indication that this was one of the more misunderstood cards in the majors of the Marseille Tarot. Firstly, let me put the House fo God card into context. It sits between cards XII and XV, the Fool’s journey through the Dark Night of the Soul, and cards XVII and XX, the Fool’s journey through the Treasury of Light. The last card in the Dark Night ‘four’ is the Devil, who we see holding a flaming sword (typical of the standard canon of the Marseille Tarot). One of the very few references to a flaming sword was when God placed it, along side Cherubim at the Eastern Gate of the Garden of Eden (another name for the House of God, the place where God resides).
They were gatekeepers, who were to test that Adam and Eve qualified to enter back into the presence of God. This would suggest that a deep appreciation of the role and meaning of the flaming sword is essential if one was seeking en-light-enment or everlasting life. How many Sunday sermons did you hear on how to pass the tests of the flaming sword and the Cherubim?
Sorry to go biblical so much in this post, but this is what the Cathar were all about. There is a story of young man who approached Jesus and asks him what he has to do to obtain eternal life (the kingdom of Heaven). Basically, Jesus tells him to obey all of the commandments (ie the Ten Commandments). The young man replies, “All these things have I done from my youth up: What lack I yet?” Then Jesus says, “If you will be perfect, go and sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: come and follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful because he has many possessions. (Matthew 19:20-22)
Jesus goes one step further, and here we see the significance of the sword. “I came not to send peace, but a sword...He that loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34,37) So in summarising the level of detachment required here Jesus says, “And everyone that has forsaken houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matthew 19:29)
Some Cathar context here. The Cathar did not teach that Jesus was a saviour, to them he was an exampler. That said, they recognised that it was Christ consciousness that would save them, and so when these scriptures refer to loving father, mother, son or daughter, ‘more than me’, from the Cathar perspective that wasn’t about Jesus, but Christ consciousness. So, the House of God card is essentially depicting the Fool relinquishing his attachments to special relationships (the people falling out of the tower) and the crown, which symbolised wealth, power and fame. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains why this is so necessary. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You can’t serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)
Human consciousness has to be converted to Christ consciousness if the Fool is to enter the Treasury of Light (cards XVII - XX). The ‘tower’ represents the bricken construct of one’s life that is defined by how much wealth, power, love, and fame one has that will have to be sacrificed if you want to adopt Christ consciousness. You can’t serve God and mammon.
Now, this leads to an bit of a conundrum, because if you were making the sacrifice (on an alter for example) the flames would be going up. This was the significance of the alters in the Court of the Congregation, the forecourt to the Jewish temple. It doesn’t make sense that God would be the one striking your tower of human attachments. God already did their bit by exposing the Fool to Justice, Time and Chance. It’s interesting that in the Noblet cards, the flames are coming from the building and reaching up to the sun, and not the other way around. The other conundrum is, if the building represents the constructs of the Fool as
defined by his state of human consciousness, then where is the House of God?
I call the flaming sword and House of God card the Abrahamic Test. Here’s why. Abraham is 100 years or there about when he and Sarah give birth to their first child. Now Abraham has had a life time of being ‘attached’ to the idea of having a son. When he escapes from his country of birth he takes his nephew Lot with him. That has its challenges. God promises Abraham that he will have many children, but nothing is forth coming. So Sarah suggests he has a son to her Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar. She gives birth to Ishmael. This also has its challenges. Once again God declares to Abraham that he will be the ‘father of many nations’, but that this blessing would not come through Ishmael. As it turns out, Sarah does give birth, to Isaac (which means “he laughs” because Abraham laughed at God when he said he would be having a child to Sarah). From a psychological perspective, Abraham’s narrative driving his neediness around having an heir (to which he would serve as a loving parent) may have come from his own childhood experience. Abraham was almost executed as a young man, by King Nimrod, as a consequence of an altercation that he, Abraham, had with his own father.
Isaac is a lad when an angel appears to Abraham and says that God wants him to take Isaac “who obviously you really love, and go into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains, of which I will tell you later” (Genesis 22:2, my adaptation). This idea of the sacrifice of a child by a parent was incorporated into almost all religious faiths. For example in Greek mythology, Iphigenia is sacrificed by her father Agamemnon. The Etruscans would adorn their cremation urns with scenes from Iphigenia’s sacrifice. These urns would be placed beside the entrance to the yoni shaped passages in their tombs that lead to the rear of the tomb. Cremated remains placed in this urn was an indication that this person had passed the test of the flaming sword. Even in the Christian religion, God sacrifices his only begotten son, Jesus.
Getting back to Abraham. He takes Isaac up to the appointed place, builds an alter, ties up Isaac and is about to perform the sacrificial ritual (with a knife/sword and fire) when the angel returns and tells him not to continue. He frees Isaac and captures a wild ram caught in a thicket and sacrifices the ram instead. God wanted to know that Abraham had more love for God than Isaac. No wonder the word jealous was attributed to God!
The thing to which we have our greatest attachment, we will be asked to sacrifice. That is what this card is all about. This is the way we can inherit ‘everlasting life’. So where is the House of God in all of this? It’s the baubles in the air surrounding the tower. It’s the non-material depicted in the image. The Cathar believed that the good God had no physical association. “...the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; (Acts7:48).” It’s the place where the smoke and odour of the sacrifice is merged into the air and rises up to God, who recognises the sacrifice by the odour. This is symbolic of the way human consciousness communicates with God. This was also evidenced by the Alter of Incense found in the Holy Place in the Jewish temple. (More about that in the post on the Moon card).
The Fool can only make their way into the Treasury of Light by passing the test of the flaming sword. It is impossible for them to adopt Christ consciousness if they fail to pass this test. The Cathar needed for there to be no confusion about what that involved and devoted a whole card to explaining that test.
In the next post I will be looking at the the messages of the Star card, which explains to the Fool what changes in consciousness they will need to adopt in order to posses the sweet odour of sanctity.