Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols by Robert V. O'Neill The Tower

The Tower

Three WindowsWirthT de Marseille
Crown TopWestcottT de Marseille
Gold CrownPiedmontese
Round CrownWestcott
LightningWirthT de MarseilleRothschild
Window FlamesVachetta
SparksWirthT de MarseilleRosenwald
Two FallingWirthT de MarseilleRothschild
Man on LeftWirthT de Marseille
Woman on RightPiedmontese
He blue tunicDellarocca


  1. Tower on Peak - The theme of stark mountains arises again, and suggest that this card relates to an experience on the “mountain journey” of the mystic.

  2. The lightning is shaped like the “Flaming Sword” a concept from QBLH in which a single line is drawn through all of the sephiroth from the first (Kether) to the tenth (Malkuth), describing a lightning bolt. The crown atop the tower may reference the first sephiroth, Kether = Crown, but that would place it at the wrong end of the Lightning Bolt.

    The specific shape of the Lightning Bolt may have been influenced by W. B. Yeats. (See Magician footnote #2 for hints that Yeats influenced the design of the cards.)

    The Tower became a powerful symbol in Yeats's later poetry (Melchiori, The Whole Mystery of Art, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960), and he actually purchased and lived in an old Tower. Graf (W. B. Yeats Twentieth Century Magus, Weiser, 2000) shows that he regarded the Flaming Sword or Lightning Bolt as the path by which he received his poetic inspiration. Graf (24) shows an image of the tree with Lightning Bolt that was pasted in the back of Yeats's 1893 notebook.

  3. In The Works of Thomas Vaughan (p 262), Waite relates a vision that seems to relate to the Tower. Vaughan presents the vision in the form of a letter from the Brothers of the Rosy Cross:

    “There is a mountain situated in the midst of the earth....When you have discovered the Mountain the first miracle that will appear is this: a vehement and very great wind that will shake the Mountain and shatter the rocks to pieces....After this wind will come an earthquake that will overthrow those things which the wind hath left and make all flat. But be sure that you fall not off... there shall follow a fire that will consume the earthly rubbish....After all these things and near the daybreak there shall be a great calm; and you shall see the Day-Star arise.”

Based on original research by Robert V. O'Neill. To add to this collection of information, please email Robert V. O'Neill.

The Fool
The Magician
The High Priestess
The Empress
The Emperor
The Hierophant
The Lovers
The Chariot
The Hermit
Wheel of Fortune
The Hanged Man
The Devil
The Tower
The Star
The Moon
The Sun
The World
Introduction to Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols

Additional Tarot History Resources Related to
Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols

Holly's Rider-Waite Site A. E. Waite
The Hermitage: A Tarot History Site Villa Revak