Whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age. . . Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties!


 The aura of man's aspiration to greatness haunts the tapering flanks of towers wherever they stand. Their lonely height lends dignity to the unending travail of human existence and hearkens to those great vertical forces that mark history as ideational promontories on a vast horizontal stage of experience. The rubble of once formidably crenellated walls lies strewn in our minds, evoking memories of lost mighty powers. We are fascinated with the decomposing ruins as though faced with the skeletal remains of our own ancient longings. We sense the futility, the encroachment of death and decay, and yet our souls soar, beckoning us to ascend beyond the level of common life.

 For many people, ancient and modern alike, material height implies spiritual elevation, and the tower symbolically conveys this idea of ascent and transformation. Stressing the latter concept, the alchemists gave their 'Athanor' or furnace the shape of a tower within which lead could be converted to gold. For them, the metamorphosis of matter implied a process of ascension. They believed that as man mounted the tower stairs, he drew metaphysically and alchemically closer to spirit. However, as history abundantly reveals, oftentimes when man most desires to raise his mortal nature to the level of immortality, he merely succeeds in raising a self-limiting monument to himself. Accompanying the desire to transcend the ordinary is the ever potential force of pride.

 The sixteenth arcana of the Tarot depicts a tower half-destroyed by lightning which, in striking the top, has dislodged many flesh-coloured bricks that are falling upon a king and the tower's own architect standing below. All this symbolizes the dangerous consequences of overconfidence and pride and is no doubt inspired by ancient images such as that of the Tower of Babel, the building of which is said in Hebrew tradition to have brought disaster and mental disorder. The huge brick tower was erected on the plain of Shinar at a time when "all men were of one speech." The children of Noah, journeying there, said among themselves, "Let us make brick and burn them thoroughly . . . Let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." And so they attempted to penetrate heaven and make their mark upon the earth, but the Lord stopped them by confounding their speech so that the workers could not understand one another. It is perhaps significant that the failure of the work was brought about through fragmentation of speech rather than through some physical disability. The mental disorders ensuing from the prideful act may well be mental characteristics which men came to think of as normal in the darkening ages that followed.

 In fortressing his pride against external aggression, man built ever loftier towers from which he both trumpeted his religious beliefs and repelled the armies of his enemies. The whole epic of kings and hallowed causes, of greed and vanity and glittering halls, unfolds as a shadowy tapestry behind the-ramparts of dark towers wherein the watch never slept but waited through the centuries until the walls crumbled in their lichen stain. Apart from pseudo-cynics who invert their pride through a generalized deprecation of humanity, are there any among us who do not thrill to this ancient pride, this tortured sense of duty, this necessity of rising noticeably so that decay and death must struggle to overtake us? Are there men who pass their lives as invisible towers and never feel the desire to make their mark upon the world? Even the good man dreams his death will leave an altered world behind him. What greater tribute than that of Andromache who cried to her beloved husband's shade, "O mighty tower! The pillar of our household! Thou hast fallen!"

 So closely did men identify with towers that their windows were likened to eyes and their height often advertised the importance of a clan or reigning fief. Indeed, in Burma, families competed in the building of tall pagodas to decide struggles without unnecessary bloodshed, while in parts of Greece blood feuds were marked in their stages by the ever increasing height of family towers.

Tell me, old man, where is the road to Oxia?
How can I tell thee, sir?
For my youth was passed in the tower yonder
My manhood within its walls,
In my old age I remember the glorious battles
And wait for my grandson to grow.

The Romans, after years of siege-warfare, came to distrust the upright and therefore vulnerable angles of the Greek wall-towers and began to build semi-circular bastions. Arcaded towers flanked their imperial gateways, an arrangement that inspired all subsequent mediaeval architecture in Europe. In the Gothic Age military architects built lofty towers along the curtain wails to repel the formidable types of siege artillery developed in the twelfth century.

 It is from the Latin, Old French and Old English languages that we derive the word 'tower' and it is hardly surprising that the word evokes a picture of armed struggle in the minds of most speakers of derivative tongues. The tower that defends is often a dark tower, and the old Lithuanian legend which tells of the sun imprisoned within a tower is perhaps partially inspired by this complexity of inherited symbols. The signs of the zodiac are said to bear aid to the sun and with a huge hammer (symbolizing the thunder of spring storms) they destroy the dark tower and release the sun. As the sun is released from its wintry dungeon, the symbol of ascent and transformation overtakes that of darkness and the tower resumes its basic symbolic association with spirituality. From its heights sound and light can be projected into the rarefied air above the dust and turmoil of everyday life. The toll of bells or the glow of altar fires upon its ramparts carry the prayers of men to their gods. The worshipper is raised up to heaven through a symbolic link between spirit and matter. In France, church towers were placed at the crossing of the nave and the transepts, thus forming a sort of umbilical column from the centre of the sanctuary to heaven above. Variations of this architectural theme were common in churches throughout Christendom. Co-ordinately, the Virgin Mary was sometimes depicted as a tower, symbolizing a living link of unadulterated matter between heaven and earth.

 Among Siberian people, the tower was believed to be connected with the pole star around which the sky revolves, and was therefore seen as a pillar supporting the heavens. Every Ostiak village had its 'town pillar' which was considered sacred, having been 'planted' by god. They were seven-storied and at their base people sacrificed cows or bulls. Altai shamans had their own seven-storied towers and would rise through each stage by magical means, disappearing into seven invisible chambers in the sky. Yakut tales describe a transparent four-sided stone tower erected upon the back of the world-bearing tortoise so frequent in Central Asian cosmology. Most Siberians, like other peoples of Central Asia, believed in a heavenly counterpart of the seven-staged tower, consisting of silver of various transparencies. Their earthly complement, though crudely affected, was the faithful reflection of a very widespread notion which may well have developed in this area before spreading to other parts of the ancient world. Certainly Plato's account of the spindle of necessity in The Myth of Er derives from the same archetype. Its crucial functional and symbolic role in Central Asian religion would suggest this, and the seven-storied or stage tower was well established in the Middle East by the thirteenth century B.C. Cylinder seals reveal that Sumerian stage towers provided graduated altars upon which prayers were offered. The stage tower of Ezida at Borsippa was named Euremeiminanki, 'House of him who controls the seven decrees of heaven and earth.' Each of the seven stages had a different colour related to a planet which the priest propitiated as he advanced from altar to altar, arriving finally at the topmost silver stage dedicated to the moon.

 Apart from its link with the fragmentation of language, the Tower of Babel has been interpreted by some entirely in terms of an astronomical myth. In its stages and aspects, the tower was seen as a design of the cosmos, a symbolic rendering of the astral prototype of Babylon, the reality of which was based upon the Chaldean assumption that all things on earth have their counterpart in heaven. This was thought true of geometric shapes and proportions as well. Minarets were often octagonal while some, like the Mosque of Samarra, coiled up, causing the pilgrim to ascend in a spiral to meet the descending spiral of the spirit of god. In Ceylon, the building of towers has always been strictly governed by a laying of magical foundation stones. A rigid system of proportions fixes every dimension. The main approach is always from the south and directional features are associated with the sun at its zenith and the supreme moment of the enlightenment of the mortal Buddha. The sculptured platforms at the four cardinal points are seen as a replica of the universe, echoing the notion widespread since ancient times that the proportions reflected in such structures are divine.

The Secret Doctrine suggests that the pupils of the holy Rishis of the Third Root Race handed down this knowledge to the 'Priest-Architects' who built the temples, altars and towers of the ancient world. This was certainly true of the great stupas of India and the rest of the Buddhist world. Their great domed garbhas rise high above the relic chamber symbolizing the death and final release of the Buddha. A glorious proliferation of sacred tower structures took place during the reigns of the various Hindu Dynasties. The magnificence of the globular amalaka capitals of the Shiva shrines at Elephanta contrast with the strong horizontal divisions marking the stages of Dravidian towers. During the Gupta period the stories increased, sometimes exceeding four hundred feet in height as in the great stupa at Kanishka in which the basement alone had five stages. The Kanishka Tower later served as the model and inspiration for the Buddhist pagodas that became so prominent in the Far East and were seen as an architectural representation of the cosmos. The great pillar running up the core of the building is symbolic of the invisible world axis that joins the centre of the earth to heaven by stories which diminish in size while the disks of the finial represent the heavens of various gods. The design of the cosmos, once architecturally fixed, was animated by the precious relics enshrined within. The Chinese tended to use the stories of their pagodas for sacred and magical purposes, while the Japanese were willing to sacrifice functionality for greater height.

 The early minarets at Damascus were thought originally to have been watchtowers. This seems apt, considering their use by the Persians as fire platforms, where the sacred flame of life was ever watched and tended down through subsequent ages by the Zoroastrians. It is significant that the Greek word for tower is πυργος or pyrgos, derived from πυρ or pyre, which indicates both fire and the altar upon which the fire is kept, pointing to the connection of purgation and tapas. It is the funeral mound and the lighted sacrifice of ancient times and clearly relates the Greek tower to the Buddhist stupa and the glorious golden pagodas of Buddhist lands. The fire atop the towers of many Eastern sects symbolizes both life and the funerary sacrifice of great teachers who have given their lives to keep the spark of wisdom alive among mankind. Unlike the Romans and subsequent Europeans, these people conceived of the tower primarily in terms of spiritual watchfulness, a sacred witnessing of that which was in heaven. In one of his stories, W. Q. Judge gives what seems a clairvoyant account of such practices in pre-Celtic Ireland and describes a terrible moment when the sacred fire atop the watchtower was allowed to go out.

 In the Buddhist sutra called the Gandavyuha or 'The Array of Flowers,' the young pilgrim Sudhana stands before the Vairochana Tower and asks, "Where is the abode of the Bodhisattva?" The answer is given to him in terms of this symbolic tower together with an enumeration of the matrix of transcendent attributes belonging to the blessed state of the Bodhisattva, implying the nature of the tower-abode itself. In Tibetan tradition Vairochana symbolizes 'the perfection of the Divine Thought-Principle.' Dharmakaya is the 'shape (which is shapeless) of the Body of Truth.' The 'Thatness' constituting it is Dharma-Dhatu, the 'Potentiality of Truth' which dawns as the light of the Dhyani Buddha Vairochana. He is the Manifestor 'who, in shapes, makes things visible.' He is the chief of the seven Dhyani Buddhas, the Cause and the Universal Father spreading forth as seminal essence from the Central Realm. He is the Central Sun, the source of all organic life and manifests when embraced by his Shakti, the Mother Space, the 'Mary' so profanely echoed in the pillared virgin of the Christian tradition. His is the potency that permeates all and to understand his abode is to understand the Doctrine of Interpenetration. Sudhana, upon entering the Vairochana Tower, finds it has expanded to infinity and contains in 'perfect mutual interpenetration' all the phenomena of the universe from the highest to the lowest.

 The symbolic tower of Vairochana is the vehicle of Father-Mother through which the transmutational process of the spiritualization of matter takes place. It is this idea that inspired the 'Athanor' of the Alchemists. It is also the dynamic process associated with the Babylonian god Nebo whose tower symbolizes the same function attributed to Hermes and Mercury-Buddha, the child of Tara and King Soma, who ever travels back and forth between the Central Sun and the earth as the heavenly messenger spreading the divine seed of god. This is also symbolized in the Shiva lingam which both fructifies the earth and penetrates the heavenly sea. It is the Flame of Pure Awareness, Atma-sphurana, glow of the Self-Supreme, the Source of Consciousness. The Tower of Nebo and the Shiva lingam, "like all these steeples, turrets, domes, and Christian temples, are the reproductions of the primitive idea of the Lithos, the upright phallus." The Round Towers of the Far East and of Ireland are symbols of the life-giving and preserving power of man and nature, and how that universal life is produced through suffering, crucifixion, and death. All these structures are reflections of the Vairochana tower which exists only in the consciousness shared by the invisible tenders of the fires of spiritual thought here in the world. This is magnificently depicted by Mahatma K. H.:

 For countless generations hath the adept builded a fane of imperishable rocks, a giant's Tower of INFINITE THOUGHT, wherein the Titan dwelt, and will yet, if need be, dwell alone, emerging from it but at the end of every cycle, to invite the elect of mankind to co-operate with him and help in his turn enlighten superstitious man.

 This lofty concept is approached from time to time in flashes of intuitive insight. Nietzsche saw that the greater the height of this tower of consciousness, the deeper must be its roots. The foundations necessary to support the psychological structure capable of containing and assimilating the dynamic results of the continual spiritual ascent and descent of true meditation must be built over a long period of time upon many stages of self-knowledge and self-sufficiency. To enter that process fully is to embrace what Nerval described in his Aurelia:

 I found myself in a tower, whose foundations were so deep into the earth and whose top was so lofty, reaching up like a spire into the sky, that my whole existence already seemed bound to be consumed in climbing up and down it.

 The man who longs to make his life useful to others, to elevate within himself a tower from whence may shine a beacon light - for those who dwell in darkness and mental disorder, for those whose speech is confounded and who understand one another little if at all - must develop within himself psychological self-sufficiency on behalf of others. He can make of himself a tower of hope, knowing that it is pride that separates the 'haughty fool' and makes it impossible for him to commune spiritually with his fellow man. The pygmy tower of pride rises like a pathetic fragment, penetrating nothing while he who unites the god and shakti within himself becomes a tower of light. The words he utters will be pure reflections of the One Undivided Word, the One Seed of Divine Thought which interpenetrates all levels of his being. He will have become the benevolent but invisible indweller of the Vairochana Tower of Universal Self-Consciousness - and a beacon to humanity.

 The Vairochana Tower is the abode where those who understand the meaning of Emptiness, Formlessness, and Will-lessness delight in dwelling. . .

Gandavyuha Sutra

Hermes, July 1976