The fourth wall of that apartment was sky — straight out west to infinity. At sunset, the colours were delirious: orange, magenta, fuchsia, red, burning in the west. And then, through dusk, subtle mauve and bruises. In the distance the planes circling to land at Heathrow blinked in the beautiful damask clouds. When night fell, the sky was prussian blue. It was a magical view, full of possibilities and dreams. To the right were the towers, some close to, and others smaller, a mile or so away. During the day, these were boring blocks of brown, but when the deep blue came, they turned into glittering constellations. The windows, with different coloured curtains or blinds, open or closed, created patterns of colour, light and dark.
I imagined the stories behind those windows —the people’s stories, hundreds of them — ribboning multicoloured into the night, connecting to places far away (because people came from everywhere to live there), and unfurling backwards and forwards through time, memories and hopes, desires and failures.
The closest tower, just across the car park, was called Grenfell.
Hundreds of human stories told there ended in the early morning of June 14 with the same single catastrophe. Grenfell Tower — all 27 storeys — burned last week, incinerated in a shell of toxic crud.
Each one of those windows I used to look into is now a blackened socket.
The Lightning Struck Tower
The destruction of that tower, the eclipsing of those lives, is not only a terrible accident, and a series of personal tragedies, or a case of criminal negligence: it’s a message. That blackened concrete finger points accusingly to the heavens and demands our attention.
One of the most powerful images in the Tarot is the 16th card of the Major Arcana, The Tower. It’s often depicted as being struck by lightning, with the top on fire and people falling out, just as happened at Grenfell. It signifies crisis, disruption, destruction: a fall. On many decks, a crown tumbles down along with the people.
Where the imagery of the Tarot comes from is a matter of debate, but there are certainly many myths around the world — from Mexico to Babylon — about humans or giants building high towers, pyramids or ziggurats and coming to grief. Often, it is because they are trying to reach the gods, or they are competing with the gods.
In French Tarot decks, the Tower is often called La Maison de Dieu, the House of God, which seems strange until you consider these myths. This is what happens when humans try and become gods: innocent individuals pay for collective hubris. The gods don’t discriminate between the innocent and the guilty.
When the towers of the Lancaster West Estate were built in the 1970s, they replaced one of the most appalling slums in Britain. For descriptions of the squalor and the pity in Notting Dale and Kensal Town (now North Kensington) before the towers, read Alan Johnson’s beautifully written autobiography This Boy, or Colin MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners. The tower blocks and low rise social housing were massive improvements, so much so that by the noughties people such as the soon-to-be Prime Minister David Cameron lived in the few streets of Edwardian houses left in North Kensington; and the huge Victorian white stucco villas on Oxford Gardens were no longer occupied by dozens of people with families squashed into single rooms, but had been returned into single dwellings for TV stars and bankers.
Those towers, which you see as you come into London along the Westway, were symbols of the welfare state working for the people.
A few years ago, these symbols of a caring government were encased in plastic crud — the cladding which caused Grenfell to go up like a torch on June 14. Who got the backhander? Or was it just incompetence.
Looking at the chart for the fire might tell us something about what’s going on.
• First of all the symbol for the burning tower is Saturn (building) in fiery Sagittarius sitting at the top of the chart — a burning tower visible from all around. Saturn is also retrograde, so the usual rules or boundaries are weakened. It opposes the Sun in the “home” sector, creating a tower across the event chart. Saturn is also, of course, the Grim Reaper himself, and opposite the Sun, he quenches life.
• Neptune and Pisces are rising, showing the confusion that must have reigned at that moment — and continued into the following days as government — local and national — failed to respond. It could also be that toxic fumes killed more people than actual heat. But Neptune and Pisces are also about sacrifice. How many lives were burnt in the pyre we do not even yet know. Of course Chiron, the wounded, is there too taking a hit from both Saturn and the Sun. The damage and repercussions are bound to go on for years.
• The fire started in a kitchen — Mars (fire) in Cancer (kitchens) is unaspected (rogue).
• The symbolism of the tarot Tower reminds us of Pluto, who destroys and transforms. So what was he doing at that time? He is in the 11th house of community or society in the sign (Capricorn) of government and making an exact aspect to Ceres the asteroid of caring or nurturing in Gemini the sign of friends and neighbours. Now that aspect is an awkward inconjunct. Something has to shift to get it working. The fire has forced the government to pay attention to caring for people’s housing (Ceres on the IC). Pluto might suggest that there was corruption involved.
• Considering it was a domestic fire, it might be worth looking at Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, and matches! She is in fiery Leo opposite the Moon in Aquarius (you might call that latter “social housing” again Moon (shelter) + social Aquarius). But Vesta is also a sacred flame — the torch that lights the pyre (Neptune Rising is inconjunct). Also in aspect is wild, unruly Lilith bringing out the dark side of those she touches. These two are also in contact with Mercury, who speeds things up.
• The other very tight aspect (along with Pluto-Ceres) is the trine between Jupiter in Libra and Mercury in Gemini. Mercury is going fast right now, and Jupiter is too, so when they work together, something big might happen quickly. Jupiter here is also about the law. Not only is there likely to be a massive law suit, the laws will be altered because of this fire — and in the future lives will be saved.
This fire — maybe the worst civilian one in Britain’s history — will change behaviour. Sprinklers will have to be fitted everywhere. Tenants will have to be listened to. Why did people have to die for this to happen?
But it also showed up something else. Volunteers took charge because they had to. We are a headless state, not only is the Prime Minister a shade, so is the machinery of local and national government. The top has blown off. The only person who seems to have a sense of what to do is the Queen.
In a part of town that’s always seemed thick with ghosts, now the loudest ghosts are the most recent — and their tragedy travels through time and space, north over the Westway and south across Holland Park, over the sea to families far away. There are children who will never be born, families whose histories ended here on a hot night in June, but their story will change the way we do some things forever, and for some of us, the way we sense a certain place.
In the tarot deck, the card that follows The Tower is called The Star — often the loveliest card in the pack. It represents hope and faith in the future.