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Dienstag, 3. Januar 2012

Facing my "Enemies" #1 "Temperance"

1st version of this article published March 2010 on my old blog - shortened and edited

There are cards that always put a smile on my face when they come up in a reading, there are cards I feel I can instantly say something about, know how to read them. And then there are cards that I would euphemistically call "unwieldy".

Cards you don't like say a lot about yourself. Therefore, I will take a closer look at the number XIV of the Major Arcana: Temperance (sometimes called Art or Alchemy). It is one of my pet hates because I find it quite vague. Let's see if I can come up with some pearls of wisdom.

The RWCS version shows an angel standing at the bank of a river. There is a setting sun in the background. The angel has one foot on the ground, one foot in the water. The symbol on his chest is the symbol of the fire element. Waite seems to have identified this card with either the Archangel Michael or Gabriel. Numerological 14=1+4=5 points to the sefira "gevurah" (or "geburah") on the kabbalah tree of life. Ths sefira is also associated with the archangel Gabriel. He is the angel of annunciation and the one who records and executes God's judgement.

In the cycle of the Major Arcana the card falls between Death and the Devil, the idea of judgement definitely makes sense there. This card belongs to the "night cycle" or "underworld cycle" in the Major Arcana. The association with the Underworld and Judgement is strengthened by the lilies you can see growing at the bank. It could be the river Styx, the one you have to cross in order to get into the Underworld, the lilies being the food for those souls who were judged to be neither good nor evil (Fields of Asphodel).

It's one of those cards that have an introspective quality. What will remain if our ego dies? In the tarot the Sun is associated with the self. The setting of the sun can also be found on the Death card which directly precedes Temperance. It suggests that these two cards lead us away from our conscious selves into the realm of shadows and the subconscious, into what Jung termed our "Self" (as opposed to our conscious side, the "ego").

The angel is holding two chalices and is pouring water from one into the other. They are like scales measuring the souls that enter the underworld. It also stands for finding the right measure between ego and self, integrating the shadow parts of ourselves to make our personality whole. In this sense, the card points to the need of healing - in a physical, psychological or spiritual sense. We need to align our centre and find the right balance. The idea of balance can also be found in the Victorian Romantic version of the card where the angel can be seen balancing on a barge. Generally the card is associated with the need for moderation in one or more areas of our lives.

In the Thoth deck the card is called "Art". Maybe Crowley shared my distaste for the idea of "moderation" - given that his lifestyle was anything but moderate.
Somehow the card feels "lukewarm". It seems to say: "Be humble and moderate." I'm born on the cusp but I'm still a Leo and I think Leos don't do moderate very well. I like to think in extremes and go to extremes in my emotions. So this card just feels "squishy" to me.

Looking at the angel I want to say to him, "Who are you, Monk? Trying to get the exact same amount of water in either cup? Geez...I hate persnicketiness. What happened to good old 'give or take a bit' and 'rule of thumb'? Not good enough for you? And what's with those feet? Couldn't make up your mind whether you want to stand on solid ground or in the water? Didn't want to get your feet wet, eh?"
He would get me very impatient, this angel with his careful, deliberate pouring...again and again and again...until he gets it juuuuuust right.

Maybe that is exactly what he is there to teach me, "Haste makes waste. Think before you act." When you want to create something worthwhile you need to know exactly what you are doing. Crowleys idea of "Art" points to a creative act that has to come from within our own selves. Balancing opposites, mixing, gauging, weighing until you get it just right. Crowley links the card closely to the idea of alchemy as does Haindl.

But what is the reward for all the trouble? Alchemy is the process of transmuting lesser metals into gold, the process of creating a panacea or the elixir of life, a remedy which is supposed to cure all diseases and which makes you immortal. Not such a bad reward after all. Julia, a very gifted tarot reader I know closely links this card to therapy: the idea of regaining (mental) balance and harmony, reconciling conflicting emotions or aspects of your self and (re)integrating them. Therefore creating something better, more valuable: a whole, healthy personality. And it needs a lot of good judgement, patience and fine-tuning to achieve that.

To sum it up this card is the gateway to our inner self. It gets you prepped to face your inner demons (represented by the Devil which is the next card in the cycle). The Devil is the exact opposite of that, he is excess and exorbitance.

Temperance is creative, not in the way that the Empress is creative - her creative force stemming from necessity and natural urges. Not in the way that the Moon is creative either - painfully giving birth to something from deep within, a creative frenzy or rush. In a way, Temperance is the true artist, combining handicraft and skill with inner 'genius'.

As you know I'm very much into Tarot and Creative Writing. If I try to see Temperance as a writer, it would be the one who is able to combine original ideas and a wild imagination with knowledge about the 'craft' (e.g. how to create and use a 'round' character, how to construct a plot that is able to capture the reader)
in such a way that the workmanship does not show and the fiction seems "effortless".
No James Joyce or Kafka...more of a Stephen King perhaps or a Theodor Fontane.

I will try to embrace this card as it does have a lot to teach an impatient hotspur like me and it contains valuable lessons for any kind of creative process.

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