Temperance be my guide

So yeah.

I’m ready to reclaim myself.

From what? Oh, y’know. From myself!

I’m an obsessive kinda person.

Not in any clinical way; it’s not *a thing*. It’s just a tendency, a part of who I am. Whatever I do, if I like doing it, I fling myself into it and do it obsessively… for as long as that energy lasts. Sometimes, like a sparkler, it’s fun for a short moment, and then it’s gone, abandoned, dropped on the cold ground. Sometimes it’s more like the bonfire, consistently fed and burning all night.

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I don’t mind about the short-lived ideas. I’m a decade past myself up about the things I don’t see through. I’m human, I’m excitable, life is too short and there is so much fun to be had, so much to try, to create, to care about. Long-term loves of mine have included tarot, film photography, reading poetry, blogging, letter-writing, cycling , music and mixtape-making. Flash-in-the-pan hobbies lasting anywhere from three hours to three years have included winemaking, gardening, coding, knitting, a clothes customising project that raised funds for feminist projects, wildflower identification, trapeze, interior design and playing my accordion.

All of these are approached with the same enthusiasm, the same willingness to get completely and utterly obsessed. Some things stick, some don’t, and that’s all cool. When it works, it gets great things done. When it doesn’t – hell, it was fun for a moment.

When Little Red Tarot accidentally-on-purpose became a real business this time last year, that familiar energy took hold.

This time, though, it was a little different. Perhaps because I’m in my early 30s and suddenly determined to create something I could actually live on. Perhaps because I was still recovering, bruised and self-critical from a difficult recent relationship history. Perhaps because I wanted to be a grown-up, all of a sudden.

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Whatever – turning this website into a sustainable business became the obsession project of my wildest dreams. I could devote myself to playing with tarot cards all day long, reading for clients, teaching folks to do the same, writing a column for a website I adored, and having fun with my shop. At the same time I could indulge my passion for design, creating and endlessly perfecting an online home for this amorphous body of work.

But it’s taken its toll.

Just as it can while I’m at the sewing machine, lost in a poetry book, riding the Welsh coast or fretting over the exact right song to follow on from Welcome to the Occupation, my obsessive tendencies can suck me into this screen, this keyboard. And a year has gone by and the obsession has not waned and I’m not in a good shape at all.

This is not the end of the world. I’m not floored by genuine depression, I’m not in some dark hole that I can’t see a way out of. It’s just… it’s stopped being fun. Because it’s become all that I do.

And this, of course, is where Temperance comes in.

Dear Temperance, a card I’ve always thought of as so dull, so damn… temperate.

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From the Wild Unknown Tarot

It would be fair to say that I don’t relate much to the ideas behind this card. ‘Balance’ doesn’t come naturally to me, ‘harmony’ sounds way too rainbows and fairies, and calmness always felt like something for people who understand how to meditate. As Em told me this morning, I’m naturally wired, and a person of extremes.

When Temperance comes up in my readings, I tend to read it as a bit of a finger-wagging, a schoolmarmish telling off. The word itself has stuffy connotations: the temperate climate of the UK (aka the weather is rubbish), the temperance movements of the early 1900s, which encouraged abstinence from alcohol (nope). A quick Wiki brings up: ‘Temperance is defined as moderation or voluntary self-restraint. It is typically described in terms of what an individual voluntarily refrains from doing.’ It goes on to talk about virtues such as chastity, prudence, modesty and the like.

Definitely not a comfort zone.

Yet right now this is the card I’m carrying around with me.

Suddenly, as a person who’s life has become incredibly single tracked, and as someone who wants to bring variety, creativity and, yes, the elusive concept of balance back into her life, Temperance is looking pretty damn good.

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In the Rider-Waite-Smith and the Dreaming Way Tarot (as well in as loads of other decks) Temperance is illustrated by an angel doing something weird-looking with water. Interestingly, in Pamela Colman Smith’s illustration, the angle is nonbinary – they’re not ‘male’ or ‘female’, they are perhaps a blend of the two, somewhere on the spectrum between those two extremes, or rejecting the concept of binary gender altogether. Here, this becomes a metaphor for ‘not going to extremes’, and it helps me to understand Temperance as not so much a ‘middle road’ as a rejection of becoming stuck or pigeonholed in one identity or way of being.

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So what about those cups? What witchery is this? Only the magic of blending our own extremes to find a place of stability:

The cups represent the sub- and super-conscious minds. One cup can be thought of as holding hot water and the other cold water. The water flowing between them is actually going from the lower cup to the higher one, signifying rising from a lower plane to a higher one. The temperate individual mixes the opposites and finds a balance in life by avoiding extremes.
Biddy Tarot

Again, there’s that part of Temperance that turns me off. Who wants lukewarm water? But I like the idea of bringing my conscious and subconscious together. Elementally, my conscious is a lot of fire and air – ideas, often noisily expressed, overthinking, floating somewhere above the ground. (This also feels like a very ‘digital’ place.) Subconsciously, I’m yearning for earth and water – for something solid, for creativity I can experience with my hands, for life I can live via all of my senses. And true, deep feeling. It’s all there, of course, but months buried in my laptop have shoved that stuff down to my subconscious, literally out of sight and mind. I don’t want to get rid of the air and fire – as an Aquarius with Leo rising, that stuff is just part of who I am. But yes, for me to be fulfilled, and especially right now to break these habits, I need to temper these elements with those hidden beneath – earth, and water.

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In Thea’s Tarot, Temperance is renamed Grace, the card showing a Grecian-goddess-looking woman untangling a long string of flowers. It’s a great metaphor – as anyone who’s ever had the job of putting up last year’s hastily-bundled-away Christmas lights will know, this is not the kind of task you can rush. Of this card Oliver Pickle writes:

Grace calls for self control, not through socially internalised oppression and compartmentalisation but through appropriate and thoughtful responses to all situations. It asks for compromise, harmony, and moderation. Specifically, it suggests you bring together the divergent elements of your life and, using intuitive guidance, blend them together in a way that allows for harmony and healing.

Oliver Pickle, She Is Sitting in the Night

As always, Oliver has said it best (have I mentioned how much I love this book? Oh yeah – right here.)

I’m not writing this as some kind of conclusion. I just want to journal my way through this current challenge, to share it with folks who might feel the same, and of course to find the tarot cards that describe my experience and aspirations.

Anyway. Enough writing, enough computer. I’m off for the day. There’s a two-hour ‘hush’ at the poetry library (for would-be writers to concentrate in companionable silence) and a riverside route all the way from my home to the city. A perfect blend of water and earth.

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14 comments

  1. Shonna says:

    I find thinking about Temperance’s Sagittarius association quite illuminating. Sagittarius likes to expand, learn, grow.

    When paired with Temperance (who I often think of as a scientist, controlling the variables to get measurable results) it makes me think of this: try something, step back, observe the results, learn the lessons, you have grown. Repeat forever.

    It makes being “moderate” seem less boring, more like a clever and effective way to really expand into one’s destiny.

    • Beth says:

      *Repeat forever* Indeed, Shonna! Thanks for putting this so succinctly. I could never ‘marry’ what I feel about Sagittarius with the ‘moderate’ energy of this card, but you’ve really provided a helpful perspective here.

  2. Eli says:

    A reading of Temperance that I found really illuminating was the suggestion that it is the holding of two opposing states at the same time and the discovery that they are not mutually exclusive. A sort of daring, over-arching balance–a wise transcendence of binaries… I associate it with a line from a book I love in which a woman is tortured by the idea that someone could be God and the Devil at the same time–which is perhaps just a heightened way of saying something very normal, that we all have good and bad within us. I like the idea of balance arising through extremes: the tight rope walker finding her centre by holding a very wide pole, the pendulum coming to centre only by first swinging all the way through the extremes. That’s sort of how I see Temperance.

    • Beth says:

      Wow, yes – this: “the holding of two opposing states at the same time and the discovery that they are not mutually exclusive.” We’re not robots, we’re not one-dimensional beings. I’m so much more comfortable with the idea of Temperance meaning two things at once, rather than a diluting or blending, or a ‘middle road’ between the two.
      In the Shadowscapes tarot, the image shows a yin-yang, which feels much more in line with this way of thinking, each of us containing dualities (or multitudes).

  3. Sanna says:

    I can completely relate to all you’ve written here. Thanks for putting it so clearly into words. Temperance is a card that really makes me go ‘boooring’. But I like what Shonna suggested above, to see the card as a scientist applying a scientific process, making it necessary to step back a little.

    But also, yes, more earth. At least my view of pentacles have shifted from boring coins to the idea that earth can be very powerful. Strangely enough my first deck was The Wild Unkown, where the pentacles cards are very powerful, so I’m not sure where I got that idea.

  4. Dawn says:

    Beth, Pamela shows the way…run through the water toward the yellow brick road…skip through the mountains–that’s where Scarecrow, TinMan, Lion, Munchkins and moregalore await…come join the Sagittarius party–we’re under the yellow crown 🙂

  5. Oh, wow, I actually LOVE the Temperance for similar reasons you dislike it. I too feel very high energy very much of the time, but this one always politely brings me back down to Earth. Because it’s about balance too I’ve always seen it as finding a way to balance your passions with reality, and even toyed with naming my tarot company Temperance. Love the different cards and hearing about your journey with it. <3.

    • Beth says:

      Thanks Cassandra! You’ve articulated just what I’m finding in this card right now (and by the same token, just what I need from it.) It’s funny because I could always see this gentle, helpful energy for other folks when doing client readings…but when it’s come up on my own readings (unsurprisingly, fairly often – it regularly appears in my daily draws) I’ve had trouble taking heed. (I think this is to do with my stubborn Capricorn moon, but that’s another story 🙂

  6. Sunshine Nirmala says:

    Hi Beth,

    I felt compelled to comment here because I recently had my own sort of eureka with Temperance – which I also thought was the most annoyingly boring card in the deck, so I can completely relate to this post! I didn’t see the point of it AT ALL! That was before my epiphany. I was in the kitchen at work, making everyone a cup of tea (as you do) when I overheard one of my colleagues raving about how my teas and coffees are the best in the world, and I always get it right, and noone really knows how. And it struck me: THAT is what Temperance means to me! My ability to intuitively tap into the needs of the particular drink, the particular persons desires and to somehow exceed their expectations by creating a drink that is tailor made just for them. It’s as though all of my heart and soul go into making it. I am also an obsessive kind of person, but when that obsessiveness is highly focused on a specific task, MAGIC happens, alchemy happens, and we can turn lead into gold, and it made me realise that Temperance isn’t just about moderation and restraint, it’s about opening the door to a world of magical alchemy, it’s like the secret behind the door of that finger wagging school marm (that cracked me up!) – if we can see beyond her dowdy exterior, we realize that she is hiding a beautiful talent, that she is actually a magical creature behind closed doors… Temperance is a highly focused healer who puts her ego aside to let the creation burst forth – that balance is an inner balance, that reconciles everything and creates something new. I used to think she was boring, now I find her to be the most exciting card in the deck.

    Love xx

    • Beth says:

      Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this Sunshine!! Who would have thought that the humble act of making a cuppa could bring about such a revelation? I think you’re right about the magic – like the way the angel’s water magically leaps from cup to cup – Temperance unlocks something. I have a tendency to be super blinkered when I’m busy with something – it strikes me that the magic is often happening in the periphery. Doing something with passion and devotion doesn’t have to mean being blinkered, missing the true magic, or being unable to blend in the different elements of myself when needed. Now I’m just imagining the swirling infusion of a fresh cup of tea 🙂

  7. Ari says:

    I’ve always been super drawn to Temperance, especially the Wild Unknown’s version. For me, I definitely identify with the idea of cold and hot coming together, but the distinction is that they don’t combine to create warm. Instead, they live in harmony, neither extinguishing or overpowering the other (as you can see in TWU’s illustration). The balance that Temperance calls for is just that- a balance between the two elements. It’s okay to still appreciate the cool beauty of the water, and the exciting spark of the fire, while keeping them both in check.

    I loved this post- thanks for your constant tarot wisdom and awesomeness!

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