It is tempting to say the Temperance is lukewarm. It’s a word I strongly dislike, and falls into the category with khakis, loafers and Toyotas: they’re all safe choices, but they never stand out and they rarely get you excited about them in the morning. My favorite quote about lukewarm is in John’s note to the church of Laodicea in the Book of Revelation, 3:15-16: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. That is not far from the traditional interpretation of Temperance. She floats above the spirits of water and fire, tempering each with the other. What do we get if we cool our fire and heat our water? Lukewarm, I suppose.
This is, to my mind, an excellent interpretation of Temperance reversed. Someone who has misunderstood the lessons of Temperance, and instead of seeing her for the powerful angel that she is remains content to be restrained in all things, to use her moderation in order to dampen her passions and live calmly in smart khakis and comfortable loafers and a high MPG Toyota. But I think she’d be missing out on the true lesson of Temperance.
Look again at our angel. She is not in anyway an angel of moderation. She is, in party parlance, double fisting, holding both fire and water at the same time. Let’s stretch this a bit and say that she is able to hold the Grail and the Prometheus’ sacred fire simultaneously! That doesn’t sound like our girl in khakis at all. The girl in khakis, our misunderstanding moderate, shies away from the sacred fire and mistakes the sacred cup for a wonderful table piece and fills it with fake flowers (because real flowers are SO messy!).
The Temperate angel is not one who shies away from passions or power, but who embraces it and who, most importantly, responds to every situation with the appropriate level of strength. This to me is the lesson of the angel of Temperance, not that we should quell our own passions in the face of society, but that we should, if we are able, strive to meet each situation with the appropriate level of strength, and that in the face of great fire, we might stand calm in the midst of our own emotions, and that in deluge of great waves we might stand fast, a pillar of light and fire; that we might, as angels of Temperance, hold two seemingly conflicting passions simultaneously without letting them destroy us or each other.
One Response to “XIV Temperance”
You know, one of the meanings of “temper” comes to mind here: when a sword (the one elemental symbol not present in the drawing) is newly forged, its still-soft steel running hot with fire, you douse it in a bucket of cold water to temper it, that is, to give it its temper. It cannot become a hard, sharp blade without both the fire and the water.
Temper is, fittingly enough, one of those words that means its opposite: Someone who “has a temper” lacks moderation. But “to temper” something means to moderate it. In the middle of those is the steel’s temper, which cleaves it together and gives it its ability to cleave other things apart. Temperance doubtless partakes of both binding and loosing, in proper proportion.