Sagittarius is described in the literature of astrology as a high-minded philosophical and religious sign (along with its associated 9th-House placement in the “natural” zodiac, although traditional astrologers tell us signs and houses have nothing to do with one another); it is the province of academics and clerics and the most abstract and “temperate” of the Fire signs. This fact most likely led to it being chosen by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as the astrological correspondence for Temperance. It’s also probably why I spent so many decades trying to get my head around its practical implications in a reading. For his part, my main esoteric resource, Aleister Crowley, went ’round the barn a few times trying to equate Temperance to the consummation of the “alchemical marriage” shown in the Lovers, which is associated with the opposite sign of Gemini, but never quite managed to unravel that particular knot in a way I found helpful to my utilitarian purposes. Trying to metaphysically transform the “lower mind” of Mercury into the “higher mind” of Jupiter when the two planets have no natural affinity for one another beyond their intrinsic mental apparatus is part of the problem. Mercury is a tactician by sign while Jupiter is a theoretician, and they don’t really speak the same language. I made a couple of previous posts chronicling my long-term struggles with this card.
While developing my “storyboard” study of the RWS suit of Wands, I was stuck by the fact that the flighty 8 of Wands is rather awkwardly sandwiched between the hard-nosed, combative Seven and Nine. The question was “How does it further the plot of the narrative?” Like Temperance, this is another card that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in most practical situations. It means “Swiftness?” OK, swiftness at doing exactly what? Waite talks about an enterprise “drawing to its term” (that is, reaching its end), but he doesn’t offer much in the way of explanation for how the hard-pressed warrior in the 7 of Wands segues from his desperate plight to the marginally calmer scenario shown in the 9 of Wands. The 8 of Wands means “communication?” Maybe he sends up a flare to signal his dire need of rescue? My epiphany was that the 8 of Wands could simply be showing him running away from the flying staves raining down on him; in other words, discretion is the better part of valor and he will “live to fight another day.” If you use your imagination you can envision him just off the right side of the card, two or three steps ahead of the barrage.
I looked at the Chaldean decan for this card, which turned out to be Mercury in Sagittarius, and began to get a glimmer of insight. One clue may lie in the “metaphorical euphemism” I’ve ascribed to the 7 of Wands: “holding the moral high ground,” since Sagittarius (8 of Wands) is a sign of morality, or what I call “the Fine Art of Right Action” in connection with Temperance. The 7 of Wands embodies the righteous force of Mars in the noble sign of Leo, and the idea is that if his heart is pure and his motives ethical, the embattled soldier will somehow elude his numerous foes and escape back to his comrades, making his “last stand” there. Mercury in its native habitat of Gemini and Virgo is a “nuts-and-bolts” kind of guy who doesn’t waste much time hypothesizing when he finds himself in the hostile territory of Sagittarius, so the prospect of a hasty, strategic retreat wouldn’t make him think twice. Anyway, it’s food for thought when trying to puzzle out precisely what the 8 of Wands means in the mundane circumstances of a reading.