Temperance/Art and the Sagittarius Decans

Continuing with my exploration of the “meditation patterns” for the Minor Arcana from Jim Eshelman’s Liber Theta, here are the patterns for the Sagittarius trump card, Temperance (Art in the Thoth deck), and the three decans of Sagittarius; I call this sequence “Art for Art’s Sake.”

The Minor Arcana for Sagittarius are the 8 of Wands (“Swiftness,” Mercury in Sagittarius); 9 of Wands (“Strength,” Moon in Sagittarius) and 10 of Wands (“Oppression,” Saturn in Sagittarius). The secondary Majors are the Magus/Magician (Mercury); the Priestess (Moon) and the World (Saturn).


After years of struggling to reconcile the obscure alchemical abstractions that have grown up around Temperance with the blurry (and inaccurate) popular assumption of “moderation” as the primary keyword, I finally reached the conclusion that it is mainly an expression of exquisite “finesse” (I also call it the “Fine Art of Right Action”) in applying a shrewdly-metered amount of force to the matter at hand. As I noted in an earlier essay, ” there is a need to strike a delicate balance between an enthusiastic, spontaneous response (Fire, Sun, Tiphareth) and a more dispassionate, reflective reaction (Water, Moon, Yesod); between what the ego is insisting that you do and what the emotions caution you not to do. There can be a need to walk a fine line between over-reacting and under-reacting. There is also a need to be flexible but firm.” The Waite-Smith card makes this abundantly clear: how could anyone but a consummate conjuror pour liquid diagonally between two vases, defying the law of gravity,  without spilling a drop?

The top triplet – Art/8 of Wands/Magus – echoes the connection between Art as Sagittarius and the Lovers as Gemini; Aleister Crowley considered the former to reflect the consummation of the alchemical marriage begun in the latter. Here the Magus as intellectual Air corresponds to Mercury, the ruler of Gemini, presiding over the “ritual of becoming” or creative self-realization arising from the philosophical Fire of Sagittarius; this is an elementally well-favored merger of energies. The 8 of Wands – a card that suggests impatience – sitting between them conveys the idea of a need to proceed with both alacrity and precision. The studied mastery of the Magus joins with the innate deftness of Temperance in a finely-tuned modulation of the countervailing forces of meticulous Mercury (discernment) and egalitarian Jupiter (unconditional acceptance). The key to the combination is the speed and accuracy with which it comes together; there is no wasted motion.

The middle triplet – Art/9 of Wands/Priestess – requires deeper contemplation to define the shared attributes. Interesting conclusions can be drawn from their Tree of Life associations. Temperance sits on the Path of the Arrow that links the sphere of the Moon (Yesod) below to the sphere of the Sun (Tiphareth) above; the implication is of pursuing a “straight shot” between the two rather than following the undulating Path of the Serpent. The central shaft on the Thoth 9 of Wands shows this path clearly, accompanied by what appear to be eight more lunar-crescent-tipped arrows. The path of the Moon-ruled Priestess leaves the sphere of the Sun and climbs straight up into the numinous regions of the Tree, effectively extending the Path of the Arrow. The suggestion is that the Priestess sublimates the “water of spirit” that passes between the two vessels of Temperance after it is purified by the solar fire, preparing it for the final ascent. The only remaining puzzler for me is why the 9 of Wands should be called “Strength;” the chimerical Moon isn’t especially vigorous in pedantic Sagittarius since Water and Fire tend to weaken one another in functional ways that produce an exhalation of fog rather than the focused motive power of steam. Better words might be “vision;” “imagination;” “inspiration;” or “intuitive awareness.” With the Moon I won’t even go as far as “strength of character” although the RWS 9 of Wands does suggest it.

The bottom triplet – Art/10 of Wands/World – suggests that frustrated ambition leads to taking whatever one can get from the exercise in (to use Paul Foster Case’s words) “adjustment and adaptation” of purpose to practicability and being content with that. Saturn is the antithesis of Jupiter and effectively “takes it to school” here. The rather amorphous contours of Jupiter are sat upon by leaden Saturn and imprinted with a measure of definition. Rather than being touted as a card of successful completion, here the World simply means “the end of the line” for the creative impulse of Art: the “eagle has landed” after encountering stiff headwinds in the 10 of Wands. It reminds me of “WYSIWYG,” the old computer geeks’ acronym for text-editing software before the days of Microsoft Word: “What you see is what you get.” In this context I would add “no more nor less.” There is even a degree of satisfaction in this closure; you at least know that your efforts to “balance the books” on your affairs weren’t a total waste of time even if what you “take to the bank” is modest.

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