Saturday, July 28, 2018

Temperance Then and Now

Temperance: a cardinal virtue
What do you think about when you receive the Temperance card in a Tarot reading? Usually, it is interpreted as a cardinal virtue that signifies those who use self-control and restraint. Such people advocate non-violence and seek equilibrium, moderation, and balance in peaceful relationships with others. Temperance characterizes persons who demonstrate moral excellence and sensible behavior in their affairs. They are good at blending the disparate actions of others together in an atmosphere of cooperation.

Visconti Temperance Card
Most art for the Temperance Tarot card features a female deity, or angel, who is depicted pouring liquid from one container to another. On some cards, she has one foot in water and the other foot on land, which suggests mixing or blending something, (the “alchemy” of mixing certain elements together). Some interpretations assume a Christian influence is evident in the Temperance card such as the Biblical story of the Marriage at Cana: water was mixed with wine and produced more wine, and was called Jesus’ wedding feast miracle (See John2: 6-9). This was a metaphor in which the water represented Jesus’ humanity, while the wine represented Christ’s divinity. Temperance in the 15th century Visconti Tarot deck, shows a woman with stars (magic) on her dress holding two vases and pouring a liquid between them.

In the quagmire of politics today, it seems that what we need most from our leaders and government officials, is to exercise temperance in the activities of governance, especially the acts of law that affect the public. This wishful thinking is nothing new. Practicing temperate behavior through moderation in action, laws, thoughts and feelings, was advocated long ago by Plato in his view of the core virtues of an ideal city in “The Republic.” He emphasized the four cardinal virtues, which were Courage (Strength), Wisdom (Prudence), Temperance, and Justice.  Later, these were adapted by the Church. Temperance implies refraining from excesses and having the ability to master oneself by maintaining modesty and humility, in contrast to arrogance and unmitigated anger. Instead, one should promote moderate moral conduct for the good of the people, rather than indulging in self-serving behavior.

Early concepts of temperance in literature and art
Perhaps the earliest inspiration for the woman or guardian angel in the Temperance card was Hebe, the Grecian goddess of youth. The late Brian Williams, artist and Tarot historian, has illustrated Hebe, who is rendered on early Greek vases carrying two ewers of nectar and ambrosia to serve to the gods and goddesses of Olympus; symbolic of a divine draught. She fills their goblets with the gift of eternal youth (See “The Manchiate Tarot,” Brian Williams, Destiny Books, 1999). The Grecian Horae, divinities of rain, flowering and fruits, were guardians of the order of nature, “mellowing the behavior of men,” Hesiod says. This reminds me of the peace demonstrators of the 60’s placing flowers in the gun barrels of National Guardsmen and Police during the riots about ending the Viet Nam War.

John Stuart Mill writes about “Socratic Viri” of Justice, Strength, and Temperance. Temperance meaning — “…veracity, perseverance, readiness to encounter pain and especially labor; [with] regard for the public good; estimation of persons, according to their merits…” (John Stuart Mill, Autobiography)

Leaders who advocated temperance
During the Renaissance, several prominent artists portrayed the real-life Roman General, Scipio Africanis (235 BC-183 BC) as one who set the example of a leader who showed temperance and self-restraint in putting the good of the public ahead of his own importance. Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) depicted him in a painting where he was returning a captured young woman rather than accepting her as a prize of war. Scipio was renowned for his moral excellence as a benevolent conqueror. The Romans wanted to appoint him “dictator for life,” but he refused their offer. As their leader, he abstained from cruelty and advocated clemency. In a painting by Tiepolo, (1696-1770) he is shown freeing Massiva, the boy Prince of the Numidian Kingdom. The moderation of Scipio was also the motif in literature as both Cicero and Dante mention him in their writings.  He has also been the main character in several Italian operas.

“On the other pole attentive, where I saw four stars ne’er seen before…” (The four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance) Dante, “The Divine Comedy”

The Greek writer Xenophon, defined temperance as moderation in all things and abstinence from all things harmful. But a different view of temperance was sullied by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, and similar groups in the early 1900’s, where they succeeded in bringing about a ban on the sale of liquor during Prohibition, (1920-1932). This led to corruption in bootlegging and rum running, moonshine, gangsters and thousands of Speakeasies. Plenty of booze was made and sold in secret and crime was rampant. Despite the regulations, it was deemed a failed experiment that reeked of bans and censorship on a lot of other so-called illicit activity, including abortions and gambling.

Temperance for yourself:
When you get the Temperance card in a reading it is time for a reality check. How well you have stood up to the daily challenges of relating to others with peaceful intentions and kindness? Are you working on moderating your behavior; seeking the middle ground? Ask yourself: Am I being fair and honest in listening and paying attention to other’s needs? Or, have I been the drama queen/king in demanding too much, dominating too much? Where is any humility in what I am doing or in what I am saying? Have I acted upon important issues with moderation and moral equilibrium? Do I seek balance and cooperation in negotiations in the community; with friends, relatives and neighbors?

Temperance card reversed:
We see the opposite of Temperance in intemperate, impulsive behavior of a person who indulges in rampant excesses. This can be someone who relishes creating imbalance, discord and chaos. Be wary of leaders and others who profess tyrannical rule and flaunt bombastic belligerence and disrespect of persons; always chastising other people. Watch becoming a bully yourself by being arrogant and self-serving with no regard for the opinions of others.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Tarot Death Card XIII

Death Card: more perspectives
Oh, oh! Surprise! What comes to mind when you get the “Death” card in a Tarot reading? “Now what does that card mean”? Some traditional Tarot interpretations associate concepts like “ending” and “transformation” with this card. Most likely, it could just indicate an end to some situation or event, depending on what one is asking. We know conditions and places change and things end. Change usually consists of getting rid of the old to prepare for the new. So, it could mean the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. The key words for this card are “end” and “change.” No matter what kind of transformation may be taking place, it can be a time of letting go of old beliefs and considering something new. Or, you might ask if this means your impending demise. Yes, it could also mean the end of life in the physical body.

In the movie “Moonstruck,” Rose (Olympia Dukakis) asks Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) “Why do men chase women?’ He is thoughtful and says, “because they fear death.”
 Screenwriter, John P. Shanley (See my blog on “The Lovers,” June, 2017)

When you get the Death card in Tarot do you experience that kind of fear, the fear of leaving this earthly existenceof not being “me” anymore, or of someone else not here anymore?  We think of the actual death experience as an exit from the material, physical life on earth, because, at some point, the scythe of time and/or aging, catches up with everyone. When you get the Death card in a reading you may think of turning to spiritual concerns. What about your spiritual life? The question of immortality comes up. In a religious context, you may wonder: Is there life after deatha heaven or hellreincarnation? A form of resurrection? On the other hand, some might think we just go off into nothingness. Do you wonder if there is life on another plane or in some other dimension? You might ask: ”Do I continue to exist in consciousness? Does my personality disappear? Will I still have an identity? Or is it ‘dust to dust,’ and I vanish in some ghostly ephemeral mist.” What about “oneness” with the Universe? Some might think they are going to be one with the Mind (God, The Great Spirit, etc.) of the Universe and life is eternal. These are questions we all must deal with sometime in our lives, and more so as we age.  And yes, there are those who believe it is the end. “That’s it, time’s up, bye!” (Reference: Mircea Eliade examines all these questions at great length in his book, A History of Religious Ideas, University of Chicago Press, 1978).

From another perspective, let’s examine several different cultural and religious views about death in former civilizations. Researchers and historians have written volumes about the religious art and artifacts of ancient cultures that deal with death. Symbolic paintings, sculptures, and earthworks, inform us of early sacred practices. The following is a brief synopsis of how other societies have dealt with beliefs about death and dying in the past. This includes ancient Egyptian Cosmology; early European Celtic Pagan rituals; Christian dogma; Buddhist philosophy; and embodiment of the supernatural by North American Indigenous people.

Old Europe Megalithic Cultures: 3,000 B.C.E. (Barrows, Stonehenge, Avebury, Carnac)
In Neolithic times in England, great tombs were constructed of giant stones for communal burialssuch as West Kennett Long Barrow. Large numbers of people were buried there and in other similar barrows.  Michael Dames in The Avebury Cycle (Thames and Hudson, 1977) mentions that the plan of the hollow barrow chambers form a figure of the “squatting harvest goddess,” Mother Earth 
reclaiming her children. In Carnac, France, some 800 huge stones were aligned in long rows obviously for some significant purpose. Perhaps elaborate festivals and dances were carried out in connection with a “cult of the dead.” It may have been a place where they could communicate with their ancestors as they walked in long processions among the stones. These early peoples venerated sacred stones, springs, and groves of trees. In her Tarot deck, Caitlyn Matthews, has created a Death card portraying the Mother Earth Goddess as “Cailleach” or “Sheila na Gig” in the Celtic tradition: “…all beings now alive return to the earth through her on death.”
 The Celtic Wisdom Tarot, (Destiny Books, 1999)
“…all Old European burials were, in various forms, a return to the body of the Mother for regeneration within the womb of nature.”
Marija Gimbutus, The Civilization of the Goddess, (HarperCollins, 1991)
Celtic Wisdom Tarot

Egyptian mummies, pyramids, elaborate tombs Tutankhamun, 1336 B.C.E.  
Q. Why did the Egyptians mummify the body?
The Egyptian Tarot
A. Preparing the Pharaoh for immortality: There is an interesting commentary on ancient Egyptian burial traditions by Charles Musés in his book, The Lion Path. (Golden Sceptre Publishing, 1985) He talks about the mummy as characteristic of the metamorphosis of a butterfly or in King Tuts’ case a scarab, their sacred beetle. Several crossed wings inlaid in gold and semi-precious stones are seen on Tutankhamun’s coffin, symbolic of protective goddesses, vultures, falcons and scarabs. Musés suggests the sarcophagus imitates an insects’ chrysalis case where the caterpillar undergoes a complete transformation. The pupa’s organs were dissolved and a new creature emerged. The mummy and coffin symbolized the same sort of transformation for the waiting body of the deceased.  A jeweled pectoral ornament containing a chalcedony carving of a scarab with falcon feet was placed on Tuts’ body.  King Tutankhamun’s mummy was placed in a solid gold coffin where, as Mercea Eliade writes, “…death constitutes the point of departure for his celestial journey and his ‘immortalization.’” This was emblematic of the winged scarab adult who eventually emerges and flies to a new existence. The theme of these elaborate funerary customs was “existence after rebirth,” and the burial chamber may have been viewed as a “birth chamber.” This signified the regeneration of an immortal body whose goal was to reunite with the divine. But first, according to The Book of the Dead, (E.A. Wallis Budge, British Museum, 1895) the ethical behavior of the soul had to be weighed on the scales of Justice against a featherwhich was called Maat (Truth). Paintings and hieroglyphs depicting these rituals can still be seen on the walls of several burial chambers. Anubis, the Jackal-headed Neter, guided the deceased through the underworld where the departed was to recite 42 negative confessions before 42 judges in the Hall of Justice. (Oops, there’s that number 42 again [“…the answer to life, the universe, and everything,”]) as told by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). The dead either went to the stars, or to the underworld, depending on their answers. Sylvana Alasia who designed The Egyptian Tarot, (Scarabeo, 1998) painted the Death card with the black dog figure of Anubis.
(Reference: Tutankhamun, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, Little, Brown & Co. 1977)

“By maintaining the condition of the physical vehicle, the soul was able to continue its existence in the unknown world of the Duat.”
Moustafa Gadalla, Egyptian Cosmology, (Bastet Publishing, 1977)

Ancient Greek—gods, goddesses, and trip to the underworld (Demeter [Ceres] 1400 B.C.E.)
The Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greeks celebrated the story of Demeter, goddess of grain, and agriculture, and Persephone, maiden of the spring, where secret religious rites were conducted in the form of mystery plays. These metaphorical rituals may have been aligned with seasonal changes—in spring, the planting of crops, and later, the death and decay of the plants in the winter. Persephone was abducted from her mother by Hades, (Pluto) the god of death, and taken to the underworld. Overcome with grief, Demeter caused droughts and devastation of trees and crops. Because of her lamentations, Zeus allowed Persephone to come back in the Spring, but because she ate some pomegranate seeds, she must return to the underworld for four months every year (fall, winter).

“I begin to sing of Demeter the Holy Goddess with the beautiful hair and her daughter Persephone too. The one with the delicate ankles whom Hades seized.”
Homer’s Hymn to Demeter

Buddhism (Siddhartha Buddha 483-400 B.C.E.)
In the Bardol Thodöl of Tibetan Buddhism, there are 49 days in which the deceased person is assisted in reaching “Amitabha” aided by the continuous chanting of Llamas. Amitabha is the Buddha of pure perfection and the “infinite Light.” In Buddhist teachings, there are two realities—the ultimate reality and the unreal conventional reality. (Huh?) One of the goals of a meditative practice is to comprehend “emptiness.” This doesn’t mean phenomena are states of “nothingness,” or annihilation, but are conditions that do not exist within themselves. Philippe Cornu, in his book, Tibetan Astrology, (Shambhala, 2002) describes the ephemeral appearance of the rainbow as an example. Scientifically, we know it is caused by sunlight seen through water droplets, which produce a prismatic arrangement of colors, yet it has no existence in itself.  It’s only seen in the sky for a few moments. In the same way, in Buddhist thought, the “I” or “me” can be an image in the “mind’s eye.” The “self,” me, is an energetic mental construction of thoughts and ideas, yet it is impermanent, always fleeting and changing. This is the ultimate in logic where consciousness cannot be seen or felt physically. There is no scientific answer that explains consciousness or aliveness.  It is more of a cosmic atmosphere of “I am” somewhere. This is a vastly different way of thinking about oneself than the western mind is used to. For example: visually, we see that a table and chair seem to exist, but everything we think about the table and chair, including their visual image, is made up in our minds—a mental construction. Our thoughts about them is not the actual reality of the table and the chair.

Early Christian—Jesus, miracles, healing, resurrection—AD 30, Judea (John 19:14)
Universal Waite Deck
How did Jesus wake Lazarus from what appeared to be a dead state and enable him to walk out of the tomb? A miracle? (See John 11:38) In Christian thought, the anonymous author of the book Meditations on the Tarot, says that our whole life is a miracle—a miracle of living life—aliveness, consciousness. What happened to Jesus? From the story told in the New Testament, somewhere around 30 A.D., Jesus was crucified on a cross by the Romans, buried in a tomb, and three days later was resurrected —raised from a dead state and then ascended. (See John 19:16) Previously he raised Lazarus from death. Even after he saw that Lazarus was dead, he brought him back to life. In our secular age, for some, this sounds like wishful thinking—a fantasy that we cannot reconcile in our minds. So, it’s important to ask if there is some other spiritual meaning in this. St. Paul, who saw the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, writes in his letter to the Romans “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” (See Rom.8) What does this mean? Commenting on what St. Paul said, the great Abbess of the 12th Century, Hildegard of Bingen, says: “You are not sons of the devil but heirs of the celestial kingdom.”

These mysteries show the end of the world when temporal time is changed into
the eternity of God who has no end.
Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias, translated by Bruce Hozeski (Bear & Company, 1986)

In “Revelation,” St. John says in a vision: “And I saw and behold a pale horse and its riders’ name was death and Hades followed him(Rev.6:7-8). This rider is often seen in some Tarot decks such as “The Universal Waite Deck,” (US Games System, 1990) based on the 1910 version of Rider Waite Tarot Deck by Arthur Edward Waite and illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith. Christian churches worldwide, especially Catholic churches, are yet today, filled with paintings and sculptures depicting Jesus, the disciples, and saints. Of course, during the “Reformation,” in an act of piety, many churches in Europe were stripped of these artifacts.

Indigenous people of the Americas’ (Northwest tribes, totem poles, heraldic crests 1800’s)
Tsimshian Totem
Many Northwest tribes: Tsimshian, Tlinglet, Haida, Bella Coola, and Salish, were found by early European explorers to have small villages with Cedar wood-planked houses fronted by huge beautifully carved and painted totem poles. Most poles contained totem animals and heraldic signs of different clans such as Beaver, Bear, Eagle and Wolf. There were some with figures that told stories about supernatural beings such as Copper Woman, shape-shifting Bear Woman, Thunderbird, and the cannibalistic giant, Dzunakwa, a forest monster (Bigfoot?)  Some poles were topped with a mortuary box containing the remains of a deceased ancestor. There were also four posted mortuary boxes hidden in the woods constructed on high platforms above ground where the deceased was placed. It was believed that the souls of the dead passed into the spirit world. (Reference: Totem Poles, Pat Kramer, Heritage House Publishing, 2008)

“It was an austere, sophisticated art. Its prevailing mood was classical control, yet it characterized even the simplest objects of daily life.
These sea-going hunters took the entire environment as an art form.”

Bill Reid, Out of the Silence, (Amon Carter Museum, 1971).