Sunday, November 11, 2012

Temperance is like arm wrestling a sack of cats

For Americans at least, the word "temperance" conjures images of axe-wielding ladies breaking down the doors of 1800's saloons.  This sense of temperance governs the right balance between pleasure and duty, so that one doesn't drink and gamble through the family savings and leave one's spouse and children in poverty.  Earlier today, though, i was thinking of a different sense of the word: maintaining a balance between conflicting inner forces.  Sometimes being a human being can feel like arm wrestling a sack of cats; all sorts of contradictory feelings like to go this way or that, scratching and biting at whatever unlucky body part they encounter.  (i would never actually do this with cats, but i do know they like to play by crawling into a fabric tube and getting bopped around gently.  They certainly can scratch that way just by playful accident.)

i was thinking about this when the image of Crowley's rendition of Atu XIV came to mind.  Unlike the traditional angel image, his deck shows a being with two sides, two faces, even two genders, but one current mixing and flowing down from its heart into the vessel below.  To me, this is a natural interpretation of the motto behind the figure.  The most "interior" of the "interior of the earth" to visit is the interior of the self, the first place one must "rectify" before attempting to rectify any other place.  Rectifying the self literally means "to make oneself straight," to remove impediments to singleness of heart.  However, in the image of Atu XIV, i see a being acknowledging and even working with its multifarious nature.  It's comforting to see that this is possible.  i certainly use my education in two different fields (mathematics and computer science) in my daily mundane work, and i find being a big sack of opposites as useful (and perhaps entertaining) as it is frustrating sometimes.

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