The Temperance card, appropriately enough, isn’t one that tends to be particularly spectacular or attention-grabbing. It seems to us that few people would describe it as one of their favourite Major cards (The Star, The Fool and The Devil would all generally have more fans), though equally, no-one seems to dislike it.
In its own way, though, the traditional imagery for this card of balance and harmony, is very beautiful and also often both happy and calming. The image from the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) Tarot shows a winged angel who pours water from one golden cup to another. S/he stands with one foot on the bank of a pool while the other is dipped into the water. Beside her there are yellow irises and behind her are mountains and a sun low on the horizon.
Arthur Waite, co-creator of the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) Tarot, describes Temperance in this way:
“A winged angel, with the sign of the sun upon his forehead and on his breast the square and triangle of the septenary. I speak of him in the masculine sense, but the figure is neither male nor female. It is held to be pouring the essences of life from chalice to chalice. It has one foot upon the earth and one upon waters, thus illustrating the nature of the essences. A direct path goes up to certain heights on the verge of the horizon, and above there is a great light, through which a crown is seen vaguely. Hereof is some part of the Secret of Eternal Life, as it is possible to man in his incarnation. All the conventional emblems are renounced herein.”
Arthur E. Waite
The Pictorial Key to the Tarot
We decided that we wanted to emphasise the yellow “flag” irises in our new image for The Bohemian Cats’ Theatre Tarot. These irises are very common in Ireland and we have a whole field of them growing nearby. In late spring/early summer it’s a delight to see them.
They are also important in the symbolism of the card. The iris is believed to be apotropaic – that is, it averts evil. Because of this it was hung in bunches outside the doors on the Feast of Corpus Christi in Ireland on June 23rd. It’s probably no coincidence that this is also just after the mid-summer solstice, and pre-Christianity it was traditional at that time to banish evil spirits and create abundance and luck for the remaining year. I would also hazard a guess that the yellow of the flowers evoked the yellow of the sun at the height of summer and so were used in these older celebrations.
We wanted to feature the iris by having it not just on the theatre “props” beside our Temperance, but also embroidering it on her gown. After some research, we found some beautiful Art Nouveau graphics of irises in our copy of a wonderful book in our collection, The Practical Decorator and Ornamentist, and loosely based our embroidery on these.
Having the cat in this card put one paw “upon waters” was a bit more problematic as it tended to look a little strange when we tried it – much less elegant than the angel’s foot in the water in the RWS card. In the earlier Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot, we decided not to show one paw in the water and in our new image for The Bohemian Cats’ Theatre Tarot, we made the same decision.
We decided that the cat his/herself (we’ll describe her as female for now but as an angel the figure is of course androgynous) should be a tortoiseshell – as in the original Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot. Torties combine three colours – ginger, black and white – and so are a good way of signifying the harmonious mixing and balance of Temperance.
We should perhaps add that torties are nearly always female, which does make the figure a little more gendered, However a male tortie is rare but not impossible.
Because this tarot and book show scenes set in and around a baroque theatre, we wanted to emphasise that what the viewer is seeing is a stage set, not an actual garden. To help to achieve this, we used strong spot-lighting on the figure and stylised flowers that are clearly props.
We discussed for a while how to best represent the pool of water that Temperance traditionally stands beside. We knew about the way in which water and waves were represented in Baroque theatre so we decided to do something similar – with drawn “theatrical” waves.
You can see a video that includes some wonderful information about this Baroque technique in this video from The V&A museum in London.
The final card! We will also be making an expanded view of this scene for The Bohemian Cats’ Theatre Book.