Monday, February 25, 2013


"The Guardian" - Alanis Morrisette

Yours truly in Niki's Tarot Garden - Tuscany - Tarot Art & History Tour 2012, Collage Arnell Ando

When I look at the Tarot garden, I think of the sun in Tuscany; how it spilled onto our shoulders and the tips of our noses. The sculptures were so warm to the touch, so inviting, we entered them.  It was like being in a friend's gigantic doll house, or a hall of mirrors, shards of reflection, refracted light. 

Angels keep showing up.  Different forms and disguises, but so far, not on the head of a pin.  I love Niki's Angel with her generous torso, big bosom & those wings that seem strong enough to carry an ample Angel.  She lived inside "The Empress" for seven years while she made the models for the remaining sculptures. 

The Empress
Niki de Saint Phalle

 She looks like a happy bird here in 1976 sipping her "cuppa", but she didn't know then that it would take 20 years to build her sculpture garden, which is why she made the Angel of Temperance--having learned the value of temperance while working on her "garden"--for her it meant you can't always do or have what you want!

So that set me to thinking about "Temperance", since her angel does have wings and theoretically could fly, but instead of flying, she is a bit of a domestic Goddess perched on her Shrine.  Many of the definitions around Temperance and the Tarot have to do with "balance", thus it seems fitting she is standing on one leg!  A balancing act, just the way Niki is balancing her tea cup and saucer, smiling with her eyes.  Little did this nouveaux realiste know that she would die of emphysema as a consequence from years of inhaling toxic polyester fumes while working on her sculptures.  Or maybe she did know and just kept going.

A l'époque (back in the day), I also worked with toxic fumes/dust, as a ceramicist for over 20 years:  sculpture, raku, pit firing, high fire porcelain, tea bowls, you name it, I made it. I knew the dangers of inhaling the silica dust, amidst the sirens of color: those purple blues/acid green metallic oxides. Several of my potter friends had silicosis.  But that didn't stop me--I was passionate about clay--something else did.

Lake with the porcelain clay bottom

Thomas & Voyou - Babette & Hanne

Voyou - Voyager
 MOST DAYS - Lugane, Fr

Most days me and the dog go down
to the lake with the white clay bottom, 
two kilometers from the house through stinging nettles,
leggy mint and suspicious mushrooms. 
They call the clay "argile" here and pay it no mind,
even though it's like the finest Chinese porcelain 
I used to pay $5@lb for in upstate New York 
in the 70's, when a pot was always spinning  
on a wheel in a rented studio with no heat, but 
plenty of spiders and athletic mice for company. 

My German neighbor, Hanne, an aristocratic 
Sculptor(ess) from Berlin, who quotes Kierkegaard 
and Meister Eckhart at will, corrects my French
pronunciation of "tea" - tay!  tay!  tay! 
tells me she is "in the deep" with her work & 
says her favorite American film is: 
"Night of the Living Dead" -- Romero, jah, he is a genius!
She just spent 100 Euros to send 15 kilos of this 
argile back to Berlin.  That's how good the clay is.
Well, the euro is strong--go figure.

Myself, I wouldn't touch the clay again.
I never could bend it into anything I truly loved--
(sounds of violins)
Currently, I am content to watch the dragonflies mate
like passionate hovercraft above the limpid shallows,
an occasional fish flashing the news of the universe,
and the dog with his relentless game in the reeds
under the skinny olive tree,  mixing the deep green water
and the white clay with his paws noticing how it all turns
a sort of muddy grey.

Illustration of Cassiel from The Magus by Francis Barrett (1801)

Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, "Grow, grow"!   

CASSIEL/CAFFIEL-- the Angel of Temperance--one of the seven archangels (the "Angels of Presence") must have been hanging around me in those days. Cassiel of the planet Saturn, pointing north, controller of the moon. Seems he's got loads of other names so it can get confusing.  His Hebrew name is Kafziel and his Egyptian monikers are Nepthys and Horus. In the magical text Berit Menuchah, Cassiel is associated with Kefitzat Haderech, the ability to travel quickly through space.  Magic spells cast using his name can create destruction, scatter crowds, cause a person to wander aimlessly (that was the spell I must have been under), or to fall from a position of power. On the other hand, unlike many other angels, Cassiel is known for simply watching the events of the cosmos unfold with little interference.  He is the angel of solitude and tears and is said to preside over the death of kings. In Wim Wender's film meditation, "Wings of Desire", the immortal angels, Cassiel and Damiel, travel through the city of Berlin listening to people's thoughts, witnessing & comforting the human beings trapped in the material, the finite. Finally they desire to become mortal, to fall and taste the blood and caffeine of life, to mingle the worldly and the divine.   

Wings of Desire - Cassiel

Wings of Desire - Damiel

Guardian Angels

For Meister Eckhart, angels represented "ideas of God"; we think of them as winged messengers from heaven, representing inner experiences of a numinous nature which connects us to the archetypal world of the unconscious.  Jung believed an angel personifies something new rising from  the deep unconscious.  He defined angels as "personified transmitters of unconscious contents which announce that they want to speak." It's possible to establish an inner dialogue, a living relationship to the "other" within.  The alchemists used this method which Jung called "active imagination".  They called it "meditatio".  Ruland the Lexicographer defines meditatio as "an inner dialogue with someone who is invisible, as also with God, or with oneself, or with one's good angel."  I've always liked the Lincoln quote:  "...The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."  But let's not forget that there is a "dark angel" there too, as angels, like all archetypes, are creatures of questionable morality, look no further than "The Devil", the fallen angel that follows Temperance. 

Dark Angel
The Angel of Temperance sets the stage for much of the action that follows in the Tarot sequence.  In "The Devil's Picture Book", Paul Huson reminds us that the "Egyptian zodiac of Denderah, Aquarius was identified with Hapi, the god of the Nile, whose waters were the source of life, both agricultural and spiritual".  Like her Egyptian counterpart, the Angel of Temperance blends two opposite aspects or essences, producing life-giving energy. There is the intermingling of spirit and flesh, masculine and feminine, yin and yang, conscious and unconscious; the liquid is pure white, essence/energy.  This Angel feels like an enduring presence.  She symbolizes patience and faith.  I think she is a reminder that there are forces operating in the universe that go beyond our everyday experience--let yourself "flow" with them, trust in those deeper, unseen currents.  To be visited by such an angel is a singular experience, as it was in Niki's Tarot Garden.  Rilke wrote of his own visitation by such an angel:   
    "Who can have lived his life in solitude and not have marveled how the angels there will visit him  at times and let him share what can't be given to the multitude."

When we are most alone, bereft and broken, & the ego has lost some of its vigilance, it is possible to receive a healing message that seems to come from outside our ordinary awareness. 

I became intrigued by the differences between the "Temperance" cards in Tarot and how they have been represented in various decks.   The Thoth deck, in particular, which I use in most of my readings, calls this card ART... 

ART XIV - Thoth Deck

In the  wonderful William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination deck by Ed Buryn, the XIV card is FORGIVENESS.  And in the J. Philip Thomas deck, XIV is ALCHEMY. 

William Blake Tarot Deck - Ed Buryn

Tarot de Paris - J. Phillip Thomas

In the Tarot de Leonardo De Vinci, made in Torino Italy by Lo Scarabeo, Temperance is in the driver's seat and she has wings. It's not a stretch to believe that Leo had contact with the Tarot, since he visited the Milanese court of  Ludovico da Sforza who commissioned tarot designs the earliest of which date back to 1450. 

Tarot de Leonardo de Vinci - Temperance

Universal Waite Tarot Deck
Tarot de Marseille, Jean Noblet, Paris 1650

Visconti Sforza - XV siecle, Il Meneghello, Milano

In the Middle Ages, people believed that the body contained "tempers" that controlled the health as well as behavior.  If one fell sick or "lost it", becoming unbalanced, this card showing up could indicate a need for moderation.  It is also one of the "victory" cards symbolizing a need to overcome a bad habit, to seek out our divine angel within.  In the Waite deck, Temperance has one foot on a rock and one foot in the water, blended energy of emotions and groundedness.  The Iris growing at the edges (from Greek mythology) can mean oaths taken by the Gods  -- the card signifying a commitment to a new way of life.  To avoid "temp-tation". 

Much has been made of the angle of the pouring, which arm is raised, but that doesn't seem so important to me. It's more about the union of life and death, integration, synthesis.  Angeles Arienne says: "The light and dark of our nature needs to be incorporated before we can fully express the whole of who we are."    I like that idea. And let's throw in Buryn's William Blake "Forgiveness" card.  Temperance has the quality of "mercy".  If we hold extreme judgements or can't find it in our hearts to forgive others or ourselves, we are estranged, living on the knife's edge, unyielding and unbalanced, like mad dogs with distemper...

Middle English distempren, from Late Latin distemperare to temper badly, from Latin dis- + temperare to temper
First Known Use: 14th century
Marion - Wings of Desire

A very temperate and balanced friend from Canada sent me this Rumi piece:

Learn the alchemy
true human beings know.
The moment you accept what troubles you've been given,
the door will open.
Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment brought by the Friend.
Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets
that serve to cover, then are taken off.
That undressing
and the beautiful naked body underneath
is the sweetness that comes after grief.
The hurt you embrace becomes joy
Call it to your arms where it can change.
A silk worm eating leaves makes a cocoon.
Each of us weaves a chamber of leaves and sticks.
Silk worms begin to truly exist
as they disappear inside that room.
Without legs we fly.
When I stop speaking
this poem will close
and open its silent wings."

Marion - Wings of Desire


  1. Ah, Rudy this came just at the right moment. I feel the angels surrounding me now as I suffer from a broken heart. This line speaks for me: "When we are most alone, bereft and broken, & the ego has lost some of its vigilance, it is possible to receive a healing message that seems to come from outside our ordinary awareness."
    Your writing and the images and poems that go with are sublime. Thank you my dear friend. Lisa

  2. Dear Lisa,
    I wrote that line with you in mind. Am so glad you received it...I see many angels encircling you--watch
    for them in the "treetops", you are never really alone. Je t'embrasse, rudy

  3. Thanks Rudy, I do feel surrounded by angels.
    With love,