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Guest Post: Temperance
By Meg Jones Wall
I really fucking love this piece, and feel honored to have it as part of Pop Tarot.
And I'd give up forever to touch you
'Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be
And I don't wanna go home right now
When “Iris” was released in 1998, it was everywhere, practically inescapable. Even my closeted and sheltered teenage self heard it hourly on the radio, endless repetitions of plaintive lyrics and anguished desire. Originally written for the film City of Angels, “Iris” tells a story of desperate longing, of a yearning that reshapes everything. I knew even as a teenager that I was craving something I couldn’t name, dreaming of the kind of life I’d never seen, wanting something I could barely imagine. So many mornings I would lay in bed listening to John Rzeznik’s harshly melodic voice coming through my cheap clock radio, waiting for the song to finish before I would even try to start my day. At 5am, at the tender age of 14, “Iris” hit me over the head with its emotion, something in its rawness clawing through my chest in a way that would take me decades to understand.
In 1998 I had no idea who I would become, couldn’t even guess who I might allow myself to grow into. I thought I would spend a lifetime guarding my secrets, denying my desires, trying to be the person that everyone else needed me to be instead of the person that I wanted to be. But 2020 has broken everything open, forced so many of us to come to terms with what in our lives works and what doesn’t; to prioritize and tear down and rebuild in ways that may not have felt possible in any other year. As our world crumbles and we work to reshape it, as truths are discovered and acknowledged, our deepest desires are coming tumbling out, clumsily revealing themselves. When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.
It would be Phoebe Bridgers and Maggie Rogers, two artists that I have not been able to get enough of this year, who released a haunting cover of “Iris” several weeks ago. Their smoky voices mingling and blending, evocative harmonies intertwining, have been in my head since the moment I heard the song, permeating my writing and informing my card readings and leaving me humming restlessly, once again lost in those familiar lyrics. Their version of “Iris” has become as beloved as a heartbeat, lingering in the background of everything else, tethering me to my past and breaking open possibilities for my future.
When I started reading tarot several years ago, a few cards felt strangely out of reach. I struggled with the four of cups, the two of swords, the court cards in general — but nothing threw me quite like the elusive layers of Temperance. A card of moderation and balance, harmony and self-control, Temperance seemed quiet, dull, uninspired; nothing like its astrological counterpart of fiery, independent Sagittarius. The Fool’s journey generally felt logical to me, this figure’s adventures through the major arcana evolving in a way that I could easily follow: yet Temperance pushed the limits of my understanding, my beginner’s brain struggling to grasp its significance. I knew the power of everyday magic, unexpected miracles, divine intervention, but this archetype somehow felt slippery and strange, uncomfortable. I’d always understood magic to be something that existed outside of myself, something wielded by gods and monsters and forces beyond my experience, something I shouldn’t even try to claim for my own.
Yet this archetype kept creeping around my edges, demanding that I sit with it and learn from it and try to understand it. In spite of my irritation, this card would not be ignored, coming up in multiple decks and forcing me to dig deeper. The most common depiction of Temperance is that of a heavenly creature standing on solid earth, combining water and fire in mid-air, allowing these elements to mingle in ways that defy everything we know to be true. And rather than following the pesky rules of the world, this kind of alchemy creates something that is wholly both parts, raging fire and soothing water, with vibrance and depth and a magic all its own. It shouldn't make sense, shouldn't work — yet it resonates deeply anyway, as something brand new is created, something that speaks to all of the overlapping layers and pieces of who we are.
We are all twisted mysteries, endless multitudes, layers of want and need and hope and fear and movement and stillness. We are all contradictions, paradoxes, sharp contours and soft lines, blurry spaces that are impossible to define. Yet the pieces that we are afraid of are not less than, simply because we try not to acknowledge them. The parts of us that we hide don’t disappear just because we shield them from the light.
After so much loss and change in the Fool’s journey, after listening to intuition and crafting plans and discovering freedom, Temperance asks us to be completely, beautifully present: to name our desires, to honor those shadowed truths. And all I can taste is this moment, and all I can breathe is your life. What does it mean to live in each heartbeat, to surrender fully to our longings, to run towards the things we want with hands outstretched? What does it mean to crave, to demand, to cry out for the wishes that we barely let ourselves acknowledge? What does it mean to own what we want, to ask for the life we long for, to put those aches into words? And is the confessing of what we want really as dangerous, as destructive, as we fear it is?
I could say that I left my husband, or that he left me, but neither is the truth. In reality we had months of honest, genuine, earnest conversation, both finally owning the ways in which we were unhappy, unsatisfied, longing for something we couldn’t quite explain. We loved each other deeply, completely, yet it wasn’t enough, was no longer the kind of love that sustains a marriage. We could’ve stayed together anyway, could’ve pushed on, could’ve kept living the life that we’d build for each other and for ourselves. Yet happiness was on the fringes, felt out of reach and impossible to reclaim. We both needed something the other couldn’t give, both wanted new adventures, both were itching to see who we could be without the other one there to hold us up.
I’d spent 11 years learning how to be a good wife to my husband — learning his dreams, his preferences, the ways he asked for support, the things he needed to feel understood and accepted. We’d shared so many experiences together, the bad and the good, the tragic and the beautiful, had grown up and encouraged each other in endless and necessary ways throughout the years. But even with all of that experience, there was so much I was uncertain of, was afraid to try. What I didn’t know was how to be single, how to trust myself, how to stand on my own two feet. What I wasn’t sure of was if I was brave enough to ask for what I wanted, to explore the world in a new way, to honor my desires and own the ways that I wanted my life to change. What I had never learned to do was put my needs first, to say that they could take up space, that my dreams might be worth pursuing. And you can't fight the tears that ain't coming, or the moment of truth in your lies.
Yet I found a way to name my fears and desires, to put into words all that I wanted. And through our tangled emotions, our shared confessions, we found some heavy truths: that our marriage wasn’t working anymore, that we both needed a change. Divorce is sometimes painted as selfish, the individuals marked as failures or quitters — yet there can be such power in saying goodbye, humility and grace in admitting when something isn’t working, generosity in giving both ourselves and our partners freedom even when it’s painful. Leaving something behind is not always a cause for grief, or at least, is rarely so simple. There can be relief in mourning something lost, in releasing something that has changed beyond recognition. And there can be such magic in reclaiming dreams, in having the courage to imagine what is possible on the other side of a shift.
Sometimes we become mysteries to ourselves, so afraid to acknowledge what we need that we bury it deeply, try to ignore those internal desires that don’t match the lives we’re living. I could only partially envision the life that I craved, even after all of those years of wondering what it might be like — to be queer, single, living alone and supporting myself. I never dreamed that I would actually get it, or that it would happen in the midst of a pandemic and an attempted coup; that I would be packing and apartment hunting and moving and starting over in a cloth mask, without any friends or chosen family physically present. Yet building furniture alone, with Phoebe Bridgers’ voice echoing against my empty walls, the lyrics wrapping themselves around my heart, I felt like I was just starting to meet someone new, someone I had somehow always been. The future's unwritten, the past is a corridor; I’m at the exit looking back through the hall.
These songs, these lyrics-as-confessions from Rzeznik and Bridgers and Rogers, are earnest and authentic, naked in their longing, unashamed of the depth of their need. I long to always be that brave, but my heart is so often trapped in layers of bullshit and fear, trembling and bruised, climbing up my throat to keep my lips and tongue from forming the words that are threatening to spill out. I couldn't say it to myself; I felt it burning in a way. I’ve spent a lifetime learning to censor my cravings, accepting what was offered, believing that I could be happy with whatever I was given. Yet here I am, on an unexpected but necessary adventure, carving out a new life for myself. Of course I’m afraid, unsure — yet I’m also hopeful, excited, even greedy for all that may be coming. What else have I been unwilling to name, reluctant to recognize? What else am I too timid to say? What forbidden, unacknowledged pieces are coming together within me, transforming me into the person I was never sure I could be?
Our secrets can take up so much space inside of us. We all hold so much tangled complexity, dreams that we don’t understand, desires that seem to come out of nowhere and take hold of us, strangling us with desperate, hungry need. Yet Temperance holds space for all of it, for our messes and magic, for our pleasures and fears. We are not less than because of our needs. We are not small simply because we want. The things we crave shape our actions, our choices, and even in our mistakes, we can find power in that honesty, that authenticity. Even the pieces of ourselves that don’t seem to quite fit together all have value, all contribute to our full and complete selves, to our unique alchemy. And in those moments when we feel desperately uncertain, there is still a kind of brilliance that holds us together, that invites us to honor what we have been longing to explore. I just want you to know who I am.
Who are we, when we embrace all of our cracked pieces, our broken bits? What would it take to let the world see us in our fullest self, to own our desires instead of hiding them? What does it look like to celebrate everything we have been, and everything we long to become? And where can we go when we let fear be part of our whole, instead of seeing it as something we must leave behind?
Meg Jones Wall (she/her) is a queer photographer, writer, and tarot reader based in NYC. She is a columnist at Autostraddle, a contributor at Astrology Answers, shares daily card studies and original tarot spreads as 3am.tarot on Instagram and runs a tarot newsletter, devils & fools. She is currently working on her first book and is available for writing opportunities through her website.
I do individual and group readings on sliding scale, plus individual tarot lessons for people of all levels. Get in touch if you want one or have any questions!
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