Temperance is one of my favorite cards. I find that there are certain symbols in Tarot that have come to have a deep resonance throughout my life. Some that I relate to easily, others that I have had to really work to understand and some where I have thought I’d seen it all and then they come back and surprise me.
I often find that when this card is predominant in a reading that it indicates a sense of timing. The word Temperance comes partly from the Latin “tempus” and also “tempor”, these are respectively timing and transformation. The balancing of energies and the moderation to work things through.
A few things I have come to recognize as evocative on the card itself; the angel has one foot immersed in the water, the other seems to be hovering over the earth. The irises on the river bank, the careful flow of water between the cups, the crown of enlightenment at the end of the long road. As is the case with most cards, multiple signals that combine to give us a message.
All of the major arcana cards are archetypes, universal symbols that hold within them a kind of guidance through our circumstances. If we were to view the minor arcana as karma, the majors are a sort of dharma that helps us free ourselves. Now that first word “karma” has been getting a lot of play lately. People look at a difficult person or situation and wish it to have some sort of karmic retribution. I’m not an authority on karma but the Buddhist traditions it evolves from tells us that we don’t have to be victims of circumstance or fate. Karmic retribution is about as relevant to mindfulness as Santa Claus is to Christianity. Dharma is the teachings and beliefs that help us to work through karma. We can stop the retributive patterns at any time.
It is significant that the Temperance card comes up in the sequence of the major arcana after the death card, right before we face The Devil. Like a good guardian angel that walks with us through the scary stuff, Temperance is like the angel Virgil in Dante’s Divine Comedy, helping us to see that all of our experiences, good and bad are part of what is shaping us. I like to think that we are all, and perhaps always will be, works in progress. The Maker’s hand is still upon the clay. We can’t just evolve the nice stuff and ignore what’s in the shadows, Temperance is the compassion to work with all of that. It is “The Great Transformer”.
I don’t think it is time alone that does this. Whoever said “time heals all wounds” had never heard of gangrene. It is time though that can wear down our hard shells of resistance. We aren’t the people we thought we were a decade ago and hopefully we wont be in time to come. There is a reason Temperance comes after the egoic passing of the Death card. I am reminded of the common experience of many people who claim to have after death experiences. There is often a kind of life review where we see our lives play out from a detached perspective, we see the good and bad and these things arouse feelings but at the same time many of these people report a sense of being loved, held and protected as these things play out. I like to think of that as a higher nature or angelic awareness such as what Temperance shows. The angel of time is also an awareness outside of time, the all knowing that we are always a part of.
On a much simpler level Temperance is sometimes looking at a situation that could have us all riled up in the moment and reminding ourselves of impermanence. It asks the question – how important will this be tomorrow, a year from now or ten?
Temperance can be a need to slow down, to look at the timing of a situation. To put aside our egoic ideas of good guys and bad guys, to be compassionate with ourselves as well as others. When a troublesome situation comes my way I have to see the karma being as much my own lesson in dealing with it and not just my desire to have it come out my way. By the way, ever notice how no one much considers it was their karma that brought them the headache in the first place? No one deserves difficulties or pain, they happen though just like the weather. When they do Temperance is the awareness that we don’t have to go flying off into reactions or a wish for retribution. We can learn from the situation, go into it’s depths but also rise above it. We can be moderate. We can ask if there is a greater or a higher good than just our own immediate needs. This is challenging work, all of the majors involve some. In this case there is an old saying; “temper justice with mercy”.
As we move into any kind of inner work, we may have some bogey men to face, but Temperance is the higher awareness that lets us know we are on a good path, that we are not alone, and whatever we need to face is ultimately freeing us. Sometimes in a reading temperance is that third choice, somewhere between yes and no that says wait a minute or not right now. Being Temperate or moderate is a better place to work from than just being temperamental. There’s more room and more of a sense of being a work in progress. We aren’t as insistent on things having to be an immediate yes or no and that usually shows us possibilities we had never before imagined.