Temperance: The Forging of Balance

Get the 411 on the Temperance tarot card and how to interpret it in any reading

the temperance tarot card in a pile of many tarot cards

Image courtesy of tarot card psychic reading.

Tarot has a lot of fairly dramatic cards, and not just in the major arcana-- the 9 of Swords, the Court cards, the Tower-- so Temperance is a nice change when it slides out of the deck. While not exactly a “breath of fresh air,” Temperance does invite a more mellow approach to life and problems.

In this last article in the Major Arcana series, we’ll explore:

  • The meaning and message of Temperance
  • Ways to explore and connect with Temperance
  • A worked example of a reading with Temperance, plus “homework”

Get your stretches in, folks, we’re about to walk the balance beam of tarot cards.

Paying attention to the individual symbols within tarot art is important to understanding the card on a more intuitive level. Image courtesy of Do512.

Meaning and message of Temperance

The Temperance card’s meaning and message are fairly simple. The issue arises when trying to implement it in real life!

In many ways our earlier description-- a balance beam-- rings true for Temperance. One of the oldest cards in the tarot deck-- called “Art” in Thoth decks-- Temperance is all about middle roads, moderation, and balance between polarities. The magick of Temperance is in the in-between, restraint, and perhaps even compromise (the healthy kind, not the kind that forces you to suppress yourself).

The other way to look at Temperance is to understand an important part of the original Rider-Waite-Smith artwork. In this illustration, a genderless angel is pouring gravity-defying liquid between two cups. This is a traditional symbol of this cardinal virtue, and it represents diluting wine with water-- a blending of polarities/opposites. It counteracts much of the tarot’s emphasis on duality by encouraging a spectrum, rather than this/that, black/white, good/bad.

It’s important to note that this is not a milktoast or weak card. Temperance does not ask you to bed over backwards, compromise your self-respect or morals, or to weaken yourself in any way. Rather, Temperance encourages you to make tweaks and adjustments to bring about balance.

Sometimes, the message of this card is to pull back a little or restrain yourself, but this usually happens as advice that will bring about the best outcome. For example, if you’ve been arguing with your Mom, Temperance suggests that you reign in the instinct to scream in frustration or devolve the argument into disrespectful behavior. Instead, hold back and strive for civility to get the best outcome-- even if you never agree with each other over the issue, the respectful and restrained attitude maintains good relations and can foster a better relationship.

Temperance takes a certain amount of holding space without being held back-- learn what you need and align with your highest good. This card demands self-care, not in the luxurious sense, but in the practical, mundane, actionable sense-- the kind of self-care that takes our prescriptions properly and regularly, eats as well as possible, and does the shadow work.

Temperance keywords: balance, middle ground, blending, compromise, moderation, restraint

Temperance message: find or seek a happy medium, avoid polarities or extremes, work/life balance, find or develop mindfulness and inner calm or accountability, self-care in a practical way

Are you doing your research on each tarot card, and keeping good notes? Image courtesy of Tarot and Horoscopes.

Ways to explore Temperance further

As we’ve said before, we highly encourage you to keep a tarot journal. In it, keep records of daily one-card pulls, full-blown readings, and in-depth explorations of each card.

One of the easiest places to start exploring a tarot card further is in the artwork and its symbolism. As we’ve learned in previous articles, each element of traditional tarot art (especially the Rider-Waite-Smith deck) has symbolism that ties into the meaning and message of the card. We’ve already talked about the liquid poured between the two cups in the previous section. But what about the other elements?

Take some time to research the symbolism behind the genderless angel, the crown, the plants, and way the angel has one foot in the water and the other on land. That latter image we’ve also seen in The Star-- can you make any connections between the two? Remember to look at each card’s number and where it lies on The Fool’s Journey through the major arcana. Explore that.

Don’t just look up the symbolism, write it down and move on. Take the time to research it-- what myths or folklore or superstitions surround these symbols? What religion gave birth to them? How have they changed over time? What do they mean to you, personally?

Especially if you have a hard time understanding symbolism, we also recommend heading to the nearest library that has a copy of the Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. The UOED contains the etymology, history of usage, and more about every word between its covers. It’s a highly academic resource, so not a lot of public libraries will have a copy, but many universities and colleges do. Sometimes the word you’re looking up will have many pages, but it’s worth reading through them, especially if it's a word iconically connected to tarot. Take yourself to the library with your tarot notebook and look up the word Temperance. Take notes on it, or pay for photocopies and cut and paste it into your notebook (English majors are very familiar with this method). The reason for doing this is to flesh out your appreciation for the word at the same time you’re developing your picture of the concept.

If you’re a quote person, look up some quotes about temperance and put those into your notebook. Do you agree/disagree with them? Write down the connections you do or don’t see, because you won’t remember them later.

Additionally, The Fool’s Journey through the major arcana is as much psychological as it is mythological. Take some time to explore these questions in your tarot journal:

  • Where am I balanced and in harmony in my life?
  • Where do I feel good?
  • Who is there when I experience this?
  • What does balance and harmony look like and feel like for me?
  • Where am I unbalanced, over-compromising, or overreacting?
  • Where am I accused of overreacting and when does that happen? Is that accurate? How do I see myself in those moments?
  • When do I let myself get pushed over the edge to passionate or numb feelings?
  • Where could I stand to be more assertive?
  • What are some actionable steps I can take to create more liminal space for myself?
  • Where do I need more self-care, and what does that look like?
  • What does restraint and moderation feel and look like to me?
  • Are these positive or negative connotations? Why?
  • How can I reclaim the positivity of these words?
Practice makes perfect. Do a daily shuffle and card pull to practice intuitive reading. Image courtesy of Uncaged Tarot.

A worked example of a reading with Temperance, plus homework

Once you feel that you’ve achieved a deeper understanding of Temperance, you’re ready to take that knowledge and apply it to readings. Pay attention to the intersection of each card’s meaning, role in the reading, and connection to the query.

As a sample reading, let’s say that Ash has a friend named Cedar. Lately, Ash has felt that Cedar is too intense and hard to handle being around. Ash still appreciates the friendship that they built together, and would like to know how to move forward without ruining anything. So Ash shuffles the deck and pulls a card for each question. (For the sake of this article, we’ve provided you with the question, answer, and each card’s meaning below.)

  • How can I best respond to Cedar when I feel they’re too intense? Temperance: balance, moderation, middle ground, restraint
  • How will I know if it's time to move on? 10 of Swords Rx: burdened, taking on too much, not asking for help or support
  • How can I support myself while this is going on? The Hermit: solitude, spiritual isolation

We’re pretty sure that Temperance in answer to the first question is pretty obvious-- if Cedar is one extreme, find a way to balance that. Maybe Ash isn’t the balancing point, but they can work on finding a happy medium between spending time with Cedar and spending time either alone or with other friends. It might also be a call to recognize that when Cedar is so out of whack and “too much,” it’s really that they are lacking in Temperance and need someone to call them out on it in a gentle and loving way. Remember-- do all things with compassion.

The 10 of Swords reversed is interesting, and probably relates to the concept that Ash doesn’t have to do all of this work alone or at all. It’s time to “rally the troops” and call on other friends to help support Cedar, or even to suggest that Cedar see a therapist. If the friends aren’t there, that’s usually a sign that Cedar has gotten toxic, and perhaps there’s a pattern of shoving people away. In that case, Ash should walk away.

The Hermit is a call to Ash to spend time alone-- it’s a reminder that Cedar is not the only person in their life and probably shouldn’t be the priority. In this instance, it’s Ash’s call to self-care and find that middle ground (Temperance) by consciously refusing to take responsibility for fixing Cedar. Cedar must fix Cedar, not Ash.

And so, dear reader, here is your homework: What if The Hermit and the 10 of Swords were switched in the reading? For an extra challenge, how would this reading change with the addition of a clarification card, such as The Devil?

Taking the time to explore each tarot card on a deep and fundamental level grows your ability to really “know” the card, just like a person. Image courtesy of Astrology Psychic Reading.

When you’re ready, post your answers in the comments below.

We’ve really enjoyed writing this series for you. Next, we’ll be diving deeper into the Ace cards, so stay tuned!

Jean Linder

Jean Linder is a writer and photographer from Pittsburgh, PA.
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