Temperance: the Gymnast of the Major Arcana

All about the balancing act of Temperance and how to interpret it in any reading

Image courtesy of Horoscopes- LoveToKnow.

Temperance is sometimes thought of as a hard major arcana tarot card to interpret, possibly because of the elegant simplicity of its meaning. It is not so much the meaning of this card that has people stumped at times-- rather, it is the application of its meaning to a situation. Perhaps this is because in our day and age, temperance is not typically considered a virtue-- we are constantly bombarded with demands to make a decision, take direct action, pick a side, and be over-the-top. Temperance is a step back from all of that.

Let’s explore this card further:

  • Temperance’s meaning and symbolism
  • How to find Temperance inside yourself
  • Interpreting Temperance in any reading

Grab your tarot journal, and let’s begin.

inclusive temperance tarot card
Inclusive tarot decks truly embody the Temperance ideals. Image courtesy of Society6.

What is Temperance?

To answer this section’s question, let’s start with some etymology. “Temperance” is a noun, and it is derived from Latin and Anglo-French somewhere in the 14th Century. It means now essentially what it originally meant back then: moderation, exercise of restraint, and self-control. The words “temper” and “tempering” are both related words, and should be considered when interpreting the Temperance card.

Temperance is depicted as a genderless angel dressed in white, with one foot in water and the other on land, passing a liquid between two cups. A triangle within a square is embroidered on their robes, and their halo mimics the sun. Everything in this artwork suggests balance, neutrality, and consideration.

The angel has no gender-- equality and neutrality of sexes, and the absence of passion. The white robes symbolize clarity of the mind and intent. The angel’s feet are also in perfect balance of elements: one foot in water and the other on land. The liquid flowing between two cups-- multiples of two being the perfect balancing act-- is neither rising nor falling, but flowing equally. There are two flowers, and the sun and halo both symbolize enlightenment that brings harmony.

Even the angel’s expression is neither happy nor sad, but calm and serene.

The symbolism is not by accident. Temperance’s meaning is simple on the surface, and complex in application: balance, clarity, centering. This is not just a card that directs you to self-moderation and harmony, but rather to also come at such a place from a place of self-knowledge and awareness. This card asks you to dive deep into yourself and expand your horizons. It is not enough to know what you want to do, you must also know the why behind your actions and desire.

Temperance asks you not to give up everything and become an aesthetic, nor does it ask you to give up the things you want but don’t need. What it does ask you to do is give up what no longer serves you, even if you want it-- it’s a card of complete honesty with yourself, a process that requires a raw nakedness of the soul. Temperance won’t hurt you-- it will clothe you in clarity and balance, so that you can give up those things, and keep and grow with what serves your highest good.

So as you can see, this is not a simple card. Moderation and balance are not simple concepts. So how do you incorporate these elements into your tarot practice?

By embodying them in your life.

3 different temperance tarot cards
How does your tarot deck’s interpretation of Temperance compare with the original artwork? Image courtesy of Tarot and Horoscopes.

How to build a better understanding of Temperance

Got your tarot journal handy? If not, get it. And something to write with. Go ahead; we’ll wait.

In the above section, we talked about how Temperance means moderation and balance born of self-honesty and clarity. This will not be easy to achieve, and it is a constant cycle to maintain it. Nobody can maintain a cool-headed center all of the time. Most of us will probably need a good therapist to find it, if we don’t have one already.

In your journal, take some time to explore the following questions:

  • What do you want in life in five days, five weeks, five months, five years? Be specific and thorough.
  • Why do you want those things? Answer thoroughly, carefully, and honestly. If you don’t know, write that and push harder-- keep cycling back to it and poking and prodding until the answer reveals itself. Even if the answers are problematic, keep them. Expand on them. Keep digging.
  • Temperance asks us to look at our shadows-- the things we’d rather not acknowledge about ourselves-- and pokes us to bring them into the light. What are some of the things about yourself that you’d like to change? What are you not so proud of? We’re not talking physical bodies-- we’re talking emotions, reactions, personality, habits, etc. Get raw and real with yourself.
  • What does your emotionally naked self look like? How does it feel to be that way? Can you love yourself that way? Why/not?
  • Where do you find moderation easy or hard? Why?
  • What in your life is serving your highest good? How can you be sure?
  • Is there anything--or anyone-- in your life not serving your highest good? How can you be sure? What will you do about it/them?
  • Temperance is card 14 in the deck, just after Death. Compare The Fool’s journey from beginning to Temperance so far. What transformations took place for The Fool to become the angel in Temperance?

We must also not forget that Temperance also wishes us to have that calm center. Meditation is a great way to explore your mind and create that space where clarity and enlightenment can find you.

Create a meditation space for yourself-- turn off notifications on your phones and tablets, close and lock doors, light any candles or incense you prefer. Do you want music softly playing? Let others know not to disturb you for your preferred length of time-- and make sure that you have the time set aside for it. Meditation doesn’t work when rushed.

If you prefer a tarot-specific meditation, try gazing at the Temperance card. Mentally enter the card-- walk around and explore it. Become the card. Alternatively, you can find tarot meditations on the internet.

As a not-quite-end-note, we’d like to remind you that there are simple and effective ways to find space for Temperance in your everyday life. Like the “take three deep breaths before you react” method, or carving out time during nice weather to walk barefoot on grass (called grounding).

a red and blue temperance tarot card
Prepare to dig deep when working with Temperance. Image courtesy of WeMystic.

Working with Temperance in a reading

Now we’re going to present you with a scenario with which to practice your interpretation skills. Let’s say that it’s a New Moon, and you decide to do a reading to see what you should be working on during this lunar cycle.

You set up your reading space-- maybe you light some sage, maybe you cast a circle, or maybe call on your spirit guides and ancestors. You shuffle up your favorite tarot deck, tell the Universe your query, and pull some cards. You lay down:

Two of Wands, Temperance, the Devil reversed.

Think about what each card means, and write it down in your tarot journal on a fresh page (be sure to date!). Then think about how each card applies to the query-- “What is it that I need to work on during this lunar cycle?” Think about what each card speaks to in your life, and if it’s feasible to do some work on that during the lunar cycle. It’s worth noting that the work relates to the cards-- in other words, the cards not only demonstrate what to work on, but what the nature of the work should be.

You should also notice that there are two major arcana cards in this reading, so some big-time energy and work is at play here. This is serious stuff.

Let’s add another card to the mix, just to give your muscles more of a flex. Let’s say that as your shuffling, a fourth card flies out of the deck: the Two of Cups. Think about what that card means, how it plays with the other cards, how it relates to your current life.

Take some time to explore the fact there are two 2’s in your reading and two major arcana. Lots of two’s. What do two’s symbolize? How does that relate to your question, life, etc.?

Take your time working this one out, and leave your interpretation in the comments. Be kind to one another, and discuss your findings together.

Let’s give you an example that we’ve worked through, and you can also discuss in the comments if you agree with us or find a different interpretation. We’ll keep the same New Moon Reading scenario. But this time, the three cards are 9 of Swords, Six of Pentacles Rx, Temperance. This is how we’d break it down:

9 of Swords-- worry, nightmares, anxiety

Six of Pentacles Rx-- exploitation, unpaid debts

Temperance-- balance, moderation, clarity

This New Moon, dig into the worries that keep you up at night-- the things that you just can’t stop mentally gnawing over and over again. They might be related to a situation where you haven’t repaid someone for a favor, or the fear that you’ve been taken advantage of. These two cards together indicate that it’s starting to affect your health, so engage with Temperance to find a way to solve the issue. Take a look at the “why” of the situation, and find your center-- then the “how” will reveal itself.

Here’s a bonus question for you: how would adding a clarification card, such as 10 of Wands, change or clarify the reading?

the temperance tarot card shown right side up and reversed
Do you work with reversals? Image courtesy of Medium.

Taking the time to build a relationship and thorough understanding of Temperance will make your readings all the more honest and accurate. Check out the other articles in this major arcana series, and really dig into your tarot practice!

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Jean Linder

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