For this particular card, I didn’t actually consider anything. I did however ask my partner to pick a card, though he just pointed at the one that fell out of the deck as I was shuffling and said ‘that one’. I don’t know how much that counts as contemplating anything.
Note: The card of Temperance depicts an angel. And for all angels or divine beings I use the pronouns they/them. Because they are divine beings, I personally do not see them as being restricted to binary labels, but beyond that, I don’t believe them to hold humanly or earthly attributes of gender at all, never mind other humanly restrictions.
In the Rider-Waite deck, and in many other depictions, Temperance is an angel pouring liquid from one cup into another. In the RW Deck, the Angel has blond curly hair, and a halo of light around their head, with the Sun glyph over their brow. Their wings are purple and their gown is white and grey, with Hebrew letters YHVH (IHVH, however you translate it), and a triangle with an up-right orange triangle in it. They pour water from the cup in their left hand into the cup in their right hand, with their left, bare foot, dipping into a pond while the right foot remains on land. Behind the angel and to the right side of the card grow yellow irises. On the left side of the card, the water is lined with rocks, from which a trail or road moves back up a green hill and disappears between two mountains. The sun is rising or setting there, though it could be a depiction of divine light as well. The sky is grey.
The Spiral Tarot show an angel as well, though unlike the RW depiction which appears androgynous, the Spiral deck’s angel looks more feminine, perhaps denoting a more feminine energy about the card. Their wings are purple turned to whiteish yellow (perhaps white turned yellow by the rising sun in the background), and the dress is pink with a white shirt under it. Around them swirls a blue and pink veil. The angel pours from a cup in their right hand to a cup in their left hand, though not water, but something more colorful and with elements to it. They stand in water, with indigo irises in the foreground. The water extends behind them and two mountains peak up on either side behind the angel, between which the sun rises. The sky is lightening, though divided between morning and night by a rainbow. Above the rainbow in the top right corner is the glyph for Sagittarius. In the top left corner is the Hebrew letter Samech (or Samekt), with the glyph for Mercury under, though above the rainbow. Under the Sagittarius glyph and under the rainbow is Tree of Life with an up-right, yellow triangle.
The Vampire Tarot shows a strong woman, with fiery orange hair. Unlike the Spiral Tarot or the Rider-Waite, she is not an angel, nor does she look at the cups by which she transfers liquid, but directly at the reader. Blood stains the side of her mouth, and her body is turned toward the left of the card. She is in a pool of blood, and pours from the cup held by her concealed right hand into the cup in her left hand.
The Faerie Tarot, by the same artist, is equally simple, though instead of a vampire, Temperance is shown as a faerie, though it could be possible the depiction is an angel as well. However, like the last two descriptions, the depiction is feminine in nature, and the faerie/angel has long blond hair with flowers floating around the head. The being pours not from a cup in their left hand, but a jug, into a cup that is held close to the body in the right hand. The being looks down at what is poured. The background is dark purple, though the boarder of the card is blue.
The Thoth Tarot does not call card XIV Temperance, but Art. This card is rich in symbolism. The one being is divided in two, looking down at their task. The side of the being on the right side of the card has light hair with a silver crown with one peak, a dark face, and light arms. It pours water from a goblet. The opposite side has dark hair with a gold crown baring two peaks, a light face, and a dark arm, which appears to be adding fire to the water. The two hands work together to pour at equal pace into a bowl at the foot of the picture. The dress worn by the being is green with bees and snakes patterned on it, and the bosom of the being, over the heart, are six spheres. The bowl that they pour into is orange, and an equal-armed cross is on the rim of it, and the bowl shows a crow sitting atop a skull. The bowl, possibly a cauldron, is into the mixture. A white lion and an orange Eagle both add to the cauldron: the lion adds blood and the eagle appears to be spitting. Before the double-being are two crescent moons overlapping, and behind is a rainbow orb which reads ‘‘Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invinies Occultum Lapidem.’ Around the being is a rainbow shawl that comes down the center of the being and into the mixture. An arrow is on the breast plate, pointing upward over the bottom orb. The plaque at the bottom of the card which names it has the Hebrew letter Samech and the glyph for Sagittarius.
The Impressionist Tarot transformed that piece, A bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet (1882) to the card or Temperance. It shows a bartender in a black dress pouring water with her right hand into a glass on the table, held with her right hand. To the right of the card is a silver platter of fruit, and to the left of the card are some champagne bottles. It looks as though behind her are two paintings, but equally they could be two windows, showing the mountains behind, and a sun beginning to rise. On the strip separating the windows/painting, next to the woman’s head, is a quite circle, possibly indicating the symbol for the sun. The bartender looks directly at the reader while pouring her liquid.
The Prisma Vision tarot shows a splash of water erupting into the air, with two glasses being filled.
This corresponds to the sixth Sephiroth on the Tree of Life, Tiferet, which appears neither in the pillar of Mercy or the pillar of Severity, but in the middle, and is a lower vibration of Keter, the crown Sephiroth. This positioning is represented by the sun, and corresponds to spirituality, compassion, balance, and integration.
The angel itself represents a messenger. It is seen in other cards such as Judgement and the Lovers, and not only indicates news, but also news of a higher order. They are easy beings, those who are there to guide rather than to force into transformation.
In the Thoth deck, the symbol for Sagittarius is both seen on the plate labeling the card, but also as the arrow on the rainbow shawl of the being. Where it hovers over is the representation of the Sephirot corresponding to the Moon, which is a feminine energy corresponding to intuition and the subconscious.
Sagittarius as whole represents philosophy, learning, teaching, and medicine. Sagittarius is related to the centaurs in Greek mythology, and to hunting. Hence, the glyph of an arrow. However, the arrow is always pointing upward, indicating seeking answers in higher places.
Mercury is the planet of communication and travel. When considering communication, Mercury is a message bearer, a bringer of truth that may or may not be wanted. When considering travel, it is not necessarily physical travel (though can be), but also that of the mind, and how it journeys and returns, evolved.
Sagittarius is also a sign of luck, and thus Mercury in Sagittarius is a good omen. However, regarding tarot and it’s influences, it is a want to be on the look out for higher messages. What’s more, it’s a reminder and influence to look internally for these messages of self-realization. It is a combination of the spiritual and the physical to move to the next octave of understanding.
On the cauldron of the Thoth card, Art, is an equal-armed cross and a crow or raven atop of a skull.
The raven and skull represents death, as can be seen in many classic pieces such as Shakespearean plays (Hamlet specifically) and art. Death in the tarot represent transformation and change, rather than a bad omen.
On the rim of the cauldron is an equal-armed cross, which differs from the Christian Cross. It indicates an equality of reach toward spiritual nature and the mundane world.
In every depiction of Temerance that has been looked at in this post, there have been cups. The cups as a suit represent emotion and creativity, and are also a water element. Considering that there are two cups indicates the message of union. But being that it’s a Major Arcana, this union is of a higher order and a deeper message.
While pouring, the cups must be balanced in order to get the right mixture between the two. A Biblical reference is that of Christ turning water to wine, thus, transformation.
In the Thoth deck, the depiction is meant to be that of Diana, the Roman goddess of the Moon and the Hunt. Likewise, in the Thoth depiction of VI The Lovers, there is the Emperor and the Empress each pouring into each other’s cups, similarly to what is happening in Art. Because this being is shown to be combining two beings, it is seen as a higher understanding of the Lovers, vibrating at a higher octave. Not only do they pour into each other’s cups to fill it, but now they work together and create together. This is the masculine and feminine energies controlled and combined.
While Temperance is a card ruled by the element of Fire, Water is more present within the depiction of all of the cards above.
The element of Fire represents energy. It is a means of transformation, and doing it heatedly. It is an element of passion, of creativity and of innovation.
Water is an element of intuition, of the unknown and of the unconscious. It is often associated with the moon.
In Temperance, Fire is the elemental dignity while water is the elemental affinity. When combined they are relating to the Spirit and Soul, that of the active energy of the consciousness meeting the higher being. It is the personality and the creativity. The combination of the two elements is the application of energy to the development of intuition and higher understanding.
In most depictions of Temperance, the angel’s feet are on shore and in water. The water represents the intuitive, creative, and spiritual self, while the other foot on land is grounded. This is a representation to the combination of higher matters and mundane matters, to find the balance between the two.
‘Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invinies Occultum Lapidem’ is written on the rainbow behind the being mixing the elements. It was commonly reduced to V.I.T.R.I.O.L. It translates to ‘Visit the Interior of the Earth and Rectifying You Will Find the Hidden Stone.’ This relates back to the Freemasons, and was their motto. The earth references the body and material being, and instructs meditation and inner work/healing (rectify/purify) in order to ‘find the hidden stone’. The stone is the ‘Stone of the Wise’, or divine self.
The irises growing represent the Goddess Iris, who, according to Llewellyn’s Complete Book of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot by Sasha Graham, ‘was the intermediary between gods and humans (playing the same role as archangels), and is often portrayed in ancient art as a winged goddess with a jug.’
They are the representation of masculine and feminine natures coming together and adding to the mixture in the Thoth Art. The eagle is adding feminine essence while the lion adds blood.
The mountains showed in Temperance are twin mountains, and behind which rises the sun. Given that Temperance is on the central path of the Tree of life, leading to the 6th Sephiroth which is in the middle of the Tree, they correspond to the path of higher being. A road goes between them, and they equally can represent middle ground between opposites (masculine and feminine, higher and lower orders, fire and water, etc.), or the pillars of Mercy and Severity on the Tree of Life.
The bow of the rainbow is a bridge. It separates the sky from the heavens, it’s colors transitioning from one to another representing the conglomeration of parts to form something beautiful, but also as a transformation of earth to spirit as well. It can also be a seen as an omen for success and fulfillment.
The number of Temperance is 14. This number reduces down to 5 (1+4), which is a number of transition. Numbers 1-4 generally have to do with learning on the physical plane, while numbers 6-10 correspond to higher learning and being. The number 5 in tarot is about transitions, and wherever there is transition, there is discomfort, growing pains. This discomfort will give way to something greater.
Likewise, it is a number of moving forth, generally as a result of these growing pains. When one is feeling restless and needing to do something new, this is when the five appears.
The number 5 indicates change and transformation, and can indicate health and a developing sense of control.
There are more numbers to Temperance, which is that of 2 and 7. The number 14 is 2 x 7, and 7 represents development and wisdom. This is twice the need for this development. However, as the card itself represents a masculine and feminine energy, it is the combination of the masculine development and the feminine development.
2 in tarot is a number of union, or combination. Temperance is a card of combining elements, combining above and below. It is the two cups, it is the dual nature, it is the two 7’s.
Samech (or Samekt) is a representation of giving up that which holds us up on a material plane. It is our crutch. When we give up these material things, the spiritual world opens up. Death is significant here, in the symbolic sense. It is a matter of giving up in order to transform.
There is a lot to put together regarding this card. However, with all the symbolism there are running patters, such as that of duality, of mixing the divine with the mundane, of messages, and listening to the inner self.
It’s easy to get intimidated by busy cards like this, but the repetition of symbols in the card reminds us of the importance of their meanings. The mixing of dualities is important here, and corresponds to many directions. You have the left and right, which (in my mind) corresponds to the masculine and feminine, and is found in the androgyne of the angle. You have the mixture of above and below, the heavens and earth, shown in the elements, in the higher and lower cups, in the symbolism of the sky and the earth. There is a path directing you where to go.
Temperance mixes the alchemical elixirs of life. This card is the card of spiritual messages and taking part in the inner self and it’s development. This is a time to listen to yourself, to see what is hurting, what is needed to be ‘fixed’ in order to continue on the path to divinity.
Balance is the key to understanding the self. We all have masculine and feminine energies in us, but they are just in different ratios. We all have aspects of all the elements within us, they’re just in different ratios.
This is a card of healing, of development, and of contemplation. It is of action, but a slow action that cannot be sped up. One cannot tell a seed when to break out of its shell and grow. It has to be nurtured into growth. This card is calling for the physical and spiritual nurturing for inner growth.
On a more mundane and daily level, Temperance is the representation that we can combine our talents and knowledge and create something new and fruitful. The angel can balance the complexity of alchemy without spilling a drop.
Keywords: balance, talent, intense skill, project or business management, finding meaning.
Read more of the Major Arcana
Faerie Tarot by Nathalie Hertz, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc, 2008. Hertz is a French artist, and the creator of several other beautiful tarot decks. The Faerie Tarot was ‘inspired by the flora and fauna of the French countryside,’ and ‘invites you to see the world in a delightful new way…blending fantasy, whimsy, and nature.’
Impressionist Tarot by Arturo Picca (artist) and Corrine Kenner (author), published by Lo Scarabeo in 2015. This deck takes works of classic impressionist paintings and recreates them to fit the meanings of the tarot. It pulls from works of Edonard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gough, and Paul Gauguin. A truly beautiful deck, especially for those who have interest in the art world.
Prisma Visions Tarot by James R. Eads, 3rd ed., published in 2016. The deck itself is beautiful, though perhaps not for the beginning tarot reader. The suits all fit together to create a master picture displaying the energy and progression of the suits. The figures and images flow from one card to the next, showing movement within the stationary cards.
Rider-Waite by A. E. Waite. The deck used in these photos is currently out of print. I won’t say much about this deck, as it is fairly standard and probably one of the most produced decks. It serves as a standard for many tarot readers and artists, depicting classic images relating in part to the original playing cards that tarot developed from.
The Spiral Tarot by Kay Steventon. With turn-of-the-20th-century style art, this deck takes from the classic Rider-Waite deck and brings it up to the late 1800-early 1900’s, a time of industry and contemplation for the western world as it moved forward into a more technological era. I am a little biased toward this deck as it’s been my main deck for 15 years. The cards are thick with additional symbolism that can be tricky to pick out of the traditional Rider-Waite, and adds layers of Greek myth throughout the Major Arcana.
Thoth Tarot by Aleister Crowley (designer and author) and Lady Frieda Harris (artist), published by U. S. Games Systems, Inc., in 1978. This deck takes from most esoteric imagery, and requires the reader of the deck to have deep, initiate knowledge of the symbolism used. There is nothing within the cards that is without meaning. However, on a more surface level, the deck draws from Egyptian symbolism and from the style of the Marseille Tarot (mostly seen within the Minor Arcana). For those looking for deeper understandings of the universe, I recommend this deck. I would caution that this deck is highly advanced, and might be avoided for the budding reader.
Vampire Tarot – by Nathalie Hertz, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. in 2000. As mentioned above in reference to the Faerie Tarot, Hertze is a French artist who gained her notability through the publication of her tarot decks. The Vampire Tarot was a bestselling deck upon its release, and plays on more gothic symbolism, providing more jarring interpretations to allow for the accepting of negative forces within the world to compliment the positive forces. The deck brings together myths and legends in the form of vampires, which ‘gives tarot readers a macabre passport’ into the world of divination.