For the most part, the Major Arcana is quite a ride.
It’s filled with powerful, knock-your-socks off energy. Magical manifestation, momentous change, subconscious witchery, revolution, death, focus, decisions, choices, moments of profound enlightenment and more besides.
Some cards, however, have a a quieter, less awe-inspiring kind of power.
Strength. The Hanged Man. And Temperance – the least glamorous of them all.
Temperance is about going steady. The word itself means ‘moderation’, which often means restraint. Choosing the middle way. Not upsetting the apple-cart. A lack of extremes.
By the same token, it’s also about blending dualities. Often, this card shows a figure pouring water from one cup into another, one foot on land, the other in a river, achieving a blend. This can apply to anything that we tend to view on a spectrum (see the next section for some examples).
Temperance is an answer to the tarot’s emphasis on duality. It is the huge, blurry, magical area in the middle of the spectrum, where even the line itself is blurred. It’s a third dimension, it’s more than just one thing. This is a liminal space worth exploring in its own right, as you learn to take the disparate ingredients of your life and blend them in ways that work for you. The result is a kind of alchemy, as together, all of these ingredients become more than the sum of their parts.
There’s real magic in this liminal, in-between space. In not being one thing, or another, but a blend of two, or many, things. Beyond simple ‘moderation’, Temperance is like honing a fine recipe. A little of this, a little of that, seeking the perfect balance, adding a little at a time, stopping to taste, to feel, to learn. Too much cayenne and your chilli won’t be palatable. Too little, and it won’t have any fire.
On the Rider-Waite-Smith image and many others in this tradition, the angel (who, by the way, is a hemaphrodite, or non-gendered, or nonbinary, or genderqueer – it’s up to you!) not only pours water between two cups, but they defy gravity in doing so. The water flows in a diagonal line. Powerful forces are at work here – this isn’t a mundane process, but a magical one.
We talk a lot in the ‘self development’ world about achieving balance and harmony. It’s something many of us seek. Extremes can be fun, but aren’t always sustainable (for our minds, hearts, bodies). Temperance shows us what it can look like to really make space to learn what we need – the many different ingredients, unique to each of us – that create our ‘happy blend’.
That harmony and balance so many of us seek is not a boring or mundane goal. It’s lofty, and it’s as important as all of those louder, more glamorous cards. It’s a form of radical self-care to allow yourself this kind of space and focus. In modern life we are tugged this way and that. So many demands are made of us. So many exclamation marks, so much awesome and awful and get this right now. What does it look like to simply sit with ourselves, with the complex, multi-faceted beings that we are, to honour the many different parts of ourselves, to simply see them?
Advice from Temperance
Temperance points to moderate or halfway points on anything we may view on a linear spectrum. This might mean simply choosing the ‘middle way’ – even sitting on the fence – in decision-making. Or it may be about tempering extremes, however they are showing up in your life. Some everyday examples are:
Work/life balance. Not throwing yourself entirely into work, not slacking off either, Temperance appears in our working lives as a healthy balance. (I house-sat for two weeks whilst writing this course, and I was looking forward to losing myself completely in this piece of work. I managed two days before I began to feel ill. I needed balance, to go outside, to do other things.)
Resisting extreme choices. Maybe you want to cut a friend out of your life, or completely shut down your blog, or ditch social media for good, or quit your job in a blaze of glory. Temperance advises you against such extremes. It asks you to cool your boots, and find a halfway measure or moderate way of meeting that need. Test the waters first, before going the whole hog.
Gender. The nonbinary gender identity is a perfect expression of Temperance. Not one extreme or the other (if we view gender as a linear spectrum with male at one end, female at the other), but somewhere in between. A nonbinary person’s gender expression may shift on a daily basis, combining elements of both genders however feels right.
Multipotentialism. Emilie Wapnick, founder of Puttylike and author of How to be Everything, maintains that we are not bound to choosing one path in life, but can combine multiple passions, interests and skills into a multidimensional whole. You can wear many hats at once!
These are just a few examples but there are so many ways that extremes can show up in your life. When you see Temperance in your tarot readings, look for the places in your life where you could do with ‘tempering’ those extremes. Don’t be afraid of exercising some restraint – it’s not always a boring thing to hold back!
Look for ways to invite a calmness into your life, and think about harmony and balance. How might you move towards a place of harmony (however that looks for you)? What do you need to bring in, or let go, in order to feel steadier, more in balance?
Key words and concepts
- Balance, harmony
- A blending of dualities
- Seeking the middle path
- Not making extreme decisions
- Taking a nonbinary attitude
- Testing the waters
- Self-care, grace, gentleness
- Integration into something you were resisting
Some common symbols
- Non-gendered angel (transcending the duality of gender)
- One foot in the water (testing the water, blending elements of earth and water)
- Water – being poured and in the landscape (intuition, feeling)
- Sunrise (a new day, a new start)
- Two cups (love)
- Flowers (natural renewal)
Cards shown are from the Dreaming Way Tarot, the Solar Wanderer’s Tarot and the Rider Waite Smith Tarot.
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.