Tarot Tuesday: the Meaning of the Temperance Card

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The Temperance Tarot Card Meaning

Continuing our series on the meanings the Tarot cards, we pick up again this week with the Temperance card, representing patience, balance and moderation. 

The card depicts a winged angel with two cups of water. The water actually travels from the lower cup to the higher, signifying temperance, austerity and moderation as a way to advance spiritually. The halo above the angel’s head shows the character’s enlightened status. 


On the angel’s chest there is a triangle encased in a square. The upward-facing triangle is the alchemical symbol for Fire, representing the passions, emotions and fiery aspects of human nature. The square encasing the triangle represents the laws that moderate the effects of human passion.  


The angel’s holiness is further emphasized by the rising sun in the background. In many decks, the sun is depicted as a glowing crown, referring to the Sun King—be it Ra, Apollo, Jesus or the many solar deities worshipped throughout history. The Sun is also referenced on the angel’s forehead with a circle around a dot. 


The angel has one foot on dry land, the other in the water. This stance symbolizes balance between the material world represented by land and the spiritual realm represented by water. The Temperance card is all about balance, insisting that we avoid becoming too attached to materiality, but that we simultaneously remain grounded enough to avoid having our heads in the clouds.  


The theme of balance is also reflected in the angel’s gender: the angel is depicted as a hermaphrodite, a child of Hermes and Aphrodite. The androgynous quality of the angel emphasizes the balance of masculine in feminine energies in both societies as well as individuals. A person must balance their feminine and masculine qualities equally in order to be fully self-actualized and spiritually enlightened. 


When the Temperance card arises in readings, it indicates that patience is the best course of action. Continue doing what you are doing without attempting to change things now. Don’t expect immediate results and know that the outcome you seek will take time to transpire. But the Temperance card also reassures us that our patience will be rewarded, and that the best possible outcome is already on the way to us as long as we are patient. The Temperance card favors inaction, or cautious moderated action, over impulsive behavior. The angel is seen depicting one foot in the water to test the temperature—that’s how the Temperance card asks us to proceed: tepidly, cautiously, testing our limits as we proceed carefully. This attitude is in contrast to the Fool, who urges us to barrel forward blindly and eagerly.  


The Temperance card also represent moderation, especially in terms of material indulgence. While the Tarot does not necessarily preach ascetic austerity, moderation is valued as a necessary ingredient to self-actualization. Too much drinking, too much eating, too much sex, too many physical pleasures in general will ultimately prevent us from evolving spiritually and accruing personal power. When the Temperance card arises, consider how you can rein in some of your vices or unhealthy habits. Maybe you’re smoking too much, not getting enough exercise, or not eating right? When this card arises, we usually immediately know what bad behavior it’s referring to, so take the cue and moderate your behavior. 


In reverse, the Temperance card indicates passivity, excess and imbalance. A reversed Temperance card could indicate that you are being passive in the name of patience. You should be taking action rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting for circumstances to change. A reversed Temperance card also indicates a general lack of balance and excessive indulgence. 

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