The phrase “everything in moderation” is something I’ve heard a lot, whether referring to food, alcohol or vices, and really does reflect how I approach life. I have learnt the hard way that eating, drinking, spending, even working out too much never ends well for me, but I guess I never thought of it as virtue.
I think of temperance like the Magnum Double Raspberry ice cream in my freezer — you save it for one Friday a month, think about it all week, and then eat it really slowly, and never eat more than one!
What you see: A winged angel stands with one foot in the river and one foot on the earth. He or she (as it appears sexless) pours water from one gold cup into another. It wears a white robe and on its chest is a triangle within a square, above which appears the Hebrew Tetragrammaton. Behind the angel are yellow irises and a path leading to mountains in the distance; a gold crown hangs above the mountains.
What it means: The angel in Temperance is often said to be Michael, who who is said to guard the Gates of Heaven. The mixing of water and wine is a standard allegory of Temperance in European iconography — defined by control over excess. The white robe signifies divinity, and the symbols on the angel’s chest represent God over humans (triangle) bound within the material realm (square). The angel’s foot placements could signify emotions, the foot in the water, being grounded by the rational, the foot on the ground. The path to the mountains symbolize life’s journey in pursuit of mastery (the crown). Finally, the irises represent messages from God or spiritual guides.
The story: As a character, Temperance is self-restraint or moderation. As an event, it is the arrival of stability and balance in life. As a relationship, it signifies harmony from not over-indulging and not severely restricting either. As a sign, it calls to moderate impulses and take the middle path.
As part of the Fool’s Journey: Temperance is the newfound ability to contain emotions; crossing over to the other side of the loss experienced in the previous card. It is acceptance and a rebirth.
Reversed meaning: Reversed, the card represents imbalance or extremes: a period of excess.
In mythology: Iris was the Greek Goddess of the Rainbow, a messenger of the Gods and the link between them and humanity. She is often depicted carrying a pitcher of water from the River Styx, that would put anyone who perjured to sleep. Sophrosyne is the Greek embodiment of temperance, a virtue in opposition to the concept of hubris.
Potential insights: Temperance is a virtue; moderation, balance and controlling our impulses is often a requirement in the pursuit of any goal.
Temperance related to the previous two cards: Death and the Hanged Man, have lessons about pausing, letting go and moderating, all of which appeals to my own pragmatic approach (despite my very emotional ruling sign: Cancer).
My research sources:
A Complete Guide to the Tarot, Eden Gray, 1970
Tarot Card Meanings, Biddy Tarot
Card Meanings, Labyrinthos
Deck: The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck®