This week, in the Northern Hemisphere, we are on the threshold between February and March, the midst of one of the most dramatic seasons of blending and changing – from Winter to Spring, from death to rebirth. The appearance of Temperance this week seems a powerful omen, indeed.
Temperance comes from the Latin verb, “tempare” which means “to mix” or “combine.” While the Temperance Leagues during the days of alcohol Prohibition gave this word a rather negative association with denial and abstinence, a topic I’ve been writing extensively about here, Temperance reminds us to avoid extremism.
The angel stands balanced between land and sea, between the physical world and the flowing unconscious. Waite does not assign either male or female attributes to the angel, but for clarity, I’ll refer to “him.” His right foot (which is traditionally a symbol of our conscious awareness) is dipped into the waters of the subconscious where he is able to quiet and deepen. His left foot (which is the unconscious) stands upon the land, indicating he is also grounded.
In the background, the yellow irises (on the Waite-Smith deck) remind us of Zeus‘s messenger Iris, who traveled to the Underworld to fill Her golden cup with water from the River Styx, the river crossed by the souls of the dead. Such water, retrieved from the land of the dead, would bring the gift of life reborn, just what our winter-weary world needs right now.
On his head he wears the symbol of the Sun. And upon his chest is a triangle with a square, both of which are powerful symbols in many cultures. The square is the Syringa, symbolizing the Sacred Four. It is a very old symbol of equality, honesty, fairness, rational thought, and morality, in common use even today, when we talk about “square dealings,” thanks to the Freemasons and other esoteric traditions.
Within the square is the triangle, an equally old and powerful symbol representing Divine Mystery. From the hieroglyph “Mer” of ancient Egypt, which symbolized both the pyramid shape and the name Egypt itself, to the holy Trinity of Christianity, this three-sided shape has shaped humanity. The triangle is the basis of the most sacred Hindu and Buddhist mandalas, especially the Sri Yantra mandala, which is the Yantra of Creation, depicting the OM mantra, the primordial sound of creation.
And in the Pythagorean esoteric traditions, with which ceremonial magick and the Order of the Golden Dawn were aligned, the triangular tetractys was the sacred symbol upon which they made their oaths:
“By him that transmitted to our soul the Tetractys
The spring and root of ever-flowing Nature.”
Indeed, flow is what Temperance is all about. Look closely at this beautiful card, and note how it is all about blending, moving, and the flowing waters of Mystery that are within and all around us.
So many people compartmentalize their lives – their working life, their social life, who they are with their families, who they are in their privacy. Yet the angel pours the cups magically into one another, defying physics, for the cups are not lined up in a way that “normal” gravity would permit, without spilling.
Temperance demonstrates that our beliefs about separation are false, for all the elements of our lives truly flow into one another. The gift of Temperance is to be able to balance all aspects, creating magical combinations, and the alchemy of harmony.
There are cleansing rivers that run through us, that can offer healing and clarity to us, even as they continue to move and change us. Temperance is the healing balance and reconciliation of dark and light. It is the middle path of tolerance. Temperance teaches us to make peace by successfully combining and honoring all of our diverse elements both within ourselves, and in our greater human family.
This week, let us find our balance, and allow the flow of Mystery to deepen us.