The Greek Goddess Iris is a Goddess of sea and sky. Her father Thaumas “the wondrous” is a God of the sea, and Her mother Elektra “the amber,” is a cloud-nymph and one of the Oceanids (not the daughter of Agamemnon).
Her name contains a double meaning, being connected both with iris, “the rainbow,” and eiris, “messenger.” As the personification of the rainbow, She represents the union of earth and sky and thus, She is a message bearer between the heavens and earth.
She is generally depicted barefoot and wearing either a short or long tunic (chiton) or a long robe (peplos). Twice in the Illiad, She is referred to as khrusopteros – golden-winged, so She is usually portrayed with wings. She is also often depicted holding a pitcher, as seen in Her portrait carved on the western side of the Parthenon.
This is a reference to the time when a dispute erupted on Olympus. Zeus sent the wind-footed Iris to Styx of the underworld, for a pitcher of water. Any immortal who poured from this pitcher the waters of Styx, and swore an oath, was solemnly bound to tell only the truth, else suffer terrible punishment.
So it is no coincidence that in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, irises are prominent in the Temperance card, a card which also features a cup-bearer. Temperance, like Iris, is a messenger of the divine, mediating between heaven and earth. In fact, in some older Tarot decks, there is a rainbow arcing across the background sky.
This card is a messenger that offers us conscious awareness of that which may have been unconscious. In the Tarot, the unconscious is often symbolized as flowing waters. The angel’s act of decanting back and forth is the inner dialogue, the meditation and mixing that harmonizes the psyche, and brings into balance the inner and outer worlds. It is also a challenge to face our truths honestly.
Like the rainbow message of Iris, it is a reminder that, “As above, so below.”