The Buddha’s insight into the middle way is not simply about a balance between extremes. This conventional understanding misses the deeper revelation of the middle way as being the very nature of unexcelled enlightenment. The middle way is an invitation to leap beyond nirvana and samsara and to realize the unborn Buddha mind right in the middle of everywhere.
Last week, we were visited by the juggler entertainer, balancing his material world. This week, we receive a deeper message about how to find our balance. This week, we welcome the Major Arcana card, Temperance.
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 an association of denial and abstinence, Temperance of the Tarot does not repress.
Instead, it encourages us to synthesize all of our aspects. It directs us, not to avoid or refuse any part of our identity or experience, but instead, to bring them all together in a complex, ever-changing mixture of authenticity. It does not seek and it does not judge; it is fully present in the Now.
In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, we see an angel balanced between land and sea, between the physical world and the flowing unconscious. 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.
He stands in the middle, a combination of both land and water, awareness and detachment. He is neither extreme, but simply in balance. He shows us the third way that becomes evident only when we have moved into it.
In the background, the yellow irises are a reference to 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. Retrieved from the land of the dead, such waters would bring the gift of life and rebirth, a healing gift much needed in our world today.
On the angel’s head is the symbol of the Sun. 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. Within the square, the triangle is an equally old and powerful symbol representing Divine Mystery, Creation and the sacred Feminine.
People often confide to me that the Tarot frightens them. They say they prefer angels, pixies, animal medicine cards, and other gentler, unfailingly upbeat cards of “The Light.”
While I don’t deny that non-Tarot oracles can be useful, their emphasis on light only, and their omission of human frailties and fears seems naive and unhelpful. To deny our shadow is to empower it. To heal ourselves, we must acknowledge, honor and integrate all of our parts.
Temperance shows us The Way. In the ordering of the Major Arcana, it comes between Death and The Devil. It is the Middle Way, a bridge of grace that stands between two of the most fearful concepts known to humanity: our mortality and our enslavement to fear.
Temperance is the magical flow that we are surrounded by, which we create, and which creates us. It is the careful blending of ingredients that creates a result greater than the sum of the parts. It is how we bless our joys and our sorrows, find patience with adversity, and learn to know contentment, in the midst of change.
In what ways this week might Temperance be inviting you to find a reconciliation of your personal dark and light? How are you being offered the middle path of grace, harmony and tolerance?
Be on the lookout for interesting new combinations of talents, interests, relationships, and energies that might bring you surprising and successful results. How might moderation and patient experimentation bring you dazzling new ways of being, in both body and spirit? What change is needed in order to bring more harmony into your world?
All the elements of our lives truly flow into one another. The gift of Temperance is to be able to find balance by honoring ourselves and our experience at every level.
There are cleansing rivers that run through us, that bring us healing and clarity, even while they continue to move and change us. This week, let us allow the flow of Mystery to deepen us.