Reconciliation is to understand both sides; to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side.
Thich Nhat Hanh
It has been about five and a half years since this profound guardian of the Tarot came to call. In the perfect timing that is the way of this wisdom tool, let us welcome Temperance.
Temperance comes from the Latin verb, “tempare” which means “to mix or combine.” Although the Temperance Leagues during the days of alcohol Prohibition gave this word an association of denial and abstinence, the word temperance is about moderation, not extremism.
Here we see an angel straddling between land and sea, between the earthly world and the pools of the 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.
The Sun disc on his forehead is symbolic of the fiery Masculine, and the pool is the watery Feminine. Both dualities move and mingle within him, in peace.
And while he wears the Sun on his head, there is a golden, glowing crown in the background behind him. As Tarot expert Robert Place explains, “The landscape wears the crown, and the head wears the sun. Temperance mixes the inner world of the psyche with the external physical world.”
In the Waite-Smith cards, there are yellow irises in the background. They refer us 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.
The Infinitely Wonder-filled Lemniscate
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. If you try imitating the angel’s pouring movements, you will see your motions make a number 8 on its side – the cosmic lemniscate, the symbol of eternity.
However, if you do try this, I would advise you to mirror it with empty cups only. 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. The stream that he is creating points us to miracles and wonders.
You can see that the infinity symbol of the lemniscate also appears in the Strength card. Strength (Fortitude), Justice, and Temperance are the three three cardinal virtues named in the Tarot.
It also shows up in the Two of Pentacles and crowns The Magician. And, in subtle fashion, it is there again in The World (notice the design of the two red ribbons on the wreath).
In algebraic geometry, a lemniscate is any of several figure-eight shaped curves. The word comes from the Latin lemniscatus meaning “decorated with ribbons,” making it rather perfect that Pixie Smith referenced it in her depiction of The World.
According to Wikipedia, “The shape of a sideways figure eight has a long pedigree…However, John Wallis is credited with introducing the infinity symbol with its mathematical meaning in 1655, in his De sectionibus conicis.”
Also, it is noted that “In modern mysticism, the infinity symbol has become identified with a variation of the ouroboros, an ancient image of a snake eating its own tail that has also come to symbolize the infinite. The ouroboros is sometimes drawn in figure-eight form to reflect this identification, rather than in its more traditional circular form.”
(You may notice that The Magician not only has the lemniscate floating above his head, but his belt is the ouroboros.)
The ouroboros/lemniscate first originated in Egypt as a symbol of the Sun, and represented the apparent track of the Sun’s disk.
Indeed, analemma photos show this exact shape. (An analemma is a diagram showing the variation of the position of the Sun in the sky over the course of a year, as viewed at a fixed time of day and from a fixed location on the Earth).
So what does this have to do with the Tarot or the Temperance card, for that matter?
In the Tarot, the figure eight on its side indicates the nature of energetic movement. As a guide for realization and enlightenment, the Tarot indicates that transformation comes as an eternal continuum, moving from here to there and back again, the way that life itself is born, unfolds, bears fruit, dies, and is reborn.
The Middle Way
When you arrange the Major Arcana cards in numerical order, Temperance follows the Death card. Thus, in the story of the Fool’s Journey, this is the reconciliation and re-integration after great loss or change.
It can be how we bring things back together and re-establish harmony after very disruptive circumstances. The flow of life continues.
In our busy, often stressful lives, the push and pull of unprecedented forces continues to build. With any lens you use, you can see that our world is undergoing revolutionary change never seen before. Within just a few years (perhaps much less), our politics, technology, economics, environment – and our very way of life — are likely to be radically different from everything we have known before.
In the United States, the Middle East, and Europe, we are witnessing a rise of extremism that threatens the very heart of civilized cooperation and peace. From fundamentalist, fanatical religious movements to openly fascist expressions of philosophy and policies, the pendulum of power seems to be swinging towards radical xenophobia and economic polarization.
Certain leaders (who I shall not name, but you surely know) have been busily capitalizing on an undercurrent of suspicions and fears, and whipping that unease into hostilities and bloodshed.
Whether it is the tragic violence that continues to erupt between the Israelis and Palestinians, or the international attitudes of cruelty and shame towards immigrants and refugees; the ominous rise of the Alternative for Germany party, or the blatant racism that, once hidden, is now openly in evidence in the United States, fanaticism spells doom for the tolerance and trust necessary for building a peaceful, prosperous planet for all.
Instead of the current vogue of tossing around overly simplistic labels — “Good or Bad,” “Patriot or Traitor,” and all the other extremes of all or nothing, Temperance demonstrates how we can balance in the middle. When we recognize there are many components to a flourishing existence, we can create something new and dynamic in the process.
Temperance urges us to find the middle way, understanding the realities of worlds not usually our own; to, as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, experience first-hand what the other side is feeling and seeing. And then go back and see how we look through the eyes of The Other. This is the beginning of wisdom and empathy.
It is time for us to see all sides of life’s situations, not just our own point of view.
The experience of transformation is never calm or static. Rarely do we call the shots in these processes. But Temperance points the way for finding personal peace and acceptance. It directs us to create harmony, even in the face of profound change.
How do you access that liminal threshold where you can go deep into the unknown Mysteries, yet still be in physical awareness and consciousness? This is the mystic borderland, where magic is possible, where alchemy transforms our life’s lead into gold, sorrow to peace, grief to solace.
Is there some loss, or change that has left you feeling broken, vulnerable, or unstable in some way? How might you be in need of adjustment or a reconciliation between the dark and light in your own world? Temperance is the middle path of tolerance, forgiveness, and integration.
This guardian teaches that healing is possible, indeed, it is imminent. It reveals that our sense of separation, conflict, and duality is an illusion. When we relinquish the need to control and dominate, and instead lean in to the movement of the eternally shifting energies, we discover that we are Whole.
There are cleansing rivers that run through us. They can offer insight and serenity, even as they continue to move and change us. We are always standing in the flow of the Divine.