Virtue is our true wealth and the true reward of its possessor; it cannot be lost, it never deserts us until life leaves us.
Leonardo da Vinci
What a surprise!
Having made a rather dramatic appearance only a month ago, this card clearly wants to make a statement. In a time when it has been nearly forgotten, let us welcome back Temperance.
To read the more conventional analysis of this card which I posted in June, please visit here.
Otherwise, I am going off in a different direction, and focusing on the classical Virtues, one of which Temperance is. And one which seems to have rather spectacularly fallen from favor.
What To Do? How to Live?
When faced with difficult times, we ask ourselves – what should I do? This is a fundamental question in life, isn’t it?
However, from earliest times, some have argued that this question of “doing” is less important than the question of what kind of person am I?
In an article titled Happiness, Virtue and Tyranny, published in Philosophy Now magazine, Matthew Pianalto notes that the “utilitarians” of the Age of Reason assumed that reasoning and logic would be “intrinsically motivating, and that anyone who grasps the moral law or the principle of utility will find himself bound by reason to obey its commands.”
In other words, their belief was that humans are by nature reasonable, so living a proper, virtuous life is simply the smart, logical thing to do.
In its original context, this was a powerful and positive breakthrough from previous views that declared humanity as sinful and evil by nature. And this principle has profoundly affected our own system of government and law.
But sadly, we can see many instances of the failure of this premise. History is riddled with the sorry results of people completely ignoring logic and objective evidence, and acting against their own best interests.
On a smaller scale, if you have ever tried to use logic and argument with an otherwise reasonable, intelligent nine year old about why she must not climb up on top of the roof, or with a blitzed adult who is dead certain he can drive perfectly well, you know there are times when reason and intelligence fail.
Instead, with this extra nudge from the Tarot, perhaps we are being encouraged develop Virtue — that is, the practice of personal excellence until it becomes our very nature.
In this view, if we know who we are, and aspire to be better, then the right actions will naturally follow. In other words, the virtuous person just readily takes the good action in any given situation.
What Is Virtue?
The origins of the word virtue are from the Latin virtutem (nominative, virtus) meaning “moral strength, manliness, valor, excellence, worth.” This is derived from vir which means “man.”
In its strictest meaning, as used by moral philosophers and theologians, virtue is an operative habit of good behavior.
One of the great questions, of course, is what, exactly, good behavior is. The attempt to codify good behavior has been the ascendant model for many centuries, but there is growing evidence that this is not working well in our rapidly changing times and globalized culture.
Instead, there is a revival of the view that focuses on what kind of person we are. Rather than relying completely on laws and rules of behavior (which we know are easily bent, broken, and shaped to favor special interests and agendas), this new interest in virtue asserts that when we cultivate goodness within an individual from childhood, this will enable good behavior to reliably and naturally follow, regardless of shifting circumstances.
First advocated in the Tao and then by Confucius, and in the West, from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, this approach is known as “virtue ethics.”
Penalto writes, “In addition to praising the life of reason, by emphasizing the cultivation of virtue, involving exercise and practice, the Greeks offer a deeper conception of what it is to live well, and an assurance that striving for virtue is itself the pursuit of happiness.”
The Four Classical Virtues
The four classical virtues, as defined by the Greek philosophers are Justice, Courage, Wisdom, and Moderation (also known as Temperance).
Which brings us (at last!) to the Temperance Tarot card.
The original Greek virtue was called sophrosyne, and focused on prudence, being of sound mind, and moderation of desires. But with modifications by Plato, this concept was later folded into the Latin verb, “temper” which means self-control, as well as to combine, blend, and purify.
In the Temperance card, the angel stands 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.
The angel pours the magical cups into one another, showing how all the elements of our lives truly flow into one another. Some gifts of the Temperance card in the Tarot are the ability to balance all aspects of ourselves, finding appropriate combinations, and bringing all sides of oneself into harmony.
In a more modern interpretation of virtue, Martin Seligman, Christopher Peterson, and other researchers have challenged psychology’s tendency to focus on dysfunction rather than on what makes a healthy and stable personality. So they set out to develop a list of “Character Strengths and Virtues” applicable to the widest possible range of human cultures.
Although few if any virtues are absolutely and universally valued, Seligman and his team compiled a number of traits that are considered essential by an overwhelming majority of cultures.
Among those they established, all four of the classical Greek virtues are there, including temperance.
Although nowadays this word has become much maligned and misunderstood, thanks in part to its misuse in the Prohibition era, these pioneers of the positive psychology movement define it as a combination of forgiveness and mercy, humility and modesty, prudence and personal self-regulation.
The person who may be seen to possess the virtue of temperance is consistently balanced, grounded, and measured in word and deed.
We live in a world of huge uncertainty and ongoing crisis. Ours is a culture that gives prestige to uncontrolled impulses, consumption, greed, and even violence. It would seem that we are in short supply of women and men that can carry themselves in quiet, calm balance. But they are urgently needed.
Do you know people who you might call temperate? The ones who keep a cool head in a crisis, who enjoy a good time but never go overboard? This is not always the sexiest, most entertaining trait but perhaps temperance as a virtue should be reconsidered.
Especially since some of the most powerful men on our planet are also the most dangerously intemperate, flaunting little self-control, soundness of thought, modesty, or poise.
The Frustrations and Angers of Mars
As I wrote last week, Mars, the planet of action, aggression, and getting what we want, has turned retrograde. My friend Elisabeth Grace wrote a great “Survival Guide,” but I am also delighted that Temperance wants to help, adding its calming influence in this time that simmers with the potential for hot Summery meltdowns.
She notes, “This particular Mars retrograde period is likely to be more volatile than usual. Why? Because, as noted here before, Mars is in a tense pattern with rebel Uranus all summer and into fall.”
Mars wants to go-go-go, but not only is he being sent backwards (from our view on Earth), Uranus is agitating for turn-your-world-upside-down change.
Not only is there the potential for hot tempers and seething frustrations spilling over into destructive acting out, but with Uranus adding its penchant for revolution and upheaval, big drama and watershed consequences can loom.
Enter Temperance, in which cooler heads might prevail. As we’ve seen, its very definition is to possess a prudent, patient temperament.
Balance, refraining from selfish excess, and blending the components of life before us into a harmonious new alchemy are indicated.
Every day, we have choices to make, and opportunities to cultivate personal virtue.
As the pressures build this week, there is always the choice to lash out, thoughtlessly compounding the divisiveness and extremism that will guarantee a world of fears, hatreds, ignorance, and powerlessness.
Or we can begin to bridge our differences — practicing clear thought, gentle speech, and measured magnanimity. With Temperance, then, let us walk our talk in wisdom and peace.
For this is where our true wealth, our hopes, and our better angels reside.