Not being particularly well versed in the art of the forge, I figured I’d do a little research on the tempering process in preparation for writing about the fourteenth major arcana. After all, the Temperance card clearly isn’t about abstinence, it’s about some type of transformation. How is the energy of this triumph different from others that also address the forces of transformation, such as Death or the Tower?
It is, in fact, dynamically different from either of those cards. Death and the Tower represent universal forces with great influence over the Traveler, while Temperance is very much about Personal Intention. The rebuilding process begun in Death carries on with electric energy in Temperance. In this state of mind the Traveler is highly charged, having just emerged from the intense heat of the forge of Death to plunge self-awareness directly into the pool of the subconscious in Temperance.
Steel is treated in that way. First the metal is heated to extreme temperatures, then immersed in liquid. In this manner steel is tempered, making it both more resilient and more flexible at the same time. So it is with the human Spirit.
In Rider-Waite symbolism, water flowing energetically between two cups represents energy created by the heat of the previous card, and the foot in the water shows the completion of the tempering process. Without this process, the personality-like steel-will either be hard and brittle, easily broken, or so soft as to be unable to withstand stress. It’s the addition of the energy in Temperance that adds true meaning to the experiences of a person who has gone through the process symbolized by Death. In the energized state expressed in Temperance, the Traveler is capable of manifesting creative ideas like never before.
In addition to the tempering concept, there are two mythological personas associated with the Rider-Waite version of Temperance, and both of them play roles in the meaning of the card as well. The Goddess Iris, represented by the flowers growing next to the pool, was the messenger of the Greek gods and she commanded not only full access to the astral plane, but to the underworld as well. The swiftness of her delivery was renowned, and associated with the sudden appearance and disappearance of rainbows. This symbolism suggests that the transformation represented by Temperance can appear to be almost instantaneous when it manifests.
The other higher being that’s brought to life in the imagery of the fourteenth triumph is the archangel Michael, guardian of the human race. Historically, Michael has sometimes been depicted as a fierce male warrior, and at others, as an androgynous figure that some say is more appropriate to the nature of angels. In either case, Michael is always pictured wielding a sword, with the exception of the Tarot. The Rider-Waite deck replaces the sword with the exchange of water between the cups. The first and possibly greatest advocate of the human race, Michael is reputed to have cast Lucifer out of heaven after Lucifer refused to take direction from Adam. Later, after Adam and Eve were also banished from the Garden, it was Michael who taught them how to farm. Deeply embedded in human history, Michael has a place in not just one, but three major world religions; Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The inclusion of the angel in the fourteenth triumph is a bold statement about how powerful the energies expressed in Temperance really are, as if to say this is where our greatest potential lies, in the human ability to adapt and rebuild, create and recreate.
In a reading the appearance of Temperance might indicate the successful coordination of differing qualities, or point to someone who is actively engaged in the creative process. At times the testing of a theory may be suggested. A person represented by Temperance has an inspirational mind with the ability to see the larger issues at hand. Personality traits are generosity, courage and candor. Whenever Temperance presents, it indicates a period of highly creative energy that has been unleashed after a time of hardship.
Meditate on Temperance for Creative Inspiration.