Temperance is one of the three Major Arcana cards said to represent cardinal virtues, alongside Justice and Fortitude (now called Strength). Its appearance in a spread can be a bit confusing, since interpretations vary.
Is it calling for the querent to exhibit temperance, or do the art and symbolism conceal a different meaning?
- Keywords: Balance, patience, moderation, self-control, harmony
- Keywords (Reversed): Recklessness, impatience, disharmony, excesses
- Yes or No: Maybe
- Yes or No (Reversed): No
- Element: Fire
- Zodiac Sign: Sagittarius
In the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, Temperance is represented as an androgynous angelic figure with a white robe, golden hair, and red wings. There’s a circle on the angel’s head, and an upright triangle within a square on their robe.
The angel stands in a small stream, with one foot in the water, and one securely on the bank. They hold a chalice in each hand, and are pouring a stream of water from one to the other.
The circular symbol on the angel’s brow is an astrological symbol for the sun. The triangle-within-a-square may represent earth and the concept of the Holy Trinity (though it should be noted that an upright triangle is also the alchemical symbol for fire).
The folds of the angel’s robe (just above the square and triangle) form the Tetragrammaton, a representation of the Hebrew name of God.
There are mountains on the horizon. A golden crown rises like the sun over the mountain peaks. To the angel’s right, there are some yellow flowers that resemble irises. According to some sources, yellow iris flowers represent passion, hope, and wisdom.
Temperance Meaning (Upright)
In a general reading, Temperance stands for balance, harmony, moderation, and tranquility. This is a time when you’re experiencing peace within and without — you aren’t allowing yourself to be pulled anywhere you don’t want to, and are able to transcend any chaos or drama surrounding you.
As advice, this card advocates keeping your cool. Take this opportunity to enjoy the calm around you, introspect, and explore what you do and don’t want from life. You’re in a unique position to determine your priorities right now.
Temperance Meaning (Reversed)
When reversed, Temperance becomes the opposite of its upright meaning. It indicates a time when you’re behaving immoderately or recklessly.
There’s a lack of balance somewhere, and it’s resulting in stress and anxiety. You may not have a long-term plan or set priorities, and this lack of direction is creating a disruption in your life.
This orientation is more like a warning than advice. Temperance appears upside-down to highlight that it’s time to get control over your situation.
Pull back, breathe, and see if you can create an inner peace practice for yourself. Even if it’s only a small one at first, it will help you reach the right headspace for making better decisions.
See also: Check out alternate Tarot decks here.
Temperance Meaning – Love & Relationships (Upright)
In a love reading, Temperance upright is a very positive sign. It represents a relationship that’s balanced, supportive, and harmonious. It signifies that both partners are being conscientious, thoughtful, and patient with each other.
In a future position, it signifies that your love life will soon be entering a harmonious phase, even if it isn’t in one right now.
If you don’t have a partner, Temperance shows that you’re bringing other elements of your life into balance. You are creating the conditions for a partner to come into your life.
Exerting more effort to find a partner isn’t necessarily the best way to get one — by cultivating a sense of balance between your work, life, interests, and physical and emotional health, you’re much more likely to meet someone.
As advice, Temperance upright advocates continuing to show compassion and thoughtfulness in your personal relationships.
Temperance Meaning – Love & Relationships (Reversed)
When reversed, Temperance indicates that things aren’t as balanced as they should be. There may be a lot of conflicts going on right now, or, at the very least, plenty of emotional intensity.
Even if intense passion feels good, it’s not a sustainable state for any relationship — remember, the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
If you’re single, Temperance reversed can represent a sense of desperation. This kind of intensity isn’t very good for attracting potential partners, so you may need to rein it in and foster more emotional balance before you attract someone new.
Temperance Meaning – Careers, Business & Money (Upright)
When it comes to careers, Temperance is all about patience and hard work. You’re likely to succeed, but it won’t be overnight.
Set long-term goals and work toward them and avoid getting caught up in things that seem to offer quick rewards. If you can work steadily, stay calm during stressful times, and maintain balance, you will be noticed.
In a money context, Temperance is a good sign. Your finances are balanced and you can breathe easily. You’ll need to maintain moderation in order for this to last, so don’t go on any spending sprees just yet.
It also indicates that this may be a good time to look for low-risk, long-term investments. Temperance is all about patience and stability, and this holds true for money just as much as anything else.
Temperance Meaning – Careers, Business & Money (Reversed)
When reversed, Temperance points to a tense environment at work. This can manifest as conflicts between co-workers, or just a lack of a healthy work-life balance.
Working yourself too hard isn’t likely to get you positive attention at the moment — you’ll be better off seeking a better balance and placing less stress on yourself instead.
Financially, Temperance reversed advises you to avoid reckless spending. If you’re stressed in other areas of your life, it may be tempting to think that your next purchase will be the one to fix things and bring you peace.
This isn’t true. More buying means less money, which is only going to create stress in your life right now.
Temperance: Yes or No?
As a card of moderation and balance, Temperance is tough to read in a “Yes or No” context. It can represent a “Yes,” but is more often a “Maybe.” If you’re asking a question about what you should do in a given situation, then the answer is that you should proceed only if you feel it’s prudent to do so.
Reversed, Temperance is much closer to a “No.” This card speaks of recklessness, imbalance, and a lack of moderation. Things probably aren’t going to turn out the way you hope, and it wouldn’t be a good idea to go forward right now.
In some decks, like the Thoth tarot deck by Lady Frieda Harris and Aleister Crowley, Temperance is renamed to Art. This underlines the idea that Temperance isn’t an accident — it’s cultivated.
When you can behave with moderation and work to maintain an inner emotional balance, you are exhibiting the virtue of Temperance. When you can do this, you’ll experience all of the benefits that this card speaks about.
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