As we move through the last portion of the Autumn season, a powerful image to work with is the Temperance Card from Tarot. Many decks depict a person who could be described as “angelic” mixing some things together. At the core of the artwork on most cards, you see a fusion or blending or bringing together of opposites; colors, directions, elements, genders. Anything that could be described by a “this and that” relationship to existence.
There is often a being pouring something from one container to another. They tend to be standing more or less upright, and many times are positioned right down the center of the card. The primary colors are often red and blue, or red and green. A lion and an eagle, water and fire, iris flowers, a rainbow, an ibis, a crown, and a path leading to a mountain are all common symbols and it is almost always daytime if the outdoors are depicted.
There is much conjecture about who the figure is in this card. Is it an angel after all, perhaps the Archangel Michael? This entity is connected to the element of Fire and the direction South, both relating back to Sagittarius, the astrological sign connected with the Temperance card, and currently, the end of Fall in Western astrology. It could be the Egyptian God Thoth, the ibis-headed God of equilibrium, thought, and balance between good and evil. Or is it the fabled Holy Guardian Angel? Or some other celestial representation of enlightenment? Or perhaps it is a vision of the deepest part of ourselves, ever yearning towards growth and change. The figure often glows with a brilliance. Many cards will show a symbol for the Sun on the forehead of the being, or a halo, a crown, or a golden or hot white aura. There is something holy and intense about this being. On the Smith-Rider-Waite card, if you look closely at the neck of the robe you can just make out the Hebrew letters IHVH, Kabbalistic shorthand for the name of G*d. Whoever this figure is, they are instigating, conducting, overseeing and guarding the central action of the card, that of the process of transmogrification and reconciliation, or the process of becoming through adaptation.
The colors predominantly used on this card are often thought of as “opposites” in the various magical and cultural systems they come from, emphasizing that fundamental idea of bringing together opposites. Red is often used to symbolize Fire or South, and at its root, desire, which can manifest as drive or obsession, and is a gauge of our temper. When paired with blue, which often represents Water and West as well as the unconscious, which manifests through our intuition and emotions, it represents the juxtaposition of Fire and Water, of unbridled desire and a fathomless Sea to quench it in. The burning holiness of the urge of life descending into and coalescing in the cooling waters of this reality. Some cards even depict explicitly water and fire. The Archangel Michael is often depicted wearing red and blue, as is the Virgin Mary, and St. Anne and many other holy figures.
When red is paired with green, it hearkens to the flashing colors used in Enochian magic as the floating seal hovering over the Great Southern Quadrangle of Fire. In this combination, red represents the spiritual fire, which when allowed to run free, will destroy the physical body to free the spirit. Green in Witchcraft is usually associated with North and Earth, and ultimately fecundity or the ability to to produce. The juxtaposition of these two colors speaks to an essential metaphor found in alchemy, hermeticism, tarot and many other spiritual practices; when you journey to the center of the fire – when you burn away all pretense – you find your real, living Self. It is an interesting detail that the chief colors adopted by the Christian tradition to represent Christmas – also found at this time of year – are red and green.
But if the figure is not dressed in red and green, or red and blue, they are almost always depicted in white. The color white (actual white, not the pink/peach/tan of pale skin) in magical traditions is thought of either as a lack of, or combination of, all the other colors. It is often used to represent ideas of “purity”. There’s a lot of cultural baggage around this kind of symbolism in the modern era, but pushing back into antiquity, purity was a concept used very differently from how we see it now. To be “pure”, a thing, person or idea was thought to be in its “original state”, often either directly connected to, or even a direct emanation of, Source or Goddess or God. Thus, the figure we see in the Temperance card, is a being that is in direct contact with God, under direction from God, or may even be a form of God.
These are not the only important colors on this card. Gold (as opposed to yellow) and purple are also both signposts pointing to rich gems of meaning. I will leave it to the reader to explore the possibilities here.
Another important symbol often seen on this card is a rainbow, either in the overall color scheme or as a literal arching rainbow. This is key to understanding the deep meaning you can extract from this card. Meditation on this symbol alone will possibly open many doors for you. Step back and take a look at yourself for a moment. There is the mundane “you” that is here in this world, trying to decide if you’re going to be a bartender or a bookseller or a bus driver, and then there is You, the real you, before all the pretense, and ego and life experience, the Divine Urge from the Universe, that has uniquely manifested as You, and only You. And behind that urge, perhaps, there is a purpose. The rainbow bridge can be a pathway from this mundane self to this “actualized” or refined Self, and a way to discover the answers to those age-old questions posited by so many sages and wise-people: “What is the meaning of life?” and “Why are we here?”. It is also an interesting coincidence that the sign of Sagittarius often depicted as a centaur with a bow and arrow.
For Kabbalists, the Temperance card lies on a pathway of the Tree of Life called Samekh. It connects two Sephiroth; Tiphareth and Yesod. Tiphareth, related to the Sun, represents the balance and harmony of God-consciousness manifesting on the physical plane. Yesod, related to the Moon, represents a vehicle or process that allows something to change or go from “this” to “that”.
The pathway is a direct shot from the fluid, dreamy, dark, private it’s-just-me-here world of Yesod into the bright, loud, intense, I’m-in-the-mind-of-God world of Tiphareth. That is intense. Samekh, represents the literal process the practitioner will experience as they move into alignment with their reason for being. This process is known as contacting the Holy Guardian Angel to some, others might call it enlightenment, others call it The Art.
The metaphor I often use to describe this card to people is a forge, and the act of tempering steel. To temper metal, particularly steel, is to alternately heat and cool the metal over and over again, until the metal becomes stronger and more flexible. This is a fine description for the types of experiences we may have while working this card. We may feel like the Universe is throwing us into extreme states of being, or extremely different circumstances than what we are comfortable with, forcing us to expand our capacity to deal with the opposing forces of reality, or at least people or ideas that seem to be opposing us, or opposing each other. But when we give in to the experience, and allow the process to expand our understanding of reality, and our capacity to hold everything (ultimately) within ourselves, we find a new middle ground within ourselves, a new sense of balance by keeping one foot in “this” and one foot in “that”, strong enough to hold the center, but flexible enough to also contain the extreme edges.
All of this may sound lovely, but during the process, no one wants to be the steel.
This idea of undertaking a process to find a more valuable expression of your Self is also represented in the path leading to a distant mountaintop seen on many cards. No journey of this kind is a simple one. The long and arduous path of self discovery, and ultimately self mastery, takes us through many pitfalls. To temper also means to to modify, to adjust, to adapt. We often don’t want to engage in this work, but circumstance force us to modify, or change our behavior or thinking around a subject, and we must learn to carry on regardless. While doing this work, the practitioner may end up breaking away, grinding off, wearing down and washing out that which does not serve or help this higher purpose. Sometimes, that is bad habits that we would want to be rid of anyway. Sometimes it’s our closest friends and family. To speak of enlightenment is one thing. To actually go through the process of leaving everything behind to find the perfected form of nirvana is quite another. Some people who participate in this type of work have described harrowing experiences, wherein they are confronted with chaos, dissolution and alienation. But it is a process we must engage in all the same, if we are to become the very best versions of ourselves. What do they always say in those wacky caper movies where the characters are confronted with one zany, possibly fatal, experience after the next? “It builds character!!” But here, another definition of temper can come into play; to be moderate, to go the middle path, to reduce where we have excess. Spiritual pursuit can generate a zeal in the practitioner that is radiant, intense… and potentially damaging to systems we would rather have in place when we come down from our ecstatic union with the God-head. So if the word “moderation” strikes a chord in you when you read it, have a conversation with yourself about where your habits are pulling you away from your path.
During this time of year, these last 4 or so weeks before the Winter Solstice, all over the Northern Hemisphere we see many Holy Days acknowledging Gods and Goddesses whose symbolism is quite close to the symbolism seen in this card (more on that soon). Suffice to say for this article, that the symbolism on the Temperance card reads like a who’s-who of deities for the season, and if one looks closely they may see many deities staring back at them.
Most importantly, many of the deities are either giving birth or being born. Many of the Goddesses giving birth are the embodiment of deep wisdom and “virginal” (as in “original” or “unowned”), or their pregnancy is self-induced or induced by another form of ineffable energy. In other words, they are either directly connected to Source, or they are themselves the Source of All. Parvati, Epona, Sophia, Athena, the Virgin Mary, Hathor-As-Sekhmet, Yemaya, are just a handful doin’ their thing. And the babies being born are the great Patriarchs of the world’s religions, gods like Horus, Christ, Buddha, Mohammad, and so forth. Think back to your deepest connection to your mother, your source, the person who helped create you, held you in a warm red pouch in their body as you created yourself, and then pushed your out of their body and into the stark blue white light of this reality. What was that moment like? The pain. The bliss. The tremendous power and knowledge that went into creating you, and here you come, splashing and screaming out into the world.
In Temperance, we are that baby, and we are that Source. It is an extreme state. Powerful. Painful. Beautiful. We’re not meant to stay in this place, but to know it is to know what it takes to take our own Will in hand and declare, “So Mote It Be.”
Take the steps you need to take to become the active Force in your life. Turn from a mundane reality to a holy one.
If you choose to do any work with this card this season, I recommend journaling your experiences (writing or recording) – especially any experiences around your concept of gender, or how you perceive gender in others, and your concepts around creating things in the world, or being the creation of other forces. I also recommend doing a tarot spread for a situation in your life that you feel strongly conflicted about.
Card 1: defines the role you are actually playing in this conflict
Cards 2 and 3: are the most extreme opposing viewpoints in the situation
Card 4: what is the deepest source of conflict
Card 5: a possible route to compromise for the people involved
This reading can be a real truthbomb, so ground and center before you start, feel your emotions as they come up (cry, yell, whatever), and be sure to release and ground afterwards. Eat some grounding foods when you’re done, like root veggies, cabbage, peanuts, and the like. Be ready for aftershocks in the following days as the full ramification of the information washes over you.
Finally, here is a mantra for you to use in your practice this season.
Adi Shakti, Adi Shakti, Adi Shakti, Namo Namo!
Sarab Shakti, Sarab Shakti, Sarab Shakti, Namo Namo!
Prithum Bhagvati, Prithum Bhagvati, Prithum Bhagvati, Namo Namo!
Kundalini Mata Shakti, Mata Shakti, Namo Namo!
Primal Shakti, I bow to Thee!
All-Encompassing Shakti, I bow to Thee!
That through which Divine Creates, I bow to Thee!
Creative Power of the Kundalini, Mother of all Mother Power, To Thee I Bow!
“Merge in the Maha Shakti. This is enough to take away your misfortune. This will carve out of you a woman. Woman needs her own Shakti, not anybody else will do it… When a woman chants the Kundalini Bhakti mantra, God clears the way. This is not a religion, it is a reality. Woman is not born to suffer, and woman needs her own power.””
~ Yogi Bhajan (Harbhajan Singh)