What Robin Wood says of this card, in her book “Robin Wood Tarot: The Book” is an excellent statement to get things rolling: “…the ability to move gracefully and easily through life…” Of course she says lots more than that, but for me, this is a key phrase that so aptly matches the image in the card, that it is a kind of gestalt for all that Temperance, at its best, should mean.
It doesn’t mean that everything is easy to experience, and it doesn’t mean taking a free ride- it means moving as fluidly through situations as you can, and managing your behavior and reactions in a controlled and thoughtful fashion. Negotiating your way gracefully through a world full of confusion is the hardest thing anyone can do! But, more specifically, to me, Temperance means taking responsibility for managing yourself and your life without waste, without undue drama, and without losing sight of your highest good. Symbols in the illustration, particular to this deck, show the figure juggling three balls in the air- meaning adroit and sensible handling of resources, time and energy. It’s not easy to see in the photo- but each of the balls is different: one is gold, one is silver, and one is crystal. Robin explains that when she designed this image, she intended for the silver ball to represent “spiritual wealth, the unconscious mind, and the present”… the gold ball to stand for “material wealth, the conscious mind, and the past.” and the Crystal ball to signify “mental aptitude, mystery and the future.” In general I accept and use these interpretations, and build on them further- in that Gold is a metal/color with a solar affiliation, and represents masculine energy, taking an active stance on issues, and in every way embodying a lively, forceful approach to things. Silver is lunar, and represents feminine energy. It has a subtler appeal; the metal is often used for tableware, where it came into customary use due to beliefs about its health benefits, as well as because of its more understated beauty. It’s used medicinally, in colloidal silver– due to it’s antibacterial properties- and has a softer, cooler luster, evocative of moonlight and reflections on water and ice.
Both Gold and Silver are soft, malleable metals, and must be alloyed for any practical use; however, Crystal is known for it’s hardness as well as for its clarity. Another descriptive word for crystal is a synonym for impenetrability: adamantine.
Crystal has long been a material used in divination, and is known for it’s ability to store and transmit information in the form of signals and energy. Think of crystal balls, crystal radio kits, and the crystalline sheets of mica inside of old style television tubes. Balancing the active, passive and intellectual sides of your nature are what Temperance is all about. It’s not all a matter of duality; remember, in every pairing there is a hidden implied third, even if it exists only as potential. Male added to Female holds the hidden potential of a child. Intuition balanced by intellect, holds decision as it’s possible third. Time plus Space gives us our perception of Reality in the world as we know it.
Temperance is also about taking care of yourself. What is ‘”too much? How does that contrast with “not enough”? How does care for the body balance with feeding the mind and nurturing the soul? How does one find the happy medium? When are you “getting it right?” You can tell by how your body performs, the clarity of your mind, and the satisfaction you feel in your soul. You can also tell by how things are going in your life, how well you bounce back from mishaps, and by the images that predominate in your thoughts and dreams.
The figure stands with one foot on land and one in the water. I see that as a representation about being grounded and practical, yet being in touch with your emotions and the subtler clues provided by intuition. The sun bursts through clouds gathered on the far horizon. Signals occur in all areas of life that clue us in to the right steps to take. Some are simply found through applying common sense, but others require that we maintain an openness to hunches and synchronicities that occur, and be willing to make leaps of faith. Other sources of information that are harder to pin down are strong prompts from emotional depths, or recurring dream images that haunt us. It can be so easy to fall into a pattern of hide-bound materiality, and never listen to that inner prompting- to always play it safe. But is that the best answer? Look at what has happened to people around us in the world who always “played it safe”. They gave up their dreams for “sensible goals”, stuck to jobs they hated for the sake of a pension that evaporated in the twinkling of an eye. Now they’re bewildered and sinking, having lost their vision, any knack for independent thought or flexibility to take risks.
It’s up to us to blend and select which cues to follow, when to be thoughtful and wait for more data, when to rush forward before the window of opportunity slides shut. We need to respect and retain all our talents and attributes, and use them wisely. Notice that the figure has a fine, physique, showing great care given to the body- but he also has wings! Sensible diet and following a budget does not cancel out flights of fancy and high aspirations- in fact, they can help these things move from fantasy into reality- if they are used as vehicles to carry you to these finer ideals. By the same token, wool-gathering yields no fruit, if steps are not taken in the material world to move toward a goal.
The attainment of such a delicate balance brings light into life, and provides the guidance for following our optimum life’s trajectory. The way is not always clear when we begin- but if our choices are correct, light will shine, and the way will be illuminated.