In decks based on the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck or the Latin Tarot (also known as the Tarot de Marseilles), Temperance is a major arcana card that appears offering a brief moment of respite in a series of seemingly catastrophic cards like Death and The Devil. Its symbolism provides clues about its interpretation when it appears in a tarot spread.
As with other tarot cards, Temperance contains symbolic imagery. Temperance displays a peaceful image of the Archangel Michael standing in a stream with a golden cup in each hand. He pours water from one cup to the other. On his face is a calm and intent expression. He wears a gown of white with a triangle symbol inside a square on its chest. Behind him are mountains and a setting sun, and immediately to the right of him is a bed of irises.
Place in the Major Arcana
Temperance sits in the middle of a series of dark, catastrophic cards of the major arcana that include Death, The Devil, and The Tower. Its placement seems out of order in the midst of such upheaval all around it, but it also offers respite, showing a period of calm adaptation after one change and before another. Since the major arcana depicts archetypal energies moving through spiritual growth from innocence (The Fool) to awareness (The World), change and upheaval are necessary for growth but so are periods of respite to pause and absorb what one has learned from the change.
Temperance is the 15th card of the major arcana of the Latin tarot, but it is numbered 14 (XIV) because the major arcana of this tarot deck starts with 0, The Fool. In numerology, 14 reduces to 5 (1+4=5), which symbolizes instability and adaptability. It is no surprise adaptability is a quality of this card's numerology because it is the most important quality necessary after the upheaval of Death and the coming temptation and change in the next series of cards, The Devil and The Tower.
The Archangel Michael represents releasing the past, overcoming fear, and moving forward with equanimity. The symbol on his gown - the triangle in the square - represents two of the four classical elements; fire and earth. Water and air are also depicted in the images (river, cups, blue sky), suggesting balance and equanimity are necessary for adaptation to change.
Various aspects of the landscape also offer symbolism. The water represents washing away and cleansing, and the mountain, sun, and irises all represent hope and renewal, which are necessary after the inevitable change depicted on the Death card.
Meaning of Temperance in a Tarot Spread
When Temperance appears in a spread, it suggests seeking balance, peace, tact, diplomacy, equanimity, and similar moderation in the midst of volatility. It may show the querent is currently in a capricious situation and needs to seek balance and proper spiritual principles. It may also mean the querent is growing and adapting from change and finding a new equilibrium.
When it is reversed in a spread, Temperance may show the querent is in an unbalanced or unfair situation or relationship. It may also suggest poor adaptation to changes that have already occurred or will occur soon.
Temperance depicts the necessity of finding or maintaining equilibrium in the midst of turmoil through the cultivation of balanced qualities and actions, such as seeking fairness and justice, turning inward for higher guidance, and using resources that offer respite during difficult times. It also suggests a period of reflection and adaptation after turmoil in order assimilate the changes and grow spiritually from them.