Trump XIV: Temperance

Sometimes it happens that if I insist on doing reading after reading on one question or concern in my own life, especially in a rather short period of time, I end up getting the same card over and over. This doesn’t surprise me so much for the statistical improbability of the fact (although that still does provoke a reverent sense of wonder in the mystery of ‘chance’ with these cards) as much as it stirs me to go look deeper into what that neon signpost of a card is trying to tell me.

When one card keeps coming up repeatedly in a short period of time in your readings, do you sit up and take notice? Do you dig deeper to try to get some new insight into the message of that card?

When a card turns up more than once in multiple readings over a short time span on the same topic, in my opinion it’s the tarot’s way of telling you that you clearly aren’t getting the message, or you aren’t putting the message into action. Just like in life when we aren’t learning our lessons and so we keep getting hit over the head with the same sorts of experiences until we finally “get it,” or when we basically keep metaphorically beating our head against a wall until we finally realize that it hurts and we stop, in tarot a similar thing occurs when we refuse to take note of a particular card and its consistent reappearance.

For me lately, this card has been the lovely lady of Temperance. Now that I’m reading both with my RWS and TdM decks, it delights me to no end to see the same card come up in readings with both decks. This has happened a few times recently when I’ve done readings on the same question with both decks. The same trump turns up, even though I only use the trumps with my TdM while I use the entire 78 card pack with my RWS.

Oh, Temperance. Let’s try to figure out what you are trying to tell me.

One of my favorite ways to get some fresh insight around a card the tarot is hitting me over the head with is to find a word or words that it represents, and hunt down some good, old-fashioned etymology and dictionary definitions. And so, when I couldn’t seem to move past the idea of “mixing together to make something new” or “taking opposites and combining them into harmonious compromise” or “1 + 1 = 3” or any number of other interps that I might normally apply to this card, I decided to do what Enrique Enriquez always tells me to do when I’m stumped: be dumb.

Best advice ever for a tarot reader. “Shelley: you think too much. You need to be dumber.” In tarot, don’t make things more complicated than they need to be.


Sculpture of temperance, 1683; Saint-Derrien Church, Commana, France

1. It’s a virtue.

It is considered one of the four cardinal virtues, for it is believed that no virtue could be sustained in the face of inability to control oneself, if the virtue was opposed to some desire. It is also one of the six main categories of the VIA character strengths. Temperance is generally defined by control over excess, so that it has many such classes, such as abstinence, chastity, modesty, humility, prudence, self-control, forgiveness, and mercy; each of these involves restraining some impulse, such as sexual desire, vanity, or anger.

Why, thank you, Wiki. Message received. New insights triggered.

2. It’s a movement.

There was a general movement to build alternatives to replace the functions of public bars, […] and there was a movement to introduce temperance fountains across the United States so that people could have reliably safe drinking water rather than needing to go into a saloon as well as a variety of temperance halls and coffee palaces in order to replace bars.

Setting aside for one moment the fabulousness of the idea of having saloons or coffee palaces, I love the idea that Temperance represents replacing something seen as not good for you with something that is seen as good for you. Thank you once more, Wiki. I also like the connection here of drink to the water that is so abundant in the Temperance card. And, let’s not forget to also thank John Wayne, too, with a fine saloon brawl here. And, Marlene Dietrich? Va va va Temperance…

Clearly, the temperance movement had its roots in curbing these kinds of saloon shenaningans, what with beams falling from the ceiling and tables breaking to bits and whatnot.

3. It gives us food for thought from Shakespeare, Aristotle, and Abraham Lincoln.

Rather rejoicing to see another merry, than merry at anything which professed to make him rejoice; a gentleman of all temperance. -Shakespeare

Temperance is a mean with regard to pleasures. -Aristotle

Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond t he bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. -Abraham Lincoln

And so, my dear tarot friends, the next time you’re stumped on a message that you clearly aren’t “getting,” go wander around a bit and see where that concept turns up in pop culture, in history, in word origins, in art–basically in anything that strikes your fancy. When we get too trapped and locked into set meanings or key words for card concepts, we lose our ability to have new insights about the matter at hand.

As far as my own lil’ issue that Temperance is addressing, I can assure you that I will not be instigating any saloon knock-down-drag-outs, as fun as that might sound, and I certainly will not be leading any anti-imbibing legislation. I will, however, be reflecting on the fine balance between self-restraint and letting go, and between structured, dogmatic control versus conscious guiding of processes, impulses, or desires. I see Temperance now as taking a step back, reflecting objectively on a situation that requires adjustments, having one foot on land and one foot in the water, testing the waters, or simply holding back or holding your cards close to your chest, in order to actively create harmony.

Whew! That’s a tall order. I think I need a drink. Good thing Temperance has two cups.



    • Absolutely! In fact it’s funny because I actually very rarely do readings for myself. So, when I do, it’s pretty much a given that it’s because I want to hear something that I’m not wanting to accept on my own. Ha!! 🙂

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