Temperance Tantrum

I’ve been wondering why Temperance has always flown under the radar for me. The themes expressed in the card are perfectly within my sphere of interest – balance, blending, opposites etc. – so why do I never pay attention to Temperance? And how does it figure as a Shadow/Teacher in my life? I’ve been letting the thought percolate and the ideas are slowly starting to drip down into my conscious.
It’s been eye-opening.

XIV Temperance - Kazanlar Tarot

XIV Temperance – Kazanlar Tarot

[1] I like Strength, I even like The Chariot (although I don’t fully understand it just yet). They’re also about balance, particularly internal balance. How do they differ from Temperance?

Temperance doesn’t fight.

In both Strength and The Chariot, there is a struggle for power, a battle for command, an implication of dominance and submission. Temperance? Just let’s it flow. There is no sense of opposing forces in Temperance; the halves just come together in an amalgamated whole like… water. Now I have to ask, is it because I like to struggle, or is it because I believe it’s the only way? Is it the satisfaction of winning after earning the crown, because then I deserve it? (And the same for failure. The same, twisted satisfaction.) If it comes easily, then obviously I don’t deserve it, right?

Shit, I don’t even have to look far to know where this particular mind-set came from: my school years. Being intelligent, diligent and most of all, interested in school work meant I was a straight-A student. And everyone always thought it came easy and without work, which it did to some extent, but I put in a lot of effort to be the best, to meet my own standards. I never did it to compete with anyone else (who could compete with me? No one, to be honest.) or to make anyone else feel less, I did it for me and the pride I felt in myself when I succeeded. But people don’t like that. They don’t like a winner. So I had to do a lot of lying and pretending and playing it down. I became ashamed of my success to the point where I felt guilty if I did better than anyone else.

I didn’t start failing until later. A combination of not being able to meet my own ridiculously high standards in the face of ridiculously high odds and some deep-seated re-coding that programmed me to make it difficult. Make it hard. Struggle like everyone else, because only then do you deserve it. And because I’m always the best at everything I do, when I failed, I FAILED. I know undiagnosed illnesses had something to do with it, but I wonder how much the mind-body connection played a part in that, too…

XIV Temperance - Lo Scarabeo Tarot

XIV Temperance – Lo Scarabeo Tarot

[2] The Temperance lesson isn’t in the cups that hold the opposites, it’s in the liquid flowing and mingling between them:

Dualism is an illusion.

Not that man/woman, light/dark, yin/yang don’t exist, but that one is better than the other. Or even that there is any essential difference between them. The belief in a Self that exists apart from the rest of life. I have only the smallest grasp on this concept (and the dualism that it presents in and of itself!), but I know it’s part of the problem and solution. An excerpt from Troma Rigtsal Rinpoche’s book, “MahaSiddha Buddhism”, on the subject of mistaken identity and the dissatisfaction it causes:

“If you thought you were a plum and you were really a banana, trying to be more purple and round, more plum, more tart – imagine the awkwardness. Perhaps you would tighten up, knotting up your insides to mimic a plum’s seed and cover up how soft your long, white belly really was. You might try to act more like a plum and avoid expressing those embarrassing banana sentiments. Meanwhile, with all your efforts to be a plum, you might be plagued with shame and confusion about your inability to completely hide your big yellow peel and feathery, white flesh.

Our attempt to be the plum would only make our existence as a banana much more complicated than it needs to be. Misperceiving what we are is a grave error that causes us to fall into all kinds of dissatisfaction, confusion and even all out suffering. Our mistaken identity in dualism is as ill-fitting (dukha) as thinking we are a plum or a tuba. It is a subtle but serious mistake that distorts our every experience… We only need liberate our grasping at dualistic identity to enjoy our world with awareness.

I have a Hanging Judge in my head and the Hanging Judge sees only black or white, not the myriad shades of grey that exist in any given situation. The HJ is judge, jury and executioner and he doesn’t give second chances; 1st steeerike, yerrr OWT! A phrase from the examination of 5 post on Temperance that perfectly illustrates this is: “Temperance can be given to extremes: of self-righteousness and self-contempt, of anger and pity, of action and lethargy, of asceticism and license.” So Temperance in this light is also a symbol of compassion (not neglecting self-compassion) and radical acceptance, two very important lessons for me. As many times as I have executed myself for the smallest wrong-doing, this time I choose to hang myself upside down.

I never really understood why Temperance proceeded Death, but I’m beginning to catch on: The realisation of your own non-separateness, the loss of personal identity can only really come after Death; it gives the perspective necessary to see the bigger picture. And then The Devil follows quick on her heels, to test this new-found self-awareness and to further show the falsehood of believing one thing to be good and another evil. He shows that inhibitions can enslave as easily as excess. It is through the destruction of the perfectly created little ego-world – The Tower – that we begin the journey to active rebirth and joy in our banana selves.


4 thoughts on “Temperance Tantrum

  1. Zorian says:

    Wow… Never before have I ever read such a wonderful article dedicated to Temperance. When I first got into Tarot at eleven, I always had issues with the Temperance card. After discovering it was my hidden factor card, I guess my earlier issues with it made sense.

    However, after ‘educating’ myself about this card, I began appreciating it more, but like you, wondered what made it so unique and special as opposed to the Chariot and Strength.

    And wow, you totally nailed it. I’m truly impressed Submerina, and I am so happy that you share your wonderful thoughts and ideas about the Tarot with us all.



    • submerina says:

      Thank you! And I’m thrilled to bits that someone other than myself is able to get something out of this delving of mine. I know what I’m doing here is quite a deviation from the standard style of “tarot blog”, but I figure, how can I read the cards if I don’t _understand_ the cards, at least from my point of view?

      I think it’s going to be really interesting when I make my way round to the cards I like and feel comfortable with. Going to have to put all that aside and unlearn before I can see properly!


  2. erishilton says:

    I’m going to have to give this some proper thought… Temperance is my shadow card as well, but it seems to manifest in a wholly different way, or I have a very different lesson I keep learning from it.

    Well done, Madam! :)


    • submerina says:

      Please share! I’m sure the Queen of Wands’ Temperance experience is an entirely different thing, especially with the grasp you have on path working. I’m just scratching the surface of my own isssssssues here :)


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