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by jmd

Card Meaning
Artistic Media
Artist's Bio


An angelic being has descended to the topmost part of a high mountain, from a raised arm holding an urn into which flows, along an inverted parabolic curve, distilled liquid that also flows onto the Earth from the open beak of an alembic.

In her or his right hand (ie, on the left of the card) she or he holds riding reins.


For a long time now I have considered this card to be vitally important as principal depiction of the Alchemical process within the deck. One of the early depictions very similar to Temperance (yet unrelated tot he virtue) is of Mary (Miriam) the Jewess, an important early alchemist and supposed inventor of various alchemical implements, holding aloft in one hand a vessel, from which pours liquid into another at her feet.

This feminine aspect, as both early alchemist but also of the mixing-of-the-waters of life, and the 'alchemical' transformation of juice to wine, and thence its further distillation to alcohol, seemed to me to be central. At the same time, there is then the process of tempering the effects of the distilled spirit by adding to it water.

Here, then, are the waters of Life distilled and remixed in an ongoing process of dual movement.

Some early depictions of Temperance, as a virtue, used the symbol of reins rather than of water-and-wine vessels. This aspect of 'reining' in one's passions, of taking hold of one's inner horses, seemed to also be an important concept that has been somewhat dropped (perhaps aptly) in Tarot's development.

At her foot is another alchemical symbol par excellence: the lit athanor, within whose flames stand the spirits of fire, sacrificed as pelicans for its own offsprings of flame, re-kindling the life of the phœnix, distilling the liquid to pour out its spirit via the open beak of the alembic (the etymological root of 'alembic' is from the Greek 'ambix' meaning 'cup').

Temperance in Greek is Sophrosyne (σωφροσúνη), and even before becoming one of the cardinal virtues is used to describe a person of clear and balanced thought (and mind) who acts in total accordance of his or her individual and specific nature. Thus, a temperate ruler is one who, amongst other things, exercises rulership. A temperate individual is one who acts in accord with his or her essential being.

More than other virtues, temperance can be seen to emerge when there is appropriate coming together of love and reason. More than any other virtue, then, it seems to depict that ultimate reach of humanity's quest for inner integration and balanced outer expression.

Card Meaning

I normally pair each Atouts according to their Roman numerals, and therefore see a close rapport between this and Atout IIII - the Emperor (who also has important alchemical symbolic references). The higher numbered card may be seen, according to this pairing, as the inner aspect that is play.

The card in a reading may indicate that an appropriate mixing of ingredients pertinent to the situation at hand is either taking place, or is at this time needed. It may also be an indication that what is called for is that the individual is called upon to be him or herself!

Artistic Media

To get a model from which to draw the figure I combined various photographs and images using Adobe's Photoshop CS2. Two of these were generously offered by le_pendu from his rm.c site: an angel from the Highgate cemetery, and the Archangel Michael from the Place St Michel in Paris, France. The horse reins I added from imagery by Giotto, the urn from the Parisian anonymous deck, and the Alembic from alchemical text. These, combined, formed a model also influenced by the symbolism described above, which I then sketched.

The image itself was therefore drawn freehand with graylead as an outline on thick cardboard, which was subsequently painted with gouache (first try with this medium!). The image, larger than required, was eventually scanned, and the central part incorporated into an InDesign CS2 file, to which was added the title, tilted at 90° using Charlemagne font - all on my Apple PowerBook G4 Titanium.

Artist's Bio

jmd has been exposed to the Tarot since birth, but only began serious investigation of this and other esoteric arts and sciences since his early twenties. Since 1982, he has also held various ritualistic positions in a number of esoteric orders located in Melbourne, Australia. In addition to previously teaching philosophy at University, he has also taught Tarot, Astrology, and Kabbalah courses at various other adult educational institutions. jmd now teaches in a Steiner (Waldorf) high school and teacher-training institute.

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