I used to think that the Temperance card in the tarot was a call to an anodyne self-restraint and moderation in all things. How could a cardinal virtue seem so wishy-washy? Over the last two years, however, it has developed into one of the edgier cards in the deck for me, underscored by the scars from my experience of temperance.

Instead of thinking about temperance in the prohibition/ no-alcohol sense, think of the process of tempering a blade. If the blade is too hard, it is brittle. The metal needs to be softened just a touch so it flexes rather than breaks. This tempering is done by putting it back in the fire.

The tempering process is closely linked in my mind with the purification processes of alchemy as illustrated brilliantly on the Nine of Wands card by Robert Place in his alchemical tarot (https://robertmplacetarot.com/the-alchemical-tarot-renewed-4th-edition/). In the crucible we are melted down and the impurities allowed to run-off, leaving only the pure core behind.  And then along comes temperance and hammers you into shape then dips you in the fire once more to soften you up!

Josephine McCarthy describes two angelic forces – the Grindstone and the Unraveller – which work on us all in a similar way. In a super-simplified sense, the Grindstone builds us up by hammering us and then the Unraveller softens us up a bit. (You get a description of these forces here: https://www.quareia.com/s/QUAREIA_M3_L3.pdf and here: https://www.quareia.com/s/QUAREIA_M3_L4.pdf – but you should really start at the start of the course. Now is the perfect time to start a magical practice and the excellent Quareia course is free and online. Images below come from the Quareia Magician’s Deck – https://www.quareia.com/the-deck again lots of freebies thanks to Josephine and the Quareia team.) Looking back at the image in the Temperance tarot card we see that Temperance is indeed an angel and water flows back and forth between the two cups they are holding.

Between getting our arse kicked back and forth by the universe (or the angelic powers) there is also a need for self-discipline.  If we take responsibility for responding positively to the experience (and this is hard because all you want to do is curl up into a ball and cry) through self-discipline then this allows us to act with the forces rather than being at their mercy.  Think Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.  She doesn’t let her body go soft. She doesn’t take the drugs they offer her. She is staying in shape for when the day comes.  She is also learning to temper her temper.

The Grindstone

The Unraveller

I feel the same sentiment in the Leonard Cohen song “First We Take Manhattan”:

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom

For trying to change the system from within

I practiced every night and now I’m ready

First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

(lyrics deliberately re-spliced for BETTER EFFECT IF NOT RHYME)

Temperance prepares you for the call. If you are too rooted in the material world you will not hear the call. Or you will not be in a state to act if you do hear it. 

And here we come full circle. In a sense, then, Temperance – the process of being painfully honed – does require us to be temperate. If we allow our wits to become too dulled by alcohol or drugs or phones or TV box sets then the angelic kicking will likely continue because we won’t hear the call or will be in no fit state to answer it. With the current “lockdown” in place around most of the world we, as a race, are getting a dose of temperance. Our excesses have temporarily been curbed and many of us find ourselves in a very grindy place indeed. I suggest that you use this time to think about Temperance. Think about what you need to shed and what muscles you need to build so that when the call comes (in fact it already has so get going!) you are in the right shape to answer it.