Tarot 14 – Temperance

By James Donahue

The image on this card is that of a winged angel pouring a liquid from chalice to chalice. The white-robed angel stands with one foot on earth and one in water. The sign of the sun appears on the angel’s forehead, and the square and triangle of the number seven shows on its breast.

From the stream can be seen a path which winds its way up into mountains in the background. The pathway leads to a point where a great light emerges. And within that light can be seen a crown.

Some interpreters say this figure is the archangel Michael who is connected to both the sun and the element of fire. On some cards, Michael is shown pouring the “essence of life” into the golden cup of human consciousness from a silver cup. The act demonstrates how spirit and matter are influenced by one another.

The square badge on his chest shows the reality of our physical manifestation. The triangle within demonstrates the spirit. One of Michael’s feet rests on the earth and the other in water, showing us that he is equally at home in both the conscious and subconscious world.

The Iris growing on the riverbank is also symbolic. Iris was a Greek goddess of the rainbow.

It is said that this card symbolizes the secret of eternal life. It is called temperance because the image harmonizes the psychic and material natures of humanity. Through the rule of temperance we know in our rational mind something of our origins and where we are going.

The card has what first appears to be a simple message . . . it is a lesson in patience. We must not be impatient with life in general because our quest for achievements may take longer than we might wish. We may be the captains of our ships . . . the gods within our personal universes . . . but we must not expect miracles to occur overnight because we will them to happen.

But there is more to this card. It also teaches self-control . . . the art of getting the ego under control. The very image of the angel pouring the elixir of life from chalice to chalice suggests a need for balance and careful works that make it possible for us to follow that path from the stream of subconscious thought to the crown that awaits on the mountain top.

There is yet a silent message in this card. It calls for us to be silent and recognize the power, or the “flow” within our own lives and observe the nature of energy. The mere thought of a goal, or a personal prayer, when it comes from the heart, has more of an impact on the world around us than we may realize.

As one occultist wrote: “The key word chemistry is included here because Temperance deals with mixing the right ingredients in our lives in order to flow easily upon the path of our choosing. It takes a little time to balance the load just right, but once we do we experience some tremendous breakthroughs in our progress.”


The Mind of James Donahue