Arcana In Balance: Temperance


RWS_Tarot_14_TemperanceBalance is the absolute essence of this card. It was part of the inspiration for the series. If there is a major arcana card that teaches about balance, it is this one.

The balance point of this card is about balance itself – whether it is present, or not. It is about the extremes vs the middle.

Balance encompasses both. Whether you have a long pole or a short stick, there is some point, some place along that long skinny object that will balance. There is some place where you could put it on the flat of your hand and not have it tip off one direction or the other. The Temperance card is about finding the middle, no matter how extreme the opposing sides might be.

In our modern context, temperance might not be the best word to describe the card. “Centering,” “rooting” or “grounding” might be better choices, at least here in the U.S. where there are still echos of the unfortunately named “Temperance Movement” that led to Prohibition in the 1920s. Despite the name, the outright ban on alcohol was a culturally extreme response, not a balanced one and an example of what NOT to do in the context of our card.

When “temperance” includes BOTH extremes and middle, then strength results. Setting aside any alcohol related connotations to the word, think of tempered glass and tempered steel. Those real, physical processes use extreme changes in temperature, and those extremes being brought back to center, to create a material much stronger than the non-stressed original.

Balance can’t exist without the extremes.

Passion has a place right alongside meekness and moderation. “Everything in moderation”…including moderation. Knowing when to be moderate, and when to be passionate … when to slow down and when to take off the brakes.

Balance is its own key, its own advice. When things get too extreme, then pull back, pull to the middle. When things are too stagnant and no progress is made, then more effort, or a seemingly extreme change may be needed to shakes things up. The card isn’t so much a command to a particular point of view, or a call to absolute neutrality, it is a call to think about balance in and of itself. If things are extreme, it may take equal but opposite action to bring things back to center. If things are centered you might need to be gentle so as not to pull things off balance.

Balance is a strong aspect of the Eastern Philosophy of Taoism. Taoism and it’s yin-yang symbol is another good way to understand this card. Opposites balance each other. Anything, taken to extreme, becomes it’s opposite. The balance symbolized in the yin-yang symbol (Taijitu) isn’t still. It is moving, always. Just like the “dynamic equalibrium” we learn about in high school science. Imagine a unicycle. To stay upright, a unicycle rider is always making adjustments to the wheel. The adjustments might be big or small…but the movement is balanced against how far off center the rider might be, in order to bring the rider back to center and not fall.

The balance Temperance speaks of is the same. It isn’t a one-time thing. It is as much the act of adjustment and balance, more than the amount of movement required to achieve it.

A little or a lot…moving toward balance makes us stronger. The strongest hurricane is quiet at the center. Glass is stronger when it is tempered, and so are we.

 

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