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No. 15

Tarot 15

Historically, diluting wine with water was a standard symbol of the virtue temperance [Little]. In the old tarot pictures, Temperance, central virtue of civic life, is depicted as pouring liquid from one jug to another, and thereby she may be watering wine. Sometimes Temperance (moderation) is standing, other times seated. In many decks the personified temperance is winged, standing with one foot on or in water and one foot on land. She is found to suggest moderation in food, drink, sex, etc., as the case may be.

In medieval art the souls of the dead are quickly snatched up by hosts of angels or devils and delivered to their ordained abode. Temperance in the tarot de Marseille, is depicted with angel wings, and Little suggests that it is assigned to Temperance to protect souls.

In modern decks the picture is also called "Vigilance".

"Never too much" is a treasured motto from the much older Tao Te Ching's chapter 67, too.

Possible Alignment

In the present arrangement of pictures, (see introduction, "Twelve Fields of Life"), Temperance goes along with the Female Pope in the third Life Field, which deals with civic life too in astrology. If a mythical female pope (Pope Joan) goes too far and has a baby and is executed for it and meets the angel of death that says, "Moderation would have fit better," the value of proper temperance is stressed. We need not wait for death to benefit from a teaching like that. Far from it.

The idea of a female pope character was something accepted by commoners in medieval times, as the legend of Pope Joan implies. If Temperance suggests an angel summoned at death, as in the Marseille deck, defence may be useless in a situation of that kind. Such a linking may or may not be far-fetched.

This exploratory probing for a Life Field relatedness is not conclusive, but could fit quite well depending on how you look at it. Much depends on interpretation.


Tarot study, Literature  


Agrell, Sigurd. Die pergamenische Zauberscheibe und das Tarochspiel. Lund: The University of Lund, (Sweden), 1936.

Farley, Helen. A Cultural History of Tarot: From Entertainment to Esotericism. London: I. B. Tauris, 2009. ⍽▢⍽ Helen Farley is Lecturer in Studies in Religion and Esotericism at the University of Queensland. Her book is a researched and well written study of tarot symbolism and the changing imagery in the cards. She explores ways in which the tarot reflects aspects of European culture from Medieval Italy until our times.

Huson, Paul. Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage. Rochester, VM: Inner Traditions / Bear and Company, 2004. Online at Google Books (limited view).

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