Futhark Village

Tarot Major Arcana – Temperance

Temperance is a virtue that Odin talked about in the Havamal. Don’t drink too much, because alcohol is like a bird stealing your good sense. Don’t talk too much. Rest when you’re tired. This advice is attributed to Odin, but it doesn’t sound like advice he himself takes: Odin is the god who gives all his food to Geri and Freki, his wolves, and drinks nothing but wine himself. 

There are numerous Runes of balance, but none of them quite fits Temperance. ᛏ (Tiwaz) is a Rune of evenhandedness (pardon the pun), but Temperance is not a card of justice. ᚷ (Gebo) is a Rune of giving and receiving gifts in roughly equal measure, but Temperance really isn’t about giving. 

The Runes closest in meaning to Temperance are ᛗ (Mannaz) and ᚹ (Wunjo). Temperance is a card of coming together in joy and peace. It is a card of enjoying the simple joys of life and smiling demurely. 

The Fool’s Journey

Odin died in the jaws of Fenris Wolf two cards ago, so perhaps the Fool’s Journey isn’t talking about him anymore. Perhaps it never was. 

Baldur is the shining god shown in the Waite-Smith deck. Baldur is temperate. His only real time of intemperance was when he believed he was invincible, and he allowed the other gods to throw things at him, knowing that they would not harm him. That didn’t turn out well for him, but we are now talking about Baldur, King of Asgard, who has returned from Hel knowing not to let his blind brother Hod throw things at him.

The very definition of Temperance is Loki’s wife, Sigyn, depicted in the Giants Tarot with the bowl of poison. She is calm, she is patient, she is the reason Loki does not suffer from the poison dripping from Nidhogg’s fangs. Sigyn inverts the meaning of the chalice: for most Temperance cards it represents ᛁ (Isa) and the well of patience. For Sigyn, it represents ᚦ (Thurisaz) and the conflict between Loki and the rest of the gods.

There is so much water imagery in the Temperance card: the angel is depicted with one foot in the water, a river flows behind her, and she pours water from a cup. But there is also fire: in addition to the sun itself, there is also the upright triangle on the angel’s shirt, a Hermetic symbol of fire. This card is both ᛚ (Laguz, water) and ᚲ (Kenaz, fire). Sitting with that paradox, being okay with it, is the heart of Temperance.

Another symbol common in Temperance cards is impossibility, demonstrated by things pouring impossibly from one cup to another. In the Darkwood Tarot (left), the water is flowing sideways from one cup to another. The Fountain Tarot (center) shows water flowing infinitely from an inverted vessel into a bowl. The Gilded Tarot (right) takes it a step further, showing water flowing upward from one cup into another flaming cup.