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Intro to Tarot: Death & Temperance

Over the past few months I’ve been introducing you to the mystical and practical world of the Tarot. So far, we’ve journeyed about half-way through the Major Arcana cards, meeting universal archetypes that resonate with us human beings at the soul level. Last time we swung with the scales of Justice, and then we hung around in the upside down with the enigmatic and serene Hanged Man. Now, get ready to meet the next two cards in the deck, Death and Temperance.

Just in case you’re not familiar with the Tarot, here’s a quick snapshot of what the Major Arcana cards are before we dive into this episode’s featured stars.

A traditional Tarot deck has 78 cards. Every card in a Tarot deck is valuable and necessary. Each has a role to play in our readings and each reflects an aspect of our past, present or future. But it’s the Major Arcana that first captures the heart of a new reader, as the Major Arcana is the heart of the Tarot.

There are 22 Major Arcana, and they are numbered from zero (The Fool) to 21 (The World). The Major Arcana, or “Big Mysteries”, represent the lessons, milestones, initiations, opportunities for growth and transformation that we encounter as we live our lives on earth in these ephemeral physical forms. They support us, inspire us, challenge us, break our hearts, heal us, and help us to move towards our own highest personal development. When they appear in your Tarot readings, pay close attention to them, because they always deliver a significant and helpful message.

And now that I’ve sparked your curiosity, let’s move on to the next two cards in the Fool’s Journey. First, Death, Arcana 13.

This is the card that everyone has seen in a scary movie, usually delivering a dire warning or the worst of news. It’s the card that most people don’t want to see in their reading.

It isn’t easy for us to look at Death, at his grinning skull-face, empty eye sockets, and boney fingers. The red eyes of his elegant horse are also frightening and unnatural. We know that these are creatures of death and the underworld, they are not living things that we can relate to and understand. These immortals remind us that we are mortal, and that our lives on earth are fast and fleeting.

But, Death carries a flag bearing a pure white rose. He offers a greeting, a truce, or an invitation to join his clan. His horse is also pure white. Death is not evil or malicious, his intentions are clear and pure.

Death in the Tarot is not the end. After all, we are barely halfway through the Major Arcana at this point.

So what does it mean when Death appears in your cards?

Although Death in the Tarot ultimately brings transformation and rebirth, it doesn’t do any good to gloss over it or try to impose a strained cheerfulness on it. Death does bring profound and needed change, initiation, and glorious transformation, but it also asks us to let something in our lives die, figuratively speaking, so that we can move forward towards a new phase of life. This path isn’t easy, but it is necessary, and it comes down to how we choose to navigate it.

Death may result in the end of a romantic relationship or a friendship. You may quit your job, or mourn for the end of a career path even though it wasn’t right for you. You may feel the urge to get rid of emotionally-charged possessions that weigh you down. You may say goodbye to who you thought you were, or to the role you have been playing for most of your life. The bottom line is that Death represents change, and change is inevitable. Will you surrender to it, and make your peace with it or even embrace it, or will you fight it and draw out the process?

And it needs to be said, the vast majority of times that Death appears in a reading, the card means change, transformation and rebirth, rather than foretelling an actual, physical death.

And now, meet Temperance, Arcana 14.

Having made our way successfully through the shadow of Death in the previous card (13), we’re greeted by an angel. We know that our ultimate goal is still further down the road, but we can rest here for a while, to rebalance and heal.

The massive red wings and shining halo of the angel remind us that we are in the presence of a celestial being, but this angel has a reassuring physicality. He’s perfectly poised with one foot on the land and one on the water. He’s got his sleeves rolled up and his hands look strong and capable as he focuses on smoothly pouring water back and forth between two golden cups. That water is flowing in a way that shouldn’t be possible according to the scientific laws of our universe, and yet the angel does the impossible with a serene look on his face.

So what does it mean when Temperance appears in your cards?

Temperance from the Unifying Consciousness Tarot

Temperance is about achieving balance and moderation in all things, no extremes, and no drama is allowed to disrupt your life. While the Death card asks us to let go of or end something in our lives, Temperance doesn’t make any such demands.

Temperance indicates that you have the opportunity to create a rhythm in your life that feels natural and right. Recognize where things may be stressed or amplified or pinched or neglected and shift them around so that they flow with greater ease. This new rhythm and flow will come through a process of trial and error, so take the pressure off and give yourself time to find the solutions that work best for you.

What do you think of Death? Does the card seem less scary now? Can you see Death as a wise friend? And Temperance, what kind of balance is that angel offering you? Are you starting to find your flow? COMMENT and let me know.

Next time I’ll introduce you to the next two cards that the Fool meets along his journey, The Devil and The Tower. I’m not going to lie, these are some intense cards, but you’ll feel liberated once you’ve experienced their energy and wisdom. Join me then!

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