Temperance - Tarot Storytelling for the Rise Up! Good Witch Podcast

I recently had the amazing privilege of being featured on Episode 15 of the Rise up! Good Witch podcast in a Tarot Storytelling segment about Temperance! For the sake of accessibility I have decided to post the transcript of my portion. I say a lot in a short period of time, so I wanted to make the text available for those who would find it helpful in parsing the audio. Enjoy!


Hi, I am Harvey James from Harvey James Tarot, and I am going to talk about the card Temperance.

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot describes the figure on Temperance as being neither male, nor female. This sets this card apart from the other cards in the original rider waite smith deck in that it explicitly represents a nonbinary figure. I highly doubt that Waite was making a nod at any real gender diverse people with his imagery, but nonetheless I have always seen my personal narrative as a nonbinary transgender person and a tarot reader in this card. Ever since I got my first deck and learned this about Temperance I have been prying deeper than its topical imagery to learn more about its role in diversifying tarot.

Earlier in the major arcana than Temperance we see a lot of archetypes, gender and otherwise, compared as opposites. We see the Empress and Emperor and Magician and High Priestess, expressing activeness and passiveness, maleness and femaleness, as mutually exclusive. As we move through the majors, we begin to see this broken up, as we take a more complex view at the original archetypes and elevate them. Temperance arrives with a strong message of balance, blending what we once viewed as opposites to create something more sustainable. This puts these archetypes on a spectrum, and advocates for a synthesis of concepts in place of conflicting energies. There is a sense of liberation in the cards that come after Temperance, like the Tower, The Star, and The World, all of which exist outside of binaries, and are bigger than social roles or even personal identity.

The juxtaposition of Temperance to the card that comes after it, The Devil, really helped me connect it to my experience and queer culture as a whole. The Devil, among other things, represents radical elements, extremes and the outcast. As someone whose identity is erased, marginalized, and misunderstood, I often see myself in the radical act of existing without apology to a society that views queerness as something abnormal. But as empowering as it can be to view oneself as abnormal, in rejection of what normal tends to represent, something must come before it. I find that the passionate energy of reclaiming and reflecting society’s insults only came to me after I did the emotional labor of solidifying my sense of worth. I had to understand the absurdity of being made to feel abnormal before it could empower me.

Temperance answered this problem with an affirmation that we are all normal. The divine nature of the figure on the card reminds me that fluidity and transformation exists everywhere. This card speaks to every aspect of ourselves, whether it falls in line with the binary, or if it exists somewhere between or outside of the roles prescribed to us. Temperance reminds us that it is just as important that we view ourselves as regular, as we do revolutionary.

As someone who has centered their practice around bringing diversity to tarot, I sometimes find myself feeling radical. Bringing LGBTQ education into my practice makes it more me, but also sets me and my content apart from that of more traditionalist readers. In trying to innovate on card meanings and make them reflective of more than just a cisgender heterosexual experience, I fear sounding as if I am trying to reinvent tarot or change its innate meanings. Temperance has reminded me through my practice that I, and all other queer tarot readers, are not reinventing the wheel by trying to make our community more inclusive. We are in touch with a fluidity and a desire for change that the tarot in fact celebrates.

Temperance illuminates the diversity present under the surface, inviting those who feel left out by narrow minded interpretations to grab a deck, lay their own cards, and find themselves in the deep, unending symbolism. It has inspired me to illustrate a deck, finding ways to celebrate diversity that falls in line with tarot archetypes and patterns. To me, Temperance is a beacon of our creativity and spirit, reminding us of all the ways we use the tools we are given on this earth to make positive change, for others and for ourselves. We start with prescribed roles, shame, and fear, and through incredible work and support we can rise above it and transform it. We are constantly transmuting, growing, and learning, striving for something more sustainable than conformity. Temperance, in this way, becomes representative of self care and community care. It is a celebration of our triumphs, and an affirmation of our worth.

Thank you Corinna for this opportunity to speak on this card, and thank you for doing the work that you do to inspire and heal. If you you want, you can find me @hjtarot on instagram, and visit my website harveyjamestarot.com. Blessings and best wishes!