A woman pours water from a pitcher onto a blazing fire, creating a cloud of steam that rises around her. Autumn leaves settle to earth behind her.
In classical Greek thought, Temperance was the highest of virtues; in fact the term was nearly synomymous with virtue itself. In recent times, the word has taken on a very narrow meaning having to do with alcohol consumption, but the original meaning had to do with curbing the passions and apetites, and moderation in all things. Whereas fortitude (Strength) dealt with controlling one's fears, Temperance pertained to controlling one's desires.
In the Intimacy Tarot, the card is about softening strong feelings, so that we can approach others from a more balanced, less volatile center. The figure in the card does not really seek to extinguish her passions or stomp them out, but only to manage them, to keep them from igniting the entire landscape. The steam that rises is the product of her efforts, a mixing of fire and water that conveys to others the heat of her passions, without burning or blinding them. It also, incidentally, shrouds her own face in mist, a reminder that self-image and ego are not her dominant concerns. Holding ones passions in check sometimes requires swallowing some pride.
Autumn is a season of letting go and slowing down. It is about giving things a rest, about foregoing the initiation of new projects and allowing those already in motion to run their course. The leaves, ironically, echo the bright colors of the fire, even as they settle to the ground to die and decay. The leaves are themselves symbols of temperance, sharing the colors of their passion but surrendering themselves to the cool, restful air of the waning year.
The key to temperance is knowing how much water to pour on the fire. Too little, and our desires rage too fiercely, overwhelming our judgment and sacrificing our long-term needs to our momentary urges. Too much, and we extinguish our own light, becoming passionless and passive, with no way to authentically convey what we care about, to others or even to ourselves. By mastering temperance, we acquire some hope of maintaing integrity in our dealings with others.
Ironically, dampening our desires is often the most effective way of realizing them. When we maintain control, and project that control to others, our desires seem much less threatening, and are less likely to provoke defensive reactions.