14. Temperance

Temperance is one of the four so-called “cardinal virtues”. Two of the preceding cardinal virtues, 8. Justice and 11. Strength, represent in the tarot aspects of a kundalini awakening. Does this also apply to Temperance? Is there a hidden, esoteric meaning behind the two vases with which the woman adds water to the wine?

Traditionally, the virtue temperance stands for self-control and balance, especially with regard to physical pleasures, such as eating, drinking and sex. Allegorically (as a symbolic representation), this virtue is usually depicted by a woman pouring liquid from one jug into another. Other attributes also occur, for example a bit (“curbing” the animal drives), a clock, and other measuring instruments (“regulating” behavior).

In the case of a liquid, this is usually interpreted as adding water to wine (to prevent drunkenness). But other interpretations are also possible, for instance adding cold to hot liquid, to lower the temperature.

Temperance in the 15th century

In the tarot, the flowing liquid refers to the kundalini energy, that flows from the pelvis to the head. A first indication that this card means something more than adding water to wine is the physical impossibility of the path the liquid travels. Not only on the 15th century tarot cards, also in the centuries that follow, the liquid defies the laws of gravity.

Visconti-Sforza Tarot (15th century)

Ercole d’Este Tarot (15th century)

A schematic representation of the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening. The polar energy channels are red and blue.

A second clue is that on many tarot cards the liquid flows from the woman’s head to her pelvis: the (reverse) path the kundalini energy travels. But there are more details that refer to a kundalini awakening process. The combination of the colors red and blue of the woman’s clothing, on both the Visconti-Sforza card and the Ercole d’Este card (above), refers to the sacred marriage: the fusion of the masculine (red) and the feminine (blue) energies.

The spiral pattern on the woman’s clothing on the Ercole d’Este card (above center) refers to the spiraling upward movement of the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening. Her crossed legs symbolize the fusion of the inner duality into (divine) oneness.

On the dress of the Visconti-Sforza woman we see a pattern of eight-pointed stars. As we will see when discussing tarot card 17. The Star, the eight-pointed star (the “Morning Star”) is an ancient and widely used symbol for the kundalini energy.

Something strange is going on with the jug on the Visconti-Sforza card. The liquid does not pour from the spout, but from the top of the jug. This incongruity has to make us aware of the deeper meaning of the spout: it’s value is not practical but symbolic. The S shape refers to the kundalini serpent.

Venus (the planet) with eight pointed star
(The Sphaera Mundi, circa 1450)

Knot of Isis

The two ends of the cord around the woman’s dress have the same S shape. They represent the two energy channels that merge in the head, during the kundalini process. The loop on the cord refers to the pineal gland, which is activated during this fusion. The cord with the loop together form ‘the Knot of Isis’, a kundalini symbol from Ancient Egypt (left).

Not only in the tarot have the allegories of the cardinal virtues been used to communicate forbidden esoteric knowledge. Hidden references to the kundalini energy can be found everywhere. Below three examples.

The bare back refers to the SPINE/ kundalini. (Hendrick Goltzius, circa 1600, Rijksmuseum, The Netherlands)

The outstretched MIDDLE FINGER (click here) is a reference to the spine / kundalini (the “center” of the body). The SCARF from head to pelvis has the same symbolic meaning as the LIQUID: the flowing kundalini energy. (Jacques de Gheyn, 1593, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, The Netherlands)

The SCARF from head to pelvis is a reference to the kundalini energy.
(Fresco Parz castle, Austria, 1580)

The tradition of alchemy also uses the metaphor of a liquid, or vapor, that travels between two flasks / pots, to express a kundalini awakening. See right en below.

The woman points with her right hand to her PELVIS: what can be seen to the right of her takes place INTERNALLY. The kundalini fire purifies the first five CHAKRAS, symbolized by the five FLOWERS. (Symbola aurea mensae, Michael Maier, 1617). Illustration on the right: the same inner process with different symbolism.

The DOVE of the Holy Spirit (= the kundalini) cleanses the first five CHAKRAS. (Rosarium Philosophorum, 1578)

Read more about the HOLY SPIRIT and the KUNDALINI in my book ‘John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ’.

The flask with the RED ‘ELIXIR VITAE’ (‘elixir of life’) is a metaphor for the kundalini energy. The alchemist points to his arm holding a PAIR OF PLIERS. They represents the TWO POLAR ENERGY CHANNELS that merge during a kundalini awakening. (Pyrotechnia or fire-firing science, 1687)

The FIVE FLASKS on top of each other represent the first FIVE CHAKRAS transformed by the kundalini. At the SIXTH CHAKRA the SACRED MARRIAGE (click here) takes place, represented on this emblem by the crossed flasks, the crossed “horns of plenty”, and the two pliers. (Chimischer Wegweiser, 1710)

The Alessandro Sforza Tarot

We can also deduce that the Temperance card in the 15th century represented more than just a cardinal virtue, from the Alessandro Sforza Tarot (right), which is very different from its contemporaries. It is a card that raises many questions among tarot connoisseurs and historians. What is the meaning of the deer on this card and why is the woman with the two vases sitting on top of it?

The answer we find – again – in the tradition of alchemy and the Greek myths of the gods. In both, the deer symbolizes the kundalini energy; probably because of its red-brown color (association with fire) and its antlers, which grow toward “heaven”.

One of the twelve “labors” that the Greek demigod Heracles (Hercules) has to carry out on behalf of King Eurystheus is to bring him the Hind of Keryneia with the golden antlers. When the animal is captured by Heracles, one of the antlers breaks off. The deeper meaning of this myth is the mission of a spiritual seeker to awaken the kundalini (catch the hind) and accomplish a merger of the two energy channels that represent the inner duality (the two antlers become one). See also the illustrations below.

The woman on the Alessandro Sforza card is sitting with her pelvis against the spine of the deer. This may be taken as confirmation that the deer refers to a kundalini awakening. The woman has ONE LEG RAISED (click here) to express that duality has merged into (divine) oneness (see also the painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, below right). The necklace of RED CORAL (click here) that she wears is a metaphor from alchemy. It also represents the kundalini energy. See also the red coral necklace on the Visconti-Sforza Tarot card The Sun, and the alchemical emblem below left.

Alessandro Sforza Tarot (15th century)

The alchemist fishes RED CORAL (the kundalini) out of the water (his unconscious). From: Atalanta Fugiens, 1617.

The DEER and the UNICORN on this alchemical emblem (Book of Lambspring, 16th century) both refer to the kundalini process. The unicorn’s HORN represents the kundalini energy, which has ascended to the sixth chakra (the forehead). The deer’s ANTLERS represent the two energy channels that merge at the sixth chakra.

The ANTLERS of the deer on this emblem from alchemy have SIXPOINTED STARS attached to them. They refer to the HEXAGRAM (click here), a symbol for the fusion of the polar energies (the antlers). (Viridarium Chymicum di Stolcenberg, 1624)

While capturing the Hind of Keryneia, ONE of the golden ANTLERS breaks off. (An amphora from circa 540 BC.)

Apollo and Diana, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1525. Both Diana and the deer (the kundalini), on which she sits, have stretched ONE LEG (click here): the inner duality is transformed into DIVINE ONENESS during a kundalini awakening.

The Tarot of Marseille

The most important addition to the card in the 17th century are the wings. This new element underlines that the woman represents the feminine pole of the divine. She has many names, including Isis, Hera, Diana, Venus, Iris, and Shakti (the kundalini). Other elements on the card that refer to her divine status are the DOUBLE CIRCLE (click here) on her head (Tarot of Marseille, by Jean Dodal, below center) and the five-petalled flower, the so-called ‘Rose of Venus’ (Tarot of Marseille, by Pierre Madenié, below left), also on her head. On these two Marseille cards we also see the color combination of blue and red in the clothing of the goddess: the fusion of the masculine and feminine energies.

Jean Dodal’s card accentuates the woman’s breasts. This refers to the “nourishing” character of “God the Mother”. This nourishing / giving aspect is also expressed in general iconography by depicting goddesses with a large amount of breasts. Sometimes liquid flows from the breasts. See the alchemy emblem below (on the right). This liquid is a reference to the kundalini energy, but also to the transformed brain fluid of man, which under the influence of a kundalini awakening has turned into amrita (drink of immortality), or ambrosia (the “nectar of the gods”).

Tarot of Marseille,
by Pierre Madenié (1709)

Tarot of Marseille,
by Jean Dodal (1701-1715)

On this alchemical emblem from Das Blut der Natur (1767), the kundalini energy is personified by both the goddess with the flowing BREASTS and by the god Hermes with his staff the CADUCEUS. Below them the (inner) RESURRECTION of the (spiritually dead) alchemist takes place.

The deeper meaning of the Temperance card becomes even more clear when we look at Tarot de Marseille cards with deviating elements, such as that of Jacques Viéville, from 1650 (right). On the card of Viéville, the woman has a large staff with wings in her hand. Derived from the caduceus of Hermes, this staff represents the spine, with the pineal gland at the top, and is a wonderful addition to the symbolism of the jug with liquid in her other hand.

The enigmatic Latin text SOL FAMA is also a reference to the divine. Sol means sun and Fama means fame. The words are written in mirror image. I think this is a clue that we need to turn around not only the words, but also the flow of liquid to understand its meaning: the kundalini energy flows from bottom to top!

Tarot of Marseille by Jacques Vieville (1650)

Tarot of the Master, by Giovanni Vacchetta, a 2002 reproduction of the 1893 original

Also worth mentioning is the Temperance card of the Italian Giovanni Vacchetta (Tarot of the Master, above right), from a somewhat later period. The flying ribbons on the woman’s back and head symbolize the two fusing energy channels. The loop represents the pineal gland (KNOT OF ISIS). The two vases are decorated with a pinecone pattern; this is also a reference to the pineal gland, which is so called because it has the shape of a pinecone. The side seams of the woman’s skirt refer to the caduceus.

The Oswald Wirth Tarot

Oswald Wirth (1889, below left) has not added any new elements to the Temperance card. On the mosaic of Château des Avenières (below center), which is derived from the tarot of Wirth, the vases have different colors: gold and silver. Just like the colors red and blue in the women’s clothing, gold and silver (representing the sun and the moon) refer to the (melting) polar energies (see emblem from alchemy below right).

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

Château des Avenières (1917)

The kundalini, here personified by a woman wearing a crown with seven stars (chakras), stands on two FOUNTAINS: one with a GOLDEN and one with a SILVER liquid. From: Alchemical Notebook, Johann Grasshoff, 1620.

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1909)

Right: Ottheinrich-Bibel, Matthias Gerung, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 1530. This illustration also includes kundalini symbolism: the color combination RED-BLUE of the angel and THE SIGN OF THE SACRED MARRIAGE (2 = 1 with the fingers).

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

Pamela Colman-Smith has chosen yet another way to express the polarities: her goddess has one foot on land and one foot in the water. This symbolism is probably ispirered by a vision of the apostle John, which is described in the Book of Revelation (10: 1-2):

“I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire; and he had in his hand a little book which was open. He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land…”

This vision are inner images of a kundalini awakening. The angel personifies the divine kundalini energy.


The kundalini energy, which flows from one chalice to another on the RWS card, is also represented by the narrow stream (or is it a small road?) that runs between the pond in the foreground to the sun, in the distance. The circle with a dot in the middle, on the forehead of the angel, is the symbol for the sun. The triangle placed in a square, on his chest, represents fire (triangle) in earth (square), in other words: the kundalini fire in man. Above this symbol is written in Hebrew letters: YHWH (God).

The irises are an esoteric symbol for the pineal gland and the kundalini process. In Christian painting, the iris has been used extensively to (secretly) refer to the kundalini awakening that Jesus experienced. See three examples below, and my book “Mary Magdalene, the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

The appearance of Christ on Lake Tiberias, Albert Bouts, early 16th century.

The Resurrection of Christ, Pietro Perugino, circa 1495, Cathedral of Sansepolcro, Italy.

The Last Judgment (detail), Ambrosius Benson, 1540, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

The Greek pantheon also has a goddess Iris: the personal messenger of Hera. Iris is the female counterpart of Hermes in terms of tasks. Like Hermes, she is often depicted with a caduceus.

On the right we see Iris pouring a libation: a ritual in which a liquid is poured as a sacrifice for, or by, the gods. In the iconography of the Ancient Greeks, libations were used to refer, in a disguised way, to the kundalini energy. This vase from the 5th century BC is an example.

The vase beautifully combines the various kundalini metaphors that have also been incorporated in the Temperance card. Iris pours liquid into a bowl held by the god Apollo. They represent the male and female energies (polarities). Just below the jug and the bowl is a deer (the kundalini). Iris holds a caduceus in her hand.

The gods Iris and Apollo


Since the first decks in the 15th century, the tarot card of the cardinal virtue temperance has been used to communicate forbidden knowledge about the kundalini energy. Numerous examples show that not only the tarot, and not just the cardinal virtues, were used for this “heresy.” Wherever you look in museums and churches, everywhere you see creative attempts by artists to refer to the source of divine energy in our pelvis. Even on illustrations in old Bibles!

This powerful energy source awakens when we live a “virtuous” life, in which self-control (temperance) with regard to the sensory pleasures is an important factor. If you want to experience the divine, you have to let go of the physical dimensions.

Right: the goddess Venus makes her son Aeneas immortal. We can deduce that this refers to a kundalini awakening from their hands that make the SIGN OF THE SACRED MARRIAGE (2 = 1), click here.

Left: the grave of Pope Clement II (Bamberger Dom, circa 1240) depicts, along with the FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES, a FIFTH WOMAN, seen from her BACK, pouring out a large VASE OF LIQUID. The meaning of this is unknown. It is called “Paradiesfluss” (RIVER OF PARADISE). The reader of this article will have no trouble interpreting this enigmatic fifth woman…!

Silvia Ritter’s Tarot Deck(Work in progress)

Legacy of the Divine Tarot (Ciro Marchetti, 2008)

Animal Totem Tarot (Eugene Smith, Leeza Robertson, 2016)

The flamingo, with wings spread and standing on one leg, is a beautiful metaphor for a kundalini awakening. Red is the color of the first chakra, where the kundalini resides, and the flamingo’s neck is shaped like an ascending serpent. Also beautiful is the rainbow that coincides with the waterfall.

The Gill Tarot (Elizabeth Gill, US Games, 1991)

Medieval Scapini Tarot ( Luigi Scapini, 2005)

The artist connects the Temperance card with the descent of the Holy Spirit during the baptism of Jesus (an event that is a metaphor for a kundalini awakening). Read more in my book John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ.

Ansata Tarot (Paul Struck, 1981)

This article was written by Anne-Marie Wegh. Copyright April 2020.

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres

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