Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols by Robert V. O'Neill Temperance


Radiant HaloCharles VI
White TunicDellaroccaT d Mantegna
Right Foot in waterPiedmontese
Left Foot on LandVandenborreVisconti-Sforza
Gold ChalicesFelkin
MatchedFelkinPiedmonteseCharles VI
Pours WaterWirthT de MarseilleCharles VI
LH to RHFelkinT de MarseilleT d Mantegna


  1. Twin Mountains/Path/Radiant Crown - The symbol is similar to the twin towers, path and rising sun on the Death card. It probably represents the same mystical journey. Temperance lies on the central path of the Tree of Life in the Golden Dawn system, so the goal, KETHER = the Crown, is represented here.

  2. Irises - another word for Iris is “flag” and this may be an obtuse further reference to the similarities with the Death card, where the rider carries a “flag.” There may also be an obtuse hint in Waite’s reference to the works of Bayley. In his Lost Language of Symbolism, the iris is shown forming the center of the Mystic Rose (II, p 236). A simpler explanation is provided by Hulse (The Key of It All, II, p 390) - the Goddess Iris is the Goddess of the Rainbow - in Hebrew the word for Rainbow is Tav-Shin-Qoph (keshet). This is exactly the same word used to designate Sagittarius (see Sefer Yetzirah 5:4 in Kaplan), the astrological designation of this card in the Golden Dawn system.

  3. Red Wings - probably reference once again to the archangel Michael represented with red wings on the Lovers and Judgment cards.

  4. Square/Triangle on Chest - these derive directly from Levi’s description of the card in Transcendental Magic. The figure may also be a reference to the Tattwa for earth sub fire (Francis King - Magic, The Western Tradition, Fig 54 and p 26, and Israel Regardie - The Golden Dawn, pp 456-8).

    The possibility is made stronger by similar Tattwa-like forms on the chests of Justice and Chariot. The possibility is made weaker by the fact that the earth Tattwa should be yellow in color and the triangle should be red. Levi mentions that the square triangle forms the septenary, and Waite echos this in Pictorial Key. This card is the end of the second set of seven cards - the end of the internal development and the beginning of the “dark night of the soul.”

  5. Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross p 463 - The circle with the point in the center is the alchemical symbol for gold = the end of the quest = perfection. (He uses this on Hierophant, Justice, Temperance.)

  6. In The Secret Tradition Freemasonry (p 35), Waite shows an abstract Masonic symbol that shares many of the features that he and Smith added to the Temperance card. The Masonic symbol has the Tetragrammaton (seen at the neckline of the angel on the card) with a triangle below (surrounded by a circle instead of a square). The Masonic symbol has wings and a radiant halo and the circle and point appears below the triangle at the joint of a Masonic compass.

Based on original research by Robert V. O'Neill. To add to this collection of information, please email Robert V. O'Neill.

The Fool
The Magician
The High Priestess
The Empress
The Emperor
The Hierophant
The Lovers
The Chariot
The Hermit
Wheel of Fortune
The Hanged Man
The Devil
The Tower
The Star
The Moon
The Sun
The World
Introduction to Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols

Additional Tarot History Resources Related to
Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols

Holly's Rider-Waite Site A. E. Waite
The Hermitage: A Tarot History Site Villa Revak