This month, we will turn back to the Major Arcana, and talk about The Empress. We haven’t talked about a Major for a while, so let’s review some terms.
There are 22 Major Arcana cards in a Tarot deck, with numbers from 0 to 21; the Majors usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues, archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives. An archetype (pronounced “ark eh type”) is a generic, idealized model of a person, an object, or a concept which can be copied, patterned, or imitated. The term archetype often refers to one of two concepts: a “stereotype,” a personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of a personality type; stereotypes can be positive or negative, or an “epitome,” which is the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type; epitomes can also be positive or negative.
So archetypes present personality traits that are common enough to be known by us all, through images (rather than words) that contain symbolism that connects with our subconscious in a universal manner. Each of us can understand the symbolism of archetypes and connect with that symbolism because each of us has (or will) personally experienced these archetypes.
Each Major Arcana card corresponds to a number, an archetype, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth. Let’s start breaking down The Empress!
Many Major Arcana cards represent archetypes of people in our lives. The Empress is the number 3 of the Major Arcana cards, and represents the archetype of the Great Mother. The Empress, like the Great Mother, rules women and everything about feminine energy; she protects her own and responds to challenges with authority and leadership, but in a softer (yet quite strong) way. Often The Empress is perceived by male authors of fairy tales as prone to hysteria and drawn to dark powers or plots, and to some extent this can be true of the reversed Empress. But The Empress also can be a benevolent parent, using her authority to protect those who look to her for guidance and love, and seeing her own empowerment as being enhanced by her interactions with others.
The traditional image on The Empress is of a woman at the peak of feminine power dressed in rich robes often decorated with bees, sometimes wearing a crown of stars and often sitting on a throne, usually a full frontal view that tells us she represents all that is recognizable and understandable in the world. Sometimes she is cradling a scepter (often topped by a diamond, the symbol of love and of “as above, so below”) or an ankh and sometimes there is a shield emblazoned with a symbol of motherly nurturing or love at her feet. Often, she is pregnant. She is usually surrounded by green trees, ripe grains, fruits and vegetables, and other symbols of a bountiful and ripe harvest and the fertility to continue the cycle of growth to the next generation. The majority of the symbolism on this card tells of fertility, creativity, and the germination or nurturing of something new. The Empress has access to the transformative powers of Nature that allow her to rule life, as evidenced by her scepter, and that allow her to rule the earth, as evidenced by the grains, fruits and vegetables around her. The bee is a symbol of love within the family, domestic stability, and child rearing, and another reference to “as above, so below.”
The Empress is the number 3 of the Major Arcana; this number represents the creation of something new through a partnership of some kind, or the manifesting or making real of some concept or spark. The number 3 is about playfulness and self-expression, inspiration and imagination, communication and motivation. This number is quite fertile, and it shows us that when the initiating idea, force or thought of the number 1 joins with the germinating energy or fecundity of the number 2, there is fruitfulness and manifestation or action, and an outpouring of energy is created.
The Empress corresponds with the element of Earth, and thus the suit of Diamonds, the color green and the cardinal direction of North. The element of Earth represents the actual physical outcome of our efforts, the cake that is made by gathering ingredients and following a recipe. Earth represents everything physical, all of the processes of Nature, and the things we need to stay alive and healthy; these energies are stable and very slow to change. Earth represents wealth, which brings us not only physical shelter but also mental and emotional pleasure. Earth also offers a spiritual grounding that is very necessary in our day-to-day life. This element represents diligence and an interest in quality rather than quantity; it can also represent greed and avarice, and the lack of the ability to be aware of resources or to access resources. The Empress is also seen as an alchemic Major Arcana card, representing salt and the inactive principles of Nature that must be energized by a catalyst in order to manifest.
In astrology, The Empress corresponds with the planet Venus, the Goddess of Love, Beauty and Pleasure, which is why harmony and beauty and physical pleasure are all associated with this Major Arcana card. Venus is a feminine planet, which means its energies are inner and receptive in nature. Venus is associated with feelings and well-being and gentleness, and an appreciation for art, social life, and beauty. In Venus we find the allure, the refinement, and the urge to join with or sympathize or nurture others, that are all found in The Empress. And yes, sex and sexual pleasure are a part of this too. Venus is often seen as being a twin planet to our Earth; it orbits the Sun in 225 days, spending about 18.75 days in each sign of the zodiac. It is the second brightest object in the night sky, the Moon being the brightest.
In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is connected to the creative forces in the universe. They express themselves on three levels: one level is archetypical and runs from the first to the ninth letter; the second level is one of manifestation and runs from the tenth to the eighteenth letter, and the third is a cosmic level and runs from the nineteenth to the twenty-second letter. The Empress corresponds with the Hebrew letter Daleth, the fourth letter in the Hebrew alphabet; this letter corresponds with the door or the womb, and is considered the archetype of physical existence.
On the Tree of Life, The Empress represents Path 14, running between Binah (female receptive energy, the origin of form and structure and the top of the Pillar of Form) and Chokmah (male in the electric sense, dynamic energy, the origin of vital force and polarity and the top of the Pillar of Force). She is the connector or conduit between the two primal forces of Form and Force, and she connects both Wisdom and Understanding, neither of which can function without the other. Path 14 is one of the Paths that merges imagination and reality, and offers us ways to transition the Abyss and pass beyond the Dark Nights of the Soul that are a necessary part of spiritual evolution in order to perceive the Machinery of the Universe.
In the Tarot, The Empress is one half of the Major Arcana representation of the Sacred Feminine (along with The High Priestess), the half that is about creativity, fertility of all kinds, a deep connection to Nature and the nurturing of others, and an enjoyment of the senses. The Empress, who is the mother of Form, tells of Creative Intelligence; she reveals the concepts and hidden knowledge guarded by The High Priestess, and she encourages us to immerse ourselves in the manifestations of the physical world.
The Empress is the sprouting seed, the life force that gives birth to all creation and the vessel that contains that creative process until it is ripe and ready to be born. She manifests her wisdom, power and authority by nurturing and healing both herself and others. She creates rather than destroys and she is able to let go of the need to dominate or control.
The Empress is powerful in part because she perceives her own self, her body, mind and emotions, and she perceives Nature and the world around her; she is able to access those powers by harmonizing with their natural rhythms and through this harmony, she gives birth to new ideas and a better, more healthy and balanced way to live. She encourages us all to get in touch with our physical body and all of its senses in order to perceive the world.
The Empress reversed is certainly able to smother us with her love and become too controlling, and she can nurture others to the point of neglecting herself. She can become emotionally needy, or she can close up her rich and giving heart and become emotionally barren. She can be selfish, and she can focus on being sophisticated or catering to the opinions of others rather than celebrating and embodying her own natural self. The wicked stepmother of fairytales is based on the reversed Empress!
But usually her more positive energies are triumphant. The Empress brings us aspiration and inspiration, freedom, majesty, inner strength, and a hope for a bright future. She reminds us that the healing we need is usually found within us, and communicating with our inner self is the best first step to healing outer challenges. She also reminds us quite firmly that while aspirations and inspirations are important, it is also important to enjoy the many experiences and sensations that are gifted to us through life and through the living of our lives within a physical-world body. To The Empress, this moment, this “now,” is beyond value, and we should enjoy this moment to the fullest extent without harming others and without judging ourselves.