At one point in my Tarot studies, I came across a book (can’t remember which now) that described the Magician and High Priestess as being spiritual parents and the Emperor and Empress as being earthly parents. I can totally understand that. The Magician and High Priestess are concerned with knowledge and wisdom, but the Emperor and Empress have far more earthly concerns. The Empress card, for example, shows a delightful, fruitful world and invites us to relax and revel in it, and the Emperor shows the rules we artificially impose upon ourselves so that all people have an equal chance to enjoy the world.
In Rider-Waite cards, the Empress is a stately figure, comfortably resting on a couch of rich cushions. She is not obviously pregnant in this card, but her position with ample lower back support and unrestrictive clothing has led several readers to posit that she is pregnant, and this interpretation flows well with the other symbols on the card. The Empress wears a diadem of laurel leaves to show her worldly authority, and above them are clustered twelve stars. These stars can be the twelve zodiacal constellations, or perhaps the twelve months or the twelve hours we note on a clock. At any rate, they symbolize her rule throughout time. She raises a scepter above her head, which Waite himself says is “surmounted by the globe of this world”, which shows she places the Earth above all else in her interest. She wears a comfortable white robe to indicate her purity of purpose, and it is richly embroidered with pomegranates, sliced open. As I noted with the High Priestess, pomegranates are symbols of female sexuality and spirituality, but they’re also potent symbols of nourishment. Unlike the Priestess, where their arrangement into a tree-of-life pattern shows their spiritual emphasis, these pomegranates are scattered over the Empress’s very body and are opened for use. Therefore, they stand more to show that the Empress is the “fruitful mother of thousands”, as Waite described her.
At her feet, the Empress has a heart-shaped shield emblazoned with Venus’s symbol. This doesn’t necessarily align her energies with the Goddess of love, as some might say, but rather with a divine feminine. I feel that the fact this symbol appears on a shield gives it a distinctly maternal feel, for the love a mother has makes her an incredibly fierce protector of her children. As my own mother is fond of saying, nothing comes between a mother bear and her cubs and lives! Overall, the feel of this card evokes more of a Demeter or Mother Earth energy. In addition to the nutritive pomegranates on the Empress’s dress, the entire foreground of the card is occupied with a hale, abundant crop of wheat, the basic food of civilized humanity. Behind the Empress lies a rich wood, full of wild animals and berries that similarly sustain us. Through this wood flows a river of clean, fresh water that falls at the Empress’s feet, and it symbolizes a perpetual refreshment. In a matter of speaking, the world shown on this card is essentially as close to an earthly paradise as we’re likely to get! It is a world and a space where we all desire to be, and the Empress stands as a gateway into this life.
Robin Wood’s card shares a lot of imagery with Waite’s, but it amps it up several notches. The backdrop of her card also shows a strong wood, and a body of water separates it from the foreground of the card, where a field of wheat and poppies (both Demeter symbols) plays at the Empress’s feet, along with a basket of fruit and vegetables (to show the wealth and abundance she provides) as well as a bee skep (for richness and sweetness). The Empress here is actively spinning the thread of life on the wheel of time. And, like Waite’s Empress, her clothing is highly symbolic of fertility. They are the color of ripening wheat trimmed in green for growth and accented with wheat and vine motifs, along with hearts to show her love. Her clasp shows an athame and a cup conjoined in the symbol of the Great Rite: fertility to the max. Her crown shows all the phases of the moon, and it is capped with six stars that correspond to the six senses we experience her world with. In the middle of the stars stands four silver disks for the four elements around a central gold disk for spirit. Her purple cape lined with ermine shows her majesty and purity, and her blue veil shows she is also the Queen of Heaven. This Empress is obviously pregnant to show her extreme fruitfulness and to show that her realm is full of generative life.
KEYWORDS: Mothering and motherhood, nurturing, fruitfulness, growth/gradual development, welcoming abundance, experiencing the senses, responding to nature, passion, love, healing/rejuvenating/relaxing time
Close your eyes and imagine that you travel down inside your body to the region of your heart. Once you are there, this region opens to a lush, green landscape. Beneath your feet is a path that you instinctively follow. At the end of the path is a robed woman with a full figure and a kindly face. This figure is the ideal archetypal mother. She opens her arms and holds you, deeply filling you with inner peace and a sense of harmony. Return to this place whenever you have need of this mother goddess’s love or wisdom.
Keep the Empress card with you at all times today, or place it on your altar. For the duration of the day, maintain focus on your interactions with other people. Are you able to speak with a voice of love? Are you able to listen with ears of loving acceptance? Are you able to be present to someone else’s joy or pain? Try to develop your ability to open up to other people in these ways today.
The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book The New Tarot Handbook, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Around the Tarot in 78 Days. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website, learntarot.com.