Tarot decks have exploded in numbers since the 1980s, with numerous new decks being published each year by traditional publishers as well as custom decks being developed by individuals and self-published. This new series will look at the cards of the Tarot deck and their many different visual representations.
This article reviews The Empress, which is the number III card of the Major Arcana of the Tarot cards. She represents the feminine divine, the mother, and the queen of the queens of the suits.
The Empress, the Meaning of the Card
The Fool is the protagonist of the narrative who is taking the journey through the Major Arcana and the four suits of the Minor Arcana. Think of each card as a chapter in a story. The main story is the Fool’s journey through the Major Arcana, beginning with the Magician and ending with the World. The third card, the Empress, represents the lessons we learn through our care of others and our need for care.
Each subsequent card is a karmic, moral, or archetypical lesson for the Fool until he or she arrives at the World, which is the culmination of a significant learning cycle. The Empress is most often depicted as a mature woman in royal robes on a luxurious seat with a scepter. She is seated and looking directly out from the card. She listens to and addresses the issues pertinent to the “soft” rule of the kingdom, the relationships, and the management of daily life.
In the traditional Rider-Waite card, the astrological symbol for Venus is beside her seat and flowing water winds through the forest in the background. Her image is associated with nature, the harvest, luxury, and comfort. In the Bembo-Visconti Tarot, she sits in front of a tapestry with a shield with a Griffin on it. Below the traditional images, you will find modern artistic interpretations of the card.
- The Many Faces of the Fool in Tarot Cards
- The Many Faces of the Magician in Tarot Cards
- The Many Faces of the High Priestess in Tarot Cards
Bembo-Visconti Tarot (15th Century)
Same Meaning but Renamed
As you can see, many of the cards consistently show an image of the woman in nature. The Whimsical Tarot, Tarot of the Human Experience, and The Waking the Wild Spirit Tarot change the name but still keep elements of the older, more traditional cards.
If You Draw This Card in a Reading
If you happen to draw the card in a reading, regardless of the question and subject, you will be “asked” to share your lesson with someone or try to understand how the situation is supposed to teach you something important. Perhaps your question is, “should I stay in my marriage?”
You draw the Empress. Each circumstance will be different, and the Empress may be telling you that you need to assess the role of divine feminine energy in your marriage. You will certainly understand and interpret this card differently if you are a man or a woman in a heterosexual marriage or a man/man, woman/woman in a homosexual marriage.
As we have evolved socially, especially with the introduction and influence of modern psychology, we now better understand that biology and psychology can diverge. Some women are far more masculine than feminine, and some men are far more feminine than masculine. The appearance of the card, regardless of biology and psychology, calls attention to the role of nurture and caretaking in the marriage.
How you feel about this card, what you want from this card, and how you measure this card in your actual marriage will help you determine if the answer leads you to decide it is best to stay or it is best to leave.
What are the caretaking and nurturing issues in the marriage and how are roles understood by both people? What is the practical status of the marriage; are you in debt, flourishing financially, enjoying a great sex life, or stuck in celibacy? Are you still inspired by your relationship; is it still an adventure or does it need one of you to relight the flame with a spark of some kind? Do you understand one another and communicate easily or do you need a negotiator to help you order pizza together?
Tarot cards rarely give a single answer because people asking the question are radically different, as are their circumstances. Often hidden in the simplicity of the question is an important context, such as, “my marriage is broken and how do I fix it?” or “I want to escape this marriage and how do I hide money and get the right lawyer?” or “what choices do I need to make if I plan to stay in this marriage to ensure a happy return on my investment?”
And in each of those cases, the Empress will be saying, “I need to be nurtured and understand my role as a nurturer”. I will often explain the Empress card this way, “while the Empress does look after others, she does so as a leader. She is the manager of the soft skills in any relationship dynamic, but she is not ‘soft’ by any means. She protects our soul, guards our heart, and allows us to be vulnerable.”
She acknowledges the responsibilities that come with relationships and embraces that responsibility, knowing that people are messy, inconsistent, and illogical, as well as thoughtful, loving, and goal-driven.
In the Fool’s journey, this card is the deeper emotional bindings we experience first with family and later with people we choose to have or allow in our lives beyond our family. The Fool discovers that we have a deep-seated need for security, trust, and compassion. We are not here in this incarnation to “go it alone”. Rather we must figure out how to be in relationships with others that help us (and them) grow and evolve.