Major Arcana – Card #3
The Empress is one of the most powerful and resonant cards in the Major Arcana, often interpreted as the great mother and representing the manifestation of many divine feminine principles.
Let’s start with some of the common aspects that The Empress is known to represent.
The Empress is the matriarch of her domain. She is a ruler, a queen, a mother. She represents Venus and is herself a goddess of love, fertility, and the beauty of femininity in all its manifest forms. The Empress may represent the birth of ideas or new beginnings. She may also be a reminder of the need to guard your domain with the feminine fortitude of a mother as she would protect and nurture her child.
The Empress also represents the power of the feminine coming into its own and being expressed without restriction. She can be bold, strong, and confident. She may be a woman running naked and free in the forest, or she may be commanding the center of attention in a large public gathering, either through her presence alone or through her will.
While some of these aspects can be related to everyday life, it also helps to think of the Empress on a grand scale as the cosmic mother from which the Universe emanates. The more you scale up your ideas surrounding the Empress, the more you’ll begin to see the vastness of her power.
But while she conveys many qualities that represent women, mothers, and qualities of motherhood, her mysteries are deeper than she reveals on the surface.
The Empress in a Tarot Reading
To see The Empress in a reading is to see a glimpse of the great feminine archetypes. There is a boundless nature to this card that permeates through the rest of the Major Arcana as she is the primal force of the expansive universe that is tempered, tamed, and resolved by the oracles that follow. While her force may weave through the successive oracles in the Major Arcana and be present throughout in subtle ways, the Empress is at full power here in this card, resonating most strongly while giving birth to and nurturing all with her self-sustaining power.
There are many mysteries to be discovered in the ordering of the Major Arcana that interweave the triumphs and tribulations of The Empress. While certain preceding oracles have androgynous qualities, namely The Fool and The Magician, The Empress reveals a distinctly female presence on the surface. The beginning of “her” story marks the beginning of physical manifestation and paints a picture of the hero’s journey in a different light. There will come a reminder of this in the card of Strength, but here in The Empress is a force as boundless and untamed as the raging waters of the ocean or the explosion of a supernova.
The inherent strength in this card is why The Empress’s presence is a resounding force in a tarot reading that sends ripples throughout a spread like the shock waves of a powerful earthquake. Her primal rumblings extend all the way through time and space to shake the foundations of The Tower itself. This metaphor recalls some of the earliest examples of the human creative impulse as captured in the Venus of Willendorf or the moai built by the people who mysteriously disappeared from Easter Island.
When The Empress appears in a reading, take note of any beginnings surrounding the matter at hand. Contemplate how you can preserve and extend the fruition of your will towards greater abundance. Draw upon the power The Empress represents, but also be mindful of forces that may restrict this abundance or exhaust your available resources—emotional and material. It may be as simple as becoming mindful of and addressing your own habits, tendencies, or behaviors. Or depending on where The Empress appears in your reading, there may be outside influences to address.
Meditations – The Empress’s Higher Forms
It’s worth stopping here to address the dichotomy between what are typically regarded as feminine and masculine qualities. To do so requires setting aside certain preconceptions you may have about how gender-based designations are assigned to qualities seen in forces both natural and synthesized. The human metaphor is useful for approaching the lower aspects of the card, but a greater universal force is at work here.
Whereas the High Priestess is the keeper and parter of the veil, sitting on the cusp between manifestation and what lies beyond, the Empress represents actual manifestation as it is known to humanity through our earthly understanding of the Universe. The Empress is the physical archetype representing abundance and the expansive nature of the Universe. She is the embodiment of all that flourishes and grows—the coming of Spring, the bountiful harvest, and the renewal of life after the coming of Death. She is the very force of the Big Bang itself, when the Universe began to form and spread according to the doctrines set forth in The High Priestess’ scroll.
For all the reference to the card in a strictly feminine sense, there there are some subtle aspects of nonduality represented here as well. The self-perpetuating nature of the Empress isn’t reliant on the Emperor. Some clues to this are in the numerical ordering of the Major Arcana, with The Empress coming before The Emperor. The Empress can be viewed as a powerful feminine archetype or as a nondual manifestation that is already whole within itself. How you view it can best be approached based on where you are with your personal work.
It’s also worth reflecting on the fact that when humans are in the womb, we are all in a similar state during the first 5–6 weeks of our embryonic development. Some observers consider it to be female. Others consider it to be genderless. The manifestation of new life has begun, and while its DNA (and other factors) may determine gender designation, this period of life’s origination warrants meditative exploration, especially if you’re working through the cards backward towards zero.
Walking With The Empress
The Empress represents the root of physical manifestation, and that is why she is the mother of all. She is the force of physically manifested matter from which all things emanate. To take part in a story of life is to experience the wholeness that The Empress represents. To simply be present in life is to walk a path grounded in her wisdom. The Empress imparts a power we can all tap into by becoming aware of that power within ourselves.