Ah, The Empress. Expansive, fertile, quintessentially feminine. The Empress is the third card of the Major Arcana, and She represents a real departure from the first three cards (The Fool, The Magician, and The High Priestess). These first three cards are, to me, about the spiritual, the numinous, the ethereal. Even The Fool, with its energy of stepping out in faith and adventure, is about Enlightenment and the spiritual quest. And then, in comes the Empress — embodied, sensual, firmly rooted in the physical world. How can it be that we should spend all that time tapping into our spiritual power, exploring our Shadow, leaving behind the expectations of society, only to turn back to the physical and mundane world?
In the Rider-Waite Tarot, The Empress is associated with Venus — both the planet and its namesake Roman Goddess of love, sensuality, fertility, and sexuality. She is also associated with the zodiac signs of Taurus, for her Earth Mother qualities, and Libra, for Her ability to bring balance.
Who is The Empress?
The Empress is the embodiment of The Goddess or the Divine Feminine, especially in her Earth Mother aspect. When the Empress appears in a reading, it’s a sign that all is well with the world. She often heralds the birth of something — sometimes a literal child, but also of new phases of life, new cycles of growth, successful projects, and more. The Empress embodies the fecundity of the Earth and encourages us to do the same.
As third step on The Fool’s journey, The Empress reminds us that our spiritual gifts and inherent power need to also be manifest in the physical world. If we are doing the internal work but not bringing it into our outer lives, then we are only living half a life. All the knowledge and wisdom we gain through connecting with The Magician and The High Priestess is only truly valuable if we apply it to our material circumstances. The Empress also reminds us that “all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals” — that, contrary to the narrative pushed by much of Western culture, self-abnegation and asceticism are not necessary for spiritual growth. We need not deny our embodied, sensual, physical nature as we quest for growth and Enlightenment.
The Empress is a particularly powerful card for women and femmes, as it encourages us to stand in our power — a power that is often denigrated for not conforming to the “masculine” ideal. (Readers of this blog know that I often eschew such binary language and ideology, but it works when we’re talking about The Empress, as long as we don’t conflate it with assigned sex.) When The Empress shows up in a reading for a woman or femme, I read it as telling her to own her Goddess power — perhaps even to connect with the Goddess through ritual or meditation. It’s also an encouragement to honor the body as a way of claiming power, to allow for sensual and physical pleasure and delight and recognize those acts of self-care and self-love as, in the words of Audre Lorde, “an act of political warfare” in a culture that seeks to keep women and femmes in their “place.”
The Empress signifies fertility in all its forms. When She appears, it is time to recognize that a cycle is either beginning or ending — or perhaps both — and to honor the ways in which that which is empty becomes full again, just as what its born will die and be reborn. She can be a message to connect with the cycles of the seasons, of death and rebirth, and of our own bodies (regardless of gender or physiology).
This aspect of The Empress is brought forward in The Goddess Tarot, where she is re-envisioned as Fertility, embodied in the Dine figure of Estsanatlehi, or Changing Woman. Come back tomorrow for an in-depth exploration of this vision of The Empress.