One of my favorite aspects of The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr is the way in which it incorporates Goddesses beyond the Western canon. Alongside the Goddesses one might expect from the Norse, Greek, Roman, and Celtic pantheons, Waldherr has included Goddess from Africa, Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and Indigenous North America. (I fully recognize the problematics of glossing all these images as Goddesses, but even with that I appreciate a deck that doesn’t just contain White, European images.) Waldherr also does this with her Goddess Inspiration Oracle, another of my favorite tools. I like to see Goddesses which are new to me, and I especially appreciate the way Waldherr has made sure to treat these figures in a way that avoids a lot of the weird cultural appropriation that can so easily happen in occult and spiritual contexts.
For her rendition of The Empress, that embodiment of fertility and sensuality, Waldherr chose the Dine (Navajo) Goddess Estsanatlehi, sometimes known as Changing Woman. Estsanatlehi is both the guardian of the Earth’s bounty and the embodiment of that bounty and fertility itself. She is the force that causes change — and not just change, but renewals. In this way, Estsanatlethi watches over the cycles of the Earth, and is invoked in puberty rights marking menarche as well as rituals and rites around childbirth and life changes. She is the spark that renews growth in the Spring, and to whom the plants and animals return in the Fall and Winter.
I appreciate this rendition of The Empress because it moves the focus beyond human sexuality and human reproduction. While The Empress is so much more than that, it can be easy for us to focus on Her as the pin-up or sex kitten of the Major Arcana. And while there is a place for that, such reductionist views undermine her power — not unlike the ways in which Venus/Aphrodite were stripped of their primal power in interpretations of their myths that instead portray them as highly sexualized, jealous, and obsessed with male attention. Re-envisioning The Empress as Estsanatlehi shifts the locus from purely carnal power and fertility to the essence of Fertility — all the ways in which things can fertilize, grow, and renew.
When Fertility/Estsanatlehi shows up in a reading, she still carries with her the messages of the more traditional Empress. She calls upon us to focus on and honor our physicality, sensuality, and sexuality. She invites us to be present in our bodies and to care for them, to honor their possibilities and their limitations. She can certainly indicate a pregnancy on the horizon, or the birth of something new. She most definitely calls upon women and femmes to step into their Goddess power, to remember that they are Divinity embodied on Earth.
But I feel like this rendition of The Empress goes even further. Estsanatlehi invites us to see ourselves as one with the cycles of Nature, the cycles of our bodies (regardless of sex, gender, or physiology), and the cycles of Life. She tells us that the key to stepping into our power is to own our own Sacredness, our own place is the great round of life. I also feel like Estsanatlehi also invites us to examine what in our life is in need of fertilizing, so that we can nourish it, as well as to recognize the places in our life where we are abundant, so that we can give gratitude. In this way, she comes dancing into our readings to remind us not just that we are sacred, but that we are part of the Sacred Whole.