The Empress


Tarot 3 – The Empress Card

By James Donahue

At first glance it is easy to see that The Empress is the Mother. This woman is seated in a garden of green living vegetation and with wheat growing at her feet. The shield at her side displays the ancient occult symbol of Venus and also is the symbol of the womb. That the shield is shaped like a heart suggests that this woman not only is the fertile creator and nurturer of life, she also is the origin of romance, art or even a business venture.

As the Tarot story is told, after his encounter with the High Priestess, the Fool strides forward and is impatient to make his mark in the world. But next he meets the Empress. She is a beautiful motherly figure, with golden hair and wearing a crown of 12 stars. Her white gown is dotted with pomegranates, the same image seen on the veil hiding secrets behind the throne of the High Priestess. In her right hand she holds a staff, a sign of royalty and importance.

The Fool kneels before the Empress and tells his story. She smiles and advises him: “Like newly planted grain or a child in the womb, a new life, a new love, a new creation is fragile. It requires fertile soil, patience and nurturing. It needs love and attention to bring it to fruition.” Thus the Fool understands that it will take time and patience to build his talents.

To review, the Magician is the primal spark, an idea that becomes reality. The High Priestess gives the idea form. The Empress thus becomes the womb where the idea remains protected and nurtured until it is ready to be born. She is the bright side of the High Priestess. She manifests in the light all that the Priestess conceals. It has been said that the two cards are the light and dark sides of the Eternal Feminine.

Notice the water flowing on the left side of the Empress. One interpretation of this was that the water appears on the side of the subconscious, and that its source is the hidden waters of the High Priestess which “irrigates the lush efflorescence of the Empress’s garden.”

But there is more symbolism that can be found on this card. Those pomegranates appearing on her gown remind us of the Greek mythological Queen of the Underworld, Persephone, daughter of Demeter, who forced to eat pomegranate seeds while held captive by Hades. She must consequently return to the underworld for a season each year to feed on pomegranate. And when she is gone, out of fury and grief, Demeter causes the earth becomes a barren realm of snow and ice.

Thus the Mother has the power to both give and to take away the life and love we seek.

Indeed, confrontation with The Empress can be both a blessing for some, but terrifying for others. It is said she is the queen who, like the Black Widow, must devour her mate, reducing the old king to the primary matter she needs to mold and reshape, thus creating nature anew.

The crown with 12 stars is a powerful symbol. In the Book of the Revelation, Chapter 12, John wrote of “a great sign” of a woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.”

The crown on her head signifies that The Empress is the Queen of Heaven. But numerology now comes into play. Her number is three, with the key of 12 stars also pointing to the twelfth card in the Tarot deck, the Hanged Man. This is the Dying God, her son who dies at the Autumn Equinox and is reborn with the Winter Solstice.

Reverse the numbers that comprise the three and we have Key, The World, which is the final card of the Tarot. Through death, rebirth and reproduction the world is renewed.


The Mind of James Donahue