A woman wearing a long white dress patterned in roses gazes at us, radiating a sultry, almost sexual countenance on a bright, sunny day. In contrast to the High Priestess, who sits in her temple on an austere stone slab, she is seated in comfort on a heart-shaped divan with thick cushions and blankets, and bearing the astrological sign of Venus, Goddess of Love. On her head is a golden crown with twelve shining stars, representing the months of the year and the never-ending rotation of the seasons. In front of her grows a field of wheat, and behind her is a lush, dense forest with a stream and a waterfall that cascades gently at her feet. It is the Garden of Eden, God’s original gift to man—the paradise from whence man came and to which we shall one day return; it is the reconciliation of God and man, and the outward manifestation of the Holy Spirit: the Shekinah, the “Spirit of God in the world”. While it is the card of God’s love for man, it is also the card of love in all of its manifestations and emanations of consciousness—for it is in the spirit of love that man shall know reunion with God.
If the High Priestess is one of the most opaque cards in the Trumps Major, The Empress is one of the most transparent: She is Venus and Aphrodite, Ishtar and Demeter, Hera and Nut. She is every goddess of love and earth and fertility who has ever existed: The animating feminine principle, the Anima, or “great mother” of Jungian psychology. As the Magician bestows waking consciousness and the High Priestess bestows intuition, the Empress bestows God’s gift to man: The gift of unconditional love.
The Empress’s number “3”, besides being analogous to the Holy Trinity, is also analogous to the triangle, the first geometric shape that exists outside of a single dimension. As such, she represents the first stage of Divine consciousness in formation: Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. But in order to be fully consecrated—that man would be one with his Creator—this “God-consciousness” now requires a baser element to engage and activate it in the formative realm, to make God’s love manifest among men, and to give it meaning and depth in men’s minds. This we shall discover when we study The Emperor in an upcoming post.
The Hebrew letter assigned to The Empress is Daleth, or “door,” a portal through which we pass or depart to achieve a goal, to perceive a new environment, or to access a new state of awareness. In our own lives, we like to tell our friends and co-workers that “The door is always open” should they ever feel the need to resolve any differences they may have with us. Likewise, our public officials pride themselves for implementing “open door policies” that allow us to view their work objectively. Conversely, we all know the feeling of insult that accompanies having a door slammed in our face—and we are all probably guilty, at least metaphorically, of doing the same unto others at some point in our lives. The Empress, then, challenges us either to enter into her temple of love, or to close the door and reject her. Note her comfortable, open-legged posture when compared to the High Priestess, who sits with her legs crossed. Clearly, the Empress’s “door,” symbolically speaking, is eternally open, and she asks us whether we would choose to be joined together as lovers in spirit in the presence of God, or whether we would choose to shut the door in denial, and turn our backs on love. The imagery of the card, however, suggests that the decision has already been made for us.
The esteemed Tarot scholar Paul Foster Case notes that in the case of the Empress, the symbol of the “door” is analogous to the womb, “the door of life.” And among those of us who have ever been conceived in the womb, who can say that they voluntarily “chose” to be born? The Talmud teaches that the process of gestation is a conflict between the spirit of God, which is perfect and eternal, and the sperm of man, which is imperfect and corrupt. The spirit, once tainted, rebels against the sperm, but God dispatches angels to remind the spirit that hell awaits the disobedient, and that our rebelliousness is something to be overcome if we are to be reunited with the Creator. Thus we are born against our will (which is why babies enter the world bawling), whereupon thereafter we are commended not to be contentious or argumentative but to bear witness to God’s heavenly power and glory in spite of our own selfish nature.
The Talmud teaches, “Who is a Son of the World to come? He who is humble, of lowly disposition . . . and studies Torah constantly without claiming any credit for himself.” The famed Talmudic scholar R. Hillel, quoting Leviticus, said, “My abasement is my exaltation, and my exaltation is my abasement.” In this way, by humbling ourselves and living according to God’s perfect will and not our imperfect will of matter, we earn Divine grace. Viewed in this context, then, can any of us really “choose” to shut the door in the Empress’s face? Or is our impulse to love as natural and instinctive as the tree’s “impulse” to reach toward the sun, or the waters’ “impulse” to flow in the direction of gravity? See the wheat field growing at her feet. It is the prima materia that man transforms into bread, the “staff of life” that has sustained us for millennia. It is the physical manifestation of God’s grace that nourishes us. If we could actually “refuse” to love, the field would be nothing but chaff. Similarly, if disobedience were really an option, we would never have been born!
The path of the Empress, which connects Chokmah and Binah, is known as the Illuminating Intelligence. It is the radiant power of the sun which is the source of the Empress’s powers of fertility and upon which all living things on earth rely; and it is the illuminating power of our own “inner sun”—the gifts of love, hope and charity which are bestowed upon us at birth and which we are commended to share with others.
In a Tarot spread, meanings attributed to this card are fairly straightforward: Love in all its forms, the beauty of nature and of man’s unity with it, motherhood in all its aspects, a bountiful harvest, a successful enterprise, fruitfulness of spirit, fertility, sexuality, perhaps even pregnancy. Other meanings can include repressed emotions and repressed sexual impulses, sterility of spirit, a meager harvest or the abandonment of a worthy cause. In an era of dwindling natural resources and anthropogenic climate change, the card can also stand for famine and drought, not only of the material world but of the barren souls of men who would defile the temple that has been lovingly created for us. The Empress teaches us that we are all creations of love, and that love is our only true mission in life; as we were enjoined long ago, ”Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and love thy neighbor as thyself. That is the Law, and the prophets.”