The Empress

The Empress holds the world even while she is part of the world. She is life and the giver of life. She is present in all things that she has created.
Tarot of the Sweet Twilight LWB.

Key words commonly associated with the Empress: fertility, productivity, pregnancy, potential, growth, abundance, pleasure, success, artistic ability, nurturing, sensuality

Tarot cards are one of the oldest forms of playing cards, originating in the mid 15th century in Europe and the Empress has always been viewed as a powerful, life giving creative force.

In his book ‘The Pictorial Key to Tarot’, Arthur Edward Waite says that The Empress is: “A stately figure, seated, having rich vestments and royal aspect, as of a daughter of heaven and earth. Her diadem is of twelve stars, gathered in a cluster. The symbol of Venus is on the shield which rests near her. A field of corn is ripening in front of her, and beyond there is a fall of water. The scepter which she bears is surmounted by the globe of this world. She is the inferior Garden of Eden, the Earthly Paradise, all that is symbolized by the visible house of man. She is not Regina coeli, but she is still refugium peccatorum, the fruitful mother of thousands.”

The Empress is one of the most easily recognisable cards in the tarot deck. The image of the Empress is always cloaked in rich symbolism. By contrast to the High Priestess, who is generally represented as the intellectual aspect of the feminine, the Empress seems to be consistently interpreted as the body of woman, warm  and yielding and procreative. She is depicted as the Great Mother, a Goddess of Antiquity and, in some decks, such as the New Era Elements Tarot, by Eleanor F. Pieper, we see her as a mother with her baby, attending to traditional maternal child raising and home making.

But, do we miss the point when we always look to associate the Empress with a legion of Goddesses such as Demeter or as maternal figures whose primary role in life is to rear children?

Perhaps in keeping with the medieval plays that informed so much of the imagery on Tarot cards, the Tarot of the Sweet Twilight maintains a carnival ‘feel’ throughout. It is quite refreshing to find the Empress being depicted as decidedly upbeat and youthful. She is nothing like the Empress that is described by Waite. For all intents and purposes, rather than being a regal member of royalty or a Goddess our Empress is more like a character you would find playing the lead role in a popular carnival production.

Themes: Health; Kinship; Change; Opportunity Symbols: Beans; Pork Presiding Goddess: Carna

The Carnival was derived, in a round about way from one of the oldest Goddesses know too Romans. Carna, mother of all flesh was a carnal Queen. She  was annually appropriated with foodstuffs to encourage the continued protection of human flesh, especially hearts, livers and other organs. She was a Goddess of all nourishment. At Her festival it was traditional to serve a soup made from bacon and beans

Carna was also the Goddess who helps the body derive nourishment from food, and to convert it to physical health and strength. So it is no coincidence that our Sweet Twilight Empress wears such a prominent red heart on her cheek. Red is the colour of passion, sensuality and love but ancients also believed in the heart-soul, the most important of the seven souls.

This vibrant Empress is wearing a striking red crown with the flourish of an ornamental crescent moon protruding. Seeing this bobbling on the top of her crown reminded me of the tour operators in Prague who led their groups, wearing distinctive head gear to make them stand out from the gaggle.  This rather beguiling Empress is certainly not shown to be particularly warm, yielding or maternal. Instead, we see her standing waist deep in water, with fish swimming around her, holding the world in her hand. This suggests that there are other important forms of birthing that we may need to consider.

In contrast to shields which offer protection hearts have come to symbolise love and romance. In her Women’s Dictionary of Sacred Symbols and Objects Barbara Walker records that Oriental mystics said that the true self resides in the Cave of the Heart, a concept like that of the Ancient Egyptian ‘ab’, the heart-soul. The ancients also believed that the mothers child forming menstrual blood emanated directly from her heart which is why heart blood became synonymous with the soul.

It is reasonable to suppose that this Empress will nourish the Fool, fill him with a sense of passion and a encourage him to believe that everything is possible.

Having the Empress surrounded by fish is interesting and supports the idea that the Empress will help the Fool experience a sense of renewal after being with her.

“Fish: Phallic; fecundity; procreation; life renewed and sustained; the power of the waters as origin and preservation of life; the watery element; associated with all aspects of the Mother Goddess as genetrix with all lunar deities”.

“Vessel of the Fish”, vesicant piscis, was a world wide ancient symbol for the yoni or vulva. In religious symbolism it stood for the female creative force, the Mother spirit that gave birth to the world, gods and ideas. The ancients insisted that women’s sexual secretions smelled of fish. The love goddess aspect, the mother, was associated with fish, seashells, salt, ships and fishermen. She often appeared as a mermaid with the tail of a fish.

Scepters are phallic, masculine symbols of authority and sovereign power. However, the sceptre this Empress is holding features the crescent moon, which is a feminine symbol. As a rule the crescent moon was connected with women’s cycles of ‘lunar blood’ which was purported to give life to every human being in the womb. As a consequence the Moon became the prime symbol of the Mother Goddess everywhere.

Ultimately the Empress is a creator, be it creation of life, of romance, of art or business. So lets feel some of her power

  • Sitting in a comfortable and safe place, breathe and let go of all tension. Vigorously rub your hands together until you can feel the warmth. Then place them across your closed eyes and feel the life force of the Empress. How does it feel to have the life force moving through you?
  • Make a list of the creative projects you imagined doing someday. Choose one that really appeals to you and call upon the Empress to guide you. Ask her what strengths you have which will help you accomplish your project.
  • In your minds eye see yourself returning to the Empress to thank her and tell her how successful your project has been.


Waite, Arthur Edward. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. (Public Domain)

Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988.