The Empress




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For the second in our series of ramblings on the major arcana of the tarot, we move to The Empress.

This card is traditionally seen as a symbol of creativity, fertility, nurturing and nourishing - the Earth-mother.

Psychologically, she represents the Mother archetype.

Just as I regard the Emperor as connecting Younger Self with Thinking Self, I see the Empress as connecting Younger Self with Feeling Self. I use "Feeling Self" to refer to our emotional consciousness, the state of being we partake in when we have strong feelings, such as love, desire, fear, or sadness. Whereas the stereotypical father is concerned with enforcing norms and imposing rule-based thinking, the stereotypical mother is concerned with happiness, harmony, and being the emotional caregiver of the family. On first take, most of us probably see that as a positive archetype.

It does, however, have its own traps and pitfalls, no less than the Emperor does. What happens to the Mother figure who tends to others' feelings at the expense of her own? What happens when promoting happiness comes at the expense of realism or long-term solutions? The Mother figure can be overly indulgent, encouraging a life that is more about emotional gratification than about growth. Just as Thinking Self can smother Younger Self's spontaneity through censorship, Feeling Self can smother it with emotional demands.

The Emperor is a commander, The Empress a manipulator. She uses the language of emotion to "train" us into approved behaviors. We're probably all familiar with real-life mothers who use guilt and love-with-strings-attached to manipulate their children. This is the flip side of the Emperor's "crime and punishment" model of parenting. If we accord the Empress too much power over us, we can become so absorbed in how things makes us feel (and how they make others feel), that we cannot get a clear view of the larger picture.

At the risk of sparking a completely off-topic digression, I've often noted how politicians tend to use these same two sorts of tactics when campaigning for votes. The conservative camp usually appeals to a rigid sense of right and wrong and to law-and-order, and promises to punish the bad guys who are creating all our problems. Liberal politicians try to pull at our heartstrings, appealing to our desire to nurture everyone and create a happy, harmonious society. It is clear that these two approaches are both highly effective at creating support for the authority figures who use them. Regardless of what you think of the merits of different political ideologies, it is clear that posing as Emperor (lawgiver) or as Empress (nurturer) wins support and approval.

It's not my intention to cast a cynical pall on emotional consciousness, just to put its role into perspective. Our emotions are powerful agents of creativity and change; in fact, they are the basic driving force of the personality. If we didn't love, hate, desire, and fear, we would never seek to make things better than they are. The Empress, in her aspect as mother/creatrix, represents a positive, healthy collaboration between the emotions and the imagination. Our feelings help guide and inspire our imagination, without suffocating it. The Empress can mediate this collaboration, by gently casting the approval or disapproval of Feeling Self onto Younger Self's musings. We can come into conversation with our emotions without being overwhelmed by them. I think some of the most fortunate people are those who grow up to become friends with their own mothers. Through working with the Empress card, we are all granted this opportunity.

The Empress can help us understand how we stand in relation to our own feelings - do they overpower us and drown our other faculties? Do we repress them out of fear of rejection? Do we martyr ourselves hoping for an emotional "fix" from an external authority? Do we take the energy of our feelings and direct that energy creatively? These are some of the questions raised by the Empress as Mother archetype.

Tarot Wisdom is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2007 Tom Waters