Numerical Value : 3
Esoteric Title : Daughter of the Mighty Ones
Path 14 : Daleth (Door)
Chokmah – Binah
Planet : Venus
Double Letter : Peace – War
Sepher Yetzirah : Illuminating Intelligence
The Empress is the goddess of creation, giving life and taking it away. She is the Solar feminine, consciousness creating union. As the creative and destructive aspect of feminine energy, she is continuously conceiving new life in infinite variety and consuming it again it in death. As the motive power of love, she inspires creativity and passion of all kinds. When we love what we do our work shines. When we feel love for ourselves and for all created life forms, we become happy and productive. Love is the great creative energy of life, and so the Empress rules over all creation effortlessly. Who else but the great goddess can make things make themselves? She doesn’t bother forming men from clay, but simply delegates the endless perpetuation of material existence to the powers of attraction and reproduction.
The Empress is ruled by the planet Venus, or Aphrodite, who is a goddess of Love, in the broadest and highest sense. She rules not only sexual attraction, but the love between friends and colleagues, and even the love of an artist for their work. As passion in all its manifestations, her gift is the power to create new forms in any realm. She is the carrier of the dream who fertilises our aspirations. The mysterious phenomena of magnetic attraction goes much deeper than physical sexuality, and is an urge that is both psychological and spiritual. It is a desire to know and be known, the need of the soul for energetic interchange on higher levels. In the words of Dion Fortune, the cult of Aphrodite was “concerned with the subtle interaction of the life force between two factors; the curious flow and return, the stimulus and reaction, which plays so important a part of relations between the sexes, but extends far beyond the sphere of sex.”
The Empress is the Illuminating Intelligence, who fills us with enlightenment and inspiration. This title is a suggestion of her Solar Goddess origins, which are very clearly symbolised in this card, by her head dress and by the sun rising behind her. The Solar feminine is the life giving energy of the suns rays, which makes all things grow and heals our wounds and sorrows. The sun gives to all without favour, and under its blissful warmth we all come together joyously to create society and family. Its brilliant light gifts us with the power to see reality for what it is, and work with it constructively for the greater good. It can also bring death and drought, and so it has much in common with the great goddess. It’s very easy to understand why Sun Goddesses were so common throughout the ancient world and also why they have been so ruthlessly suppressed by the patriarchy.
The pink bat wings of this Empress are reminiscent of a birth canal, and they reach out to embrace the whole world. Her fingers elongating into wing bones represent our universal connection in spirit, and also reference the mega bat totem of the artist. She presides over the union of the waters of emotion with the fecund earth of material existence, the result of which is unlimited fertility, which is why a waterfall framed by lush vegetation forms her back drop. In the mythology of the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna, an earlier and more powerful version of Aphrodite, the rite of her sacred marriage to the vegetation god Dumuzi ensured the seasons harvest would be fruitful. Inanna was a goddess of both Love and War, reflecting the full spectrum of feminine divinity. Originally the deity was both dark and light, and only later became divided. The passions can lead to conflict as well as union, and in fact the two often come together, hence the meaning of the double letter of this card, Peace and War. If we are honest the desire to make love and the desire to fight are not so very different, either in intent or in result. The feminine archetype needs to be rebalanced by remembering its warrior aspect. Its all very well to hope for peace and kindness and love, but we also must be ready to fight when we have to. All nature must struggle to survive, and we are no exception.
Both the dove and the serpent are connected with the Tree of Life, the dove being the representative of the higher worlds and the serpent that of the lower chthonic realm. They are also often characterised as two types of love energy, one passive and the other aggressive, Agape and Eros. The dove represents the ability to give life and it appears in Christianity as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, which is fertilising the womb of the Grail in the Ace of Cups. The “Holy Spirit” has usurped the throne of Asherah, the original feminine divinity in the Hebrew triad. Father, Son and Holy Ghost are represented in the Qabalah by Chokmah, Tiphareth and Binah respectively, and Binah is very much the sephirah of the goddess. In this card the dove is perching on an alchemical symbol for Salt, which is the attribution of the Empress and the function of feeling. Salt represents Love and Tears and its properties are bitterness and wisdom. It also refers to the great primordial sea of Binah from which all life emerged. Tears and sorrow are bitter but they teach wisdom. Binah is ruled by Saturn and this is reflected in its emphasis on material restrictions. The gift of life is also a responsibility, and often a very demanding and limiting one.
The Hebrew letter that rules this card is Daleth, the Door or the Womb. The Empress is the womb of nature in all its abundant fruitful glory. She is all mothering and sublimely beautiful but also quite ruthless and brutal. Being born is the beginning of dying because what lives must inevitably die. So the door of Daleth goes both ways, being the Gate of Heaven from which all life emerges and through which it returns to dust. The path of Daleth on the Tree goes from Binah to Chokmah, linking the All Mother with the All Father, and forming a cross with the path of the High Priestess. Metaphorically she is the outpouring of life energy that results from the equilibration of the feminine and masculine polarities, natural creation in all its glory. Her crown is a flaming solar symbol of her ancient origins as a Sun Goddess, and it is surrounded by the twelve stars of the zodiac. Her gown is the green of the sphere of Netzach, which is the sphere of Venus. The number three refers to the product of the union between the one and the two, and is traditionally the number of the goddess.
If we want to have a future, we must learn the art of the gardener and the healer and become the faithful stewards of all creation. Our mechanistic, money driven society is toxic to anyone with a heart and soul, male or female, and at the core of its dysfunction is a lack of respect for our own feminine side, for the feminine divinity or archetype, and for Mother Earth herself. In order for us to evolve as individuals and as a species we must all learn to respect and value our creativity, and our emotional connection to the planet and all its inhabitants. Acknowledging the intrinsic spiritual unity and material interdependence of all life on Earth is the only hope we have to ensure our survival and the preservation of this beautiful planet. This profound realisation is the gift of consciousness, the illumination of the Solar feminine.
The values and qualities of the Empress are integral to our well being. She is compassionate, loving, and sensitive to the needs of all, with her arms open to embrace the world. There is a great power in her vulnerability, and in her uninhibited gift of love, especially when she remembers to include herself in her loving and caring, and establish healthy boundaries. An unbalanced manifestation of the Empress can result in an excess of self sacrifice, and a tendency to smother and over protect. It’s important not to try and compensate for the lack of Empress ability in others by doing everything for them. The power to nurture and create is available to all of us regardless of gender, and we don’t do anyone any favours when we allow them to avoid developing it. Our souls are bisexual, and we all have a feminine side and a masculine side. A balanced, sane individual has integrated both equally and actualised all four modes of self expression; intuition, feeling, thinking and sensation.
The Empress is a very powerful and demanding influence, requiring us to get real with our dreams and plant them into fertile earth. She judges by results and is not impressed by big talk and empty promises. She can also be a destructive and limiting force, because she binds souls into form and in doing so dooms us to experience death. This might be why our society has pushed her to the edges of consciousness, and denied the Goddess in our religion. We fear the Mother archetype, because she consumes us and controls us and we spend our formative years trying to escape her. Life is a journey in which we run from her grasp and then are unwillingly returned into her arms, and there is no escaping that fate, so we might as well relax and allow life to unfold as it wishes. The first lesson of creativity is the humble acceptance of what is given to us. We cannot consciously control or will our creations, but simply prepare to receive them. We prepare our tools, hone our skills and wait for the inspiration to arrive.
The great goddess is an inexorable force of nature who makes a mockery of our pretensions of mastery and control. We are free to act on our desires, but we do not choose our desires. Due to our cultural conditioning, when we envision the divine feminine we see only her light aspect, loving and maternal, but the truth is there is a much more elemental and sexual side to her. A limitless sexual energy and a limitless creative potential, which truly scare those not able to freely express their own elemental nature. Love is not just nurturing, it is all consuming, and often quite destructive. When people fear the feminine within, they fear loss of control and the forces of chaos. And yet it is from that chaos that all creativity and life energy emerges. Without surrender we become barren and lifeless. The divine feminine is the forces of nature, our animal passion, and the deep underlying connection to all life and to the Earth itself. It is the root chakra, the source of all our power and material existence.
People who don’t know tarot seem to get confused by the name of this card (also known as Strength). Doesn’t seem very lusty they tell me. Typical of Aleister to muddy the waters like that. I suppose it needs to be explained that it’s not really about lust in the narrow, genital sense but more as a general universal concept. It’s not a “sin” either, but rather a state of divine grace. I think this distinction drives straight to the heart of the body/mind schism that is destroying us all. Disgust at the natural animal urges within, is translated into contempt for the living ecosystem.
The lion is the lower self, the instincts and urges, and the woman is the higher intuitive self. Not feeble logic, but the kind of soul intelligence accessed through meditation and chakra work, hence the seven snakes of the lions’ tail. The total image depicts a fully actuated person, whose functions are all operating in harmony and whose passion for existence is symbolized by the star fire she is collecting in her (holy) grail. In Jungian terms she has tamed and accepted her Shadow, her dark side, so that it empowers rather than undermines her .
Also she is the great Heirodulai, the “Scarlet Woman” riding the Beast, originally the all powerful Sumerian goddess Inanna whose sacred animal was the Lion. In fact she was often depicted as a Lioness. Inannas’ consort Dumuzi is one of the early versions of Christ, the sacrificed god king. And Christ was of course “The Lion of Judah” as a direct descendant of David. Inanna was demonized as “the whore of Babylon” further associating her with Magdalene, who was also branded as a prostitute. So I suppose Lust is an ironic title in a way, an owning of an age old insult.
It’s also very interesting to me that the original symbol for this card is a woman shutting the mouth of a lion. If you consider the lion as symbolizing the Energetic body then the woman closing the animals’ mouth is a direct reference to the essential action required to complete the Microcosmic Orbit of energy (chi) around the meridians of the body. The Taoist masters refer to the tongue as a switch, which needs to be in contact with the top palette so that this energy circulation can flow. This kind of knowledge would also have been a part of the Western esoteric traditions prior to the witch burnings and destruction of libraries in the Middle Ages. It seems like another piece of evidence in the case for the Tarot being an encoded remnant of this type of suppressed knowledge.
Some people believe Jesus was trained as a Yogi in India and was a master of Kundalini and that as an Essene adept he practised the ancient ritual of Heiros Gamos with his wife, the Magdalene. It is an incredible irony that the church which based itself around him has gone to such horrific genocidal lengths to exterminate such practises. I suppose I should spell out at this stage that I am very much NOT a Christian (or anything else really, other than what I am). His significance to me is as a Magus, not as a preacher. In fact, I tend to agree with DH Lawrence that he probably lived to regret this early phase of his life. Please refer to his short story “The Escaped Cock” if you wish to know what DHL imagined him doing after his crucifixion. And while I’m on the subject of DHL, I have to mention “Apocalypse” his final work, which directly inspired this card and the whole direction of my Tarot. DHL was by far the greatest Magus of the Twentieth Century, and a kind of modern Christ figure himself. Dion Fortune knew it, which is why she spent her time trying to write a Lawrentian novel. He was an extremely rare combination, a great scholarly mind with the ability to see behind the veil.