Leaving behind the Magician and the High Priestess, our Fool notices a throne in a field of wheat, perched above the tops of all but the highest stalks so it looked as if it was floating on a vast, golden sea. This was the Empress, and as he approached her he was struck by her beauty. Her crown of stars shimmered upon her brow, and her face was radiant with the glow of pregnancy.
The Empress, the fourth Major Arcanum (numbered III), is representative of all feminine power. She is commonly associated with Venus, the Goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality (she is also the Goddess of artists, and one on whose favor I will rely as I complete my paintings). Commonly, the Empress is depicted as a pregnant mother-to-be, crowned with stars and surrounded by wheat. She bears a shield, sometimes emblazoned with an eagle, other times with the astrological symbol of Venus.
There is a lot of love in this card, and a lot of new life. The field of wheat symbolizes nourishment; without sustenance, no thing can grow. This is also one of many cards that conveys a message of “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.” All good things worth harvesting require effort at the outset, and the field of wheat reminds us strongly of that.
The Empress’s shield can be interpreted as the protection of love—when we love and are loved, we are protected from harm. We know that even the strongest shield cannot deflect every blow, but at the very least we can lessen the impact of the worst things that life can hit us with.
Frequently the imagery on this card also includes a waterfall. Water is often used in Tarot artwork to represent emotion and the unconscious mind. In the case of a waterfall, that emotion is rushing, whirling, pulling everything it meets along with it. Consider a long stretch of whitewater rapids—any tree limb, boat, or animal that gets caught in the powerful current is sucked in and dashed upon the rocks before tumbling over the precipice into the foaming pool below. This is a stark reminder that our emotions (including love) have enormous potential and can in fact sometimes even be harmful—to ourselves and to others.
The pregnancy is a symbol that requires very little imagination to interpret.
Historically it is possible that this card is a reference to Empress Adelaide, wife of Holy Roman Emperor Otto the Great. She had devoted her life to serving the church, and provided alms to the poor. This is another example of the nurturing aspect of the Empress card.
Like almost all the cards of the Tarot, this is one with an interpretation that is nearly instantly readable, but which contains many deeper layers of interpretation upon closer study and meditation. Much like the mother nurtures the child, or the farmer nurtures the land, we should spend more time nurturing the Spirit and the Soul, to foster those connections that bring us closer to the Divine, regardless of our individual religious or spiritual beliefs.