Reclaiming the Empress

The Empress asks you to rework the bodily connection to the space that surrounds you. As you heal, you will see your work manifest as creative magic.

Cristy C Road, The NEXT WORLD Tarot

I’m working closely with the Empress archetype just now.

The Empress is not a card I relate to strongly – or at least, I haven’t until now. In many ways, I’ve rejected this archetype, associating it in the traditional way with ideas of maternity, fertility, motherhood. I’ve been quick to un-align myself with what often feels like a very strong gender stereotype, one which says women and femme folks should be soft, nurturing, fertile, mothering, receptive, and giving – all Empress qualities. But there are so many other aspects to this card, and so many other ways of framing the qualities I’ve listed, taking the Empress way beyond the ‘archetypal feminine’ or ‘Mother’ that I find problematic. It is more than possible to reclaim and embrace the Empress archetype in a feminist and queer context.

In my online tarot course A Card a Day, I talk a lot about the messages of self-care and nourishment the Empress brings us.

Messages about the importance of listening to our bodies’ needs, of tuning in to our surroundings and consciously (and unconsciously) enriching our connection with our environments, our relationship with the spaces we inhabit.

And because it’s about relationships, the Empress is about receiving as much as it is about giving. Receiving from the earth, receiving from our communities, from the folks we love. Letting ourselves be cared for and nurtured, and showing up to offer this to others too, in turn. There is a rhythm, an ebb and flow, a cycle, to this giving and receiving, they are two parts of a whole. Receptivity doesn’t have to be a weak quality – it takes strength and vulnerability to allow ourselves to be supported and cared for.

In my own work, this also means diving into ideas of intuition and body-wisdom. As someone who lives a lot in my own head, in the rational and the organisable, I’m not naturally inclined towards hearing my own intuition. Or at least, I’ve been socialised not to hear it, and to focus on what’s in my mind. So my work with the Empress is involving lots of meditative work, body scans, and other ways of tuning in.

I’m enjoying this work. And I’m finding it really challenging.

I have so much to unlearn, so much to release, so much to re-learn, rediscover. This week, I read my cards in honour of next week’s spring equinox. I wanted to look at what is emerging in my life right now, and ways of honouring and working with this shift. Naturally, the Empress turned up in the ‘honouring’ position! So today I wanted to dive a little deeper into the card, by checking out some other interpretations.

And because what I’m struggling with is related to my gender and sexual orientation, I pulled cards from three queer decks: The Collective Tarot, the NEXT WORLD Tarot, and the Slow Holler Tarot, and looked up the creators’ ideas in their guidebooks.


In the Collective Tarot, the Empress is “Reception”

I love this image. A tiny person, held in the soft, generous hand of the universe. To me it says ‘your job is only to receive, to be.’ The moon is a seed-filled fig, a pomegranate on a plate, fecundity, fertility, potential – repeated in the belly of the tiny person. It is all of the magic and wisdom within them, all of the potential of that magic and wisdom. Golden grain waves in the night breeze, abundance, harvest, the cycles of sowing and reaping, death and rebirth.

The description in the Collective Tarot guidebook speaks directly to my need for reclaiming this archetype:

We feel triggered by the notions of motherhood and, in turn, we become unwilling to receive mothering from ourselves and others. [But…] the walls and rules we make for ourselves may also be blocking out nourishing energies that we need, not only to survive, but to thrive.

Begin to think of yourself as a channel through which the largest wisdom funnels. Don’t personalise what comes out, rather accept and honour what the universe has chosen to move through you.

Devon Haynes in the Collective Tarot guidebook

This really strikes a chord. I feel like in my desire to separate myself from the gendered expectation of women and femmes (as in, those classic Empress qualities) I have inadvertently set myself against ‘mother energy’, hence my difficult feelings about the Empress. But I do very much recognise the need for this energy in my life. I do have the urge to nourish and support others, I do want to receive that kind of love in my life.

Furthermore, I’m tired of feeling cut off from my intuition, that body-wisdom capitalism teaches us to ignore, suppress, override. Devon Haynes’ mention of channelling ‘the largest wisdom’ is a beautiful way to imagine myself receiving messages not born in the rational, man-made world.


The NEXT WORLD TAROT

In Cristy C Road’s illustration, the Empress is so self-assured, so strong in their physicality, so aware of their own embodied wisdom. They are half naked, draped in gold, with smooth brown skin and a mane of lilac hair. The moon is huge beside them, over the sea. It looks as though they have smashed the false statue of liberty and taken its place, claiming the torch.

The Empress asks you to rework the bodily connection to the space that surrounds you. As you heal, you will see your work manifest as creative magic.

Cristy C Road in the NEXT WORLD Tarot guidebook

I love this focus on embodiment, the emphasis on physical being present in a space, on claiming space, on taking up space. We are physical beings, existing in a physical world, and there is so much potential for creativity and magic in that relationship. (This is kinda what Sabrina Scott’s Witchbody is about.)


In the Slow Holler Tarot, the Empress is “Kindred”

A warm kitchen, filled with flowers, orderly pots and pans, jugs and utensils. Clean laundry blows in the summer breeze, a friendly cow watches over as a bear and cub play at dens. A river runs softly by. This picture is so full of sweetness, I can almost smell a delicious home-made cake baking.

The Kindred glows with the loving energy of abundance, comfort and nourishment. Think of steam rising from a kettle, from your own warm breath. It’s an invitation to feel grounded, to drift off as someone you love is singing in another room. Here is the place where we gather, where we find and create home.

The Slow Holler Guidebook


These cards have many elements in common.

They are all very physical. The moon, representing intuition and non-rational knowledge, shows up prominently in two of these cards, and water, representing the flow of emotion and the depths of the subconscious, appears in all three. They each are imbued with a feeling of presence, of embodying the present moment, confidently, comfortably.

And all of these cards place an emphasis on the body.

The body as a physical entity that has survival and comfort needs, and also the body as a container for spirit and soul. I love the way the Empress is a bridge between our magical, spiritual lives and our tangible day to day. Sensuality and self-care help us to walk that bridge, noticing what is surrounding us alongside what is within us, and the relationship between those things.

These cards encourage me in my work with the Empress. I’m making space for her in my life. I have made her a designated seat in the living room. I have drawn her. Last full moon, I created an altar to self-love. Empress cards sit on the mantelpiece in my studio, reminding me to keep tuning in, to pause, to listen to what my body is telling me. I’m so ready to welcome the Empress back into my life, and excited about the conversations we’re beginning to have.


Cards shown are from Thea’s Tarot, Trung Ngyuyen’s in-progress tarot deck, the Dark Days Tarot, the Emily Dickinson Tarot, the Personal Space Tarot, the Collective Tarot, the NEXT WORLD TAROT and the Slow Holler Tarot.

4 comments

  1. Thank you so much for this Beth!
    I was detaching from the Empress so hard that I would just shut down when they showed up in a reading. I really needed this right now, thank you for reframing them!
    xxQA

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Ah, so glad you can relate QA! I was a bit like that when the Empress appeared in personal readings. I’m glad this post resonated for you, it’s been a long time coming for me to do/share this work.

      I feel sheepish about ditching this archetype in my own process of redefining my gender expression/what it means to be a woman – I’m happy to be circling back now and reclaiming this magical card.

  2. rhys.morgan says:

    I enjoyed reading this blog post, Beth! It’s interesting to see you work through all these different ideas–I really do like that it’s about being present, taking up space, accepting nurturing and giving it in turn.

    I was always sort of ‘meh’ about the Empress until I found the Steampunk Tarot deck by Barbara Moore and Aly Fell. It has its flaws (no PoC) but the Empress there looks so fierce. She’s literally manifesting power from her own body. She’s not afraid or ashamed of that, and to me that really spoke of creative and nurturing self to create and generate something new.

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Thanks Rhys! Oh yes, the Steampunk Empress! I had forgotten all about that image. I remember not liking it when I first got the deck years ago, but looking again now, it feels really potent. I love the tangibility of that magic in her hand.

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