“Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.” – Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee, meet The Empress! She serves as the personification of the Universe’s urge toward fertility and abundance. If there’s any one character among the ranks of the Tarot’s population who could help with expansion, growth, and “the sincere and honest development of one’s potential,” it’s the Lady of Card III.
If you’re reading this series in order, then later on in the sequence, we’ll meet the Death card. Many people find it to be one of the most frightening members of the Tarot ranks, but it has its place; Tarot is a microcosm of Existence itself, after all, and since Death is an unavoidable and major component of Existence, then it should of course be represented in Tarot. But, you may ask, why is there then no “Life card”…?
And the answer is that there is, actually. In fact, there may be more than one. The Sun captures the concept of life-giving energy and vitality. The Wands cards – and especially the Ace, that Suit’s purest component-part – are concerned with the spark of life that burns within all living things. And then there’s The Empress…
L’Impératrice is arguably an even better symbol for Life itself than those aforementioned cards. The Sun and the Ace of Wands do speak of Fire, but with The Empress, there’s an added dimension of love and even of a conscious will to nurture that aren’t really present in those other cards. It’s no accident that the classic decks so often portray The Empress as a pregnant female, or that many modern decks now cast The Empress as not just somebody’s mother, but as everybody’s mother, depicting her in the greater forms of Mother Nature or as Gaia, Mother Earth. The Empress is Life, she cultivates Life, she sustains Life.
Want to see something else that may be no accident in this Life/Death question? Take a look at what happens when you set up the Roman numerals for The Empress and the Death card side by side in ascending order. The Empress is Card 3, or III, and Death is Card 13, or XIII. If we line these up next to each other, and eliminate the space between them, we get this:
You can’t really get any finer symmetry than that! This may not conclusively prove that The Empress is Tarot’s definitive “Life card” that counterbalances the Death card, but it doesn’t exactly hurt that argument, either…
And returning to that notion of The-Empress-as-Mother… Again, this is a very common and very long-accepted interpretation of the card. To put it another way, she has much to do with maternal energy in general, and with a maternal viewpoint or approach. But there’s also the fact that The Empress is very widely associated with the astrological Planet we call Venus, which was named for the Goddess of Love… As we all know, Love comes in many forms beyond the purely maternal. Along that line of thinking…how exactly did the pregnant versions of The Empress attain that gravid state? Outside of the most Immaculate of Conceptions, a pregnant Empress was almost certainly engaging in a rather different kind of love than the purely maternal variety… All of which is to say that for some readers, The Empress can also be connected with the possibility of romantic/sexual love, and even with other more platonic relationships, as well.
It’s also fair game to regard The Empress as a sort of Monarch presiding directly over both the 3’s and the Queens. The various 3’s are all concerned with either expansion or with the difficulties that can hound someone entering the expansion process, while the Queens share The Empress’ quiet, Yin-flavored air of authority and her desire to cultivate whatever she encounters.
When manifesting in her more negative incarnations in a reading, The Empress can signify such possibilities as growing pains, overextending oneself, mistaking “bigger” for “better,” a refusal to let go of things that are past saving, blindness to the faults of others (especially those who receive our care), the inability to be content with more modest things in life, and the senseless pursuit of expansion for its own sake (Empress-energy gone wrong can lead to the kinds of blind and fanatical devotion to growth that we see in such diseases as cancer and viral strains, which will continue to chase growth even when doing so will kill the host-body and therefore themselves…).
In her more positive manifestations, though, The Empress can foreshadow the appearances of such worthy phenomena as healthy types of growth, abundance, fertility, creativity, harmony with natural forces and Nature itself, beauty, serenity, the Divine Feminine and Goddess-energy, agriculture, effective cultivation of just about anything, and above all else…Love, and the urge toward Life!