Tarot Card Meanings: The Emperor

The Light: Authority, structure, father-figure, discipline, status quo.

The Shadows: Inflexibility, tyranny, arrogance, ineptitude for ruling.

Situated on his mighty throne, the Emperor seems to look down on the querent rather than at her. He is armed and ready for battle, even as he holds the sceptre in his hand and wears the crown – both are his, but he is willing to defend them. This represents an old way of viewing power, where rulers were wielders of both power and swords.

Deck used: Original Rider-Waite

While this card is traditionally seen as representing a father-figure, I feel that the emperor represents a surrogate father or mentor rather than a birth father. This is because emperors usually hold their title as a result of conquest or election. Charlemagne, Napoleon, Constantine and Victoria are examples of rulers who reigned as emperors through conquest; the Holy Roman Emperor reigned by election. Thus, I feel that the title is one bestowed upon someone who is not born into the role.

However, this figure is the ruler of the querent’s world, representing the male ego and the traditional path. He represents experience and wisdom, visible in his long white beard. This archetype also inspires loyalty and followers who are willing to help him achieve his vision of international dominion.

He is seated on a throne which appears to be made of stone, with a mountain range behind him signifying his permanence and connection to a long-standing position of power. It also shows us that the way our ideas and goals are best manifested at this time is through the tried and true method – a traditional path free from chaos and deviation. Order must reign. Additionally, the throne itself is set upon a stone slab, reminding us that strong foundations must be laid before power can be assumed with any surety.

The throne is decorated with four rams’ heads, evoking the fiery nature of Aires. The scene is set against an orange background and draped in red cloth, again representing the Emperor’s intensity. His sceptre is the Egyptian symbol of Ankh, which is the symbol of life – he holds his life and destiny in his own hand. In his right hand, he holds the orb, representing the [querent’s] world.

Following your heart and creating your own path are often revered, but when the Emperor shows up in a reading, it can be a sign to avoid tomfoolery and buckle down. Concentrate on goals with singleminded determination to reach them. This is not a time for weakness, but rather a time for leadership and hard work. You will know when it is the right time to listen to your heart, as following the same path for too long will lead to stagnation.

Alternatively, the emperor can be something to overcome, depending on its place in a reading (e.g., in the obstacle position). In this case, it can represent traditional or rigid thoughts that need to be managed, even as they control your life. It may also symbolise a sense of entitlement and a strong ego. Manage these shadowy elements to prevent corruption.

The Empress: Journal Entry

I see the Empress as a mother who loves unconditionally, even when we are not living up to our potential or when we feel distanced from ourselves and feeling our worst. She is there, encouraging us back on our path of creativity. She reminds us to keep speaking our truth, even when it is inconvenient.

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Deck used: Art of Life Tarot

She also represents those joyous times in our lives when we are in harmony with the creative process, giving birth to new ideas and projects. Her aura is one of receptivity, indicating the best time to transmute ideas into something concrete.

One word that has really resonated for me with the Empress is ‘abundance.’ This doesn’t mean having riches or excessive possessions – it’s the ability to see enough in what one has. It indicates a shift in perspective rather than a gathering of items or surface friendships. Feeling abundance can be a barometer, showing that one has gone from a feeling of lack to one of everyday joy. Feelings of lack and status anxiety are rife in our affluenza-ridden culture, but recognising abundance means that we embrace what we have and feel gracious and grateful.

Likewise, the Empress is a symbol of everyday luxury. She is often pictured on a chaise in nature, the forest her palace. She could just as easily be a nude model on velvet cushions in a starving artist’s garret, or a couple barefoot on the banks of a stream. She embodies glamour and penniless decadence.

This sense of romance is one that I like to evoke during periods of stagnation, or times when I need to return to my creative side. At times, life can get in the way of making creative progress. However, I believe that the spirit of the Empress will be present to guide us through our endeavours so that we might bear our own fruit.

Voyager Tarot: Empress

Many of the images in this card speak of the self-perpetuating nature of creativity. This is apparent from the fields of wildflowers that comprise the majority of the the space in this Voyager card. We see a combination of evergreen plants (in the form of heather) and perennial meadow sage, growing far into the distance. Mount Fuji presides over the spectacle, a latent force to be reckoned with. As long as it remains in its current state, everything around remains. However, if it were to erupt, it would destroy its surroundings, but leave behind well-fertilised land for plants to take root again. Thus, we can remember that every act of creation is predicated on an act of destruction.

Deck used: Voyager Tarot: Intuition Cards for the 21st CenturyVoyager Tarot; background knitted by yours truly.

Both the waterfall and the stony stream remind us that the Empress works in a flow. Like her energy, water itself can rarely be held back – it moves river banks, erodes ocean borders, compromises dams. So, too, will our own self-expression emerge. It will either be siphoned off unseen, or guided to become a harmonious feature of our lives, or burst forth in an inconvenient, destructive manner.

The planet Venus looms over the top of the image, evoking that goddess’s qualities. Beauty, sensuality and love are soon joined by peace in the form of a dove. The dove covers part of the Earth, showing that she has the planet’s residence under her wing.

At the centre of the piece lies the golden figure of Selket, who guarded the spirit of the boy king, Tutankhamen, like a mother. Selket is, in this instance, a surrogate mother. She can accompany the deceased king on his journey to the afterlife even after his own mother, the Younger Lady (possibly Nefertiti, which I feel adds a tantalising layer of interest when building on the Voyager Priestess), had passed away. This card speaks of a need to assist and be assisted on life’s greatest journeys. We may feel adult enough to proceed alone, but it is more comforting and arguably wiser to find a mentor or guardian.

Thus, the Empress evokes a duality of feminine nature – that of an innate creativity, blossoming without the aid of the conscious mind, and the instinct of the mother to nurture and raise dreams and beings.

As in all Voyager cards, any one of the images included may tell the reader what she needs to know with regards to the question at hand. However, the Empress is ultimately the mother, providing love and care free from judgement. She may come up at times when we need to show unconditional love to our family, our projects, the environment, or even to ourselves.

Tarot Card Meanings: The Empress

The Light: fertility, abundance, feminine sexuality, receptivity.

The Shadows: sterility, indecision, lack of personal care, inability to create.

Housed in the luxury of nature, the Empress is a symbol of all things rich and creative. She can be seen as the High Priestess’s worldly, mothering sister – slightly more accessible and more in tune with the grounded world around her. If the High Priestess is water, the Empress is earth – not as easy to scry with, but still a conduit of spiritualism.

Deck used: Original Rider-Waite; posed with Dixie the cat.

The Empress sits on her throne out in the natural world, bringing the luxury of the palace out of doors. She feels secure and in control. On her head, she wears a crown with 12 stars on it, and these represent her power over the year and zodiac. Her scepter represents her power over life, including the growing grain that surrounds her.

She is the universal mother – a creator and a nurturer. As such, the pomegranates on her robe evoke Demeter, whose motherly joy and grief gave the world its seasons in Greek mythology. Like Demeter, we can become overly attached to our creations, allowing them to dictate our emotions. However, this also speaks of a very strong love. The Empress is also resting on the emblem of Venus encased within a heart, evoking the goddess of love and beauty as well.

If this card appears in a reading, it can signify a birth – possibly of an idea, a way of life or, indeed, a child. It can also represent a nurturing quality that may be called upon, as in a teaching role or providing guidance. More broadly, it can signify a need to return to nature, to connect to the earth around you. The Empress also reminds us to love the land where we find ourselves. She is probably a foreigner in the land where she lives, as most consorts would have been, but she still reaches out to her new home and embraces it. So, too, must we. Even if we find ourselves surrounded by a natural world that feels too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry, we must remember that it is as it is supposed to be, and we must love it for what it is or risk neglect.

Throughout this journey, it is important to maintain focus on what is important to you. Ensure that you live your truth in everything that you create, and keep creating even when you feel that inspiration is running dry. Doing so will keep your flow going, and something beautiful may still result. At the same time, however, the Empress acts as a reminder to look after the physical body, which is necessary to be able to bring forth new projects and ideas.

As the Empress is a card from the Major Arcana, she is indicative of events outside of ourselves taking over. This may still indicate a personal creation, but one infused with the energy of the universe. Good fortune is no accident, and you are worthy of it.

Lastly, in popular culture, Queen Bey’s pregnancy photos evoked the tarot magic, reminding us that tarot imagery is living and accessible even over a century later.

Image sourced from Hypable.

The High Priestess: Journal Entry

When the High Priestess comes up in a reading, it can signify the start of a new spiritual path. It can also mean that all our wisdom is within us – it’s an encouragement to look within ourselves. This is a reminder to eschew the external routes to wisdom and listen to our inner guidance.

Deck used: Art of Life Tarot

I feel as though this inner guidance can be exercised like a muscle – both in my everyday life and when reading in tarot. When I first started reading the tarot, I was reliant upon the  textbook definitions and unwilling to recognise the times when images would tug at memories and personal meanings. However, the more experience I have in this respect, the more I am willing to immerse myself in my own personal symbology.

Additionally, new cultural associations may arise as time passes and our own history writes itself. For example, in the Voyager Tarot’s High Priestess, we can have more cultural associations with Nefertiti herself now than ever before, as a recent expedition has identified the so-called ‘Younger Lady’ (KV35YL) as, more likely than not, Nefertiti. However, the woman’s body was damaged, her mouth smashed so as to prevent her from speaking her own name to cross over to the afterlife. This is a kind of warning, reminding us that living our truth flamboyantly and in a way that affects others can result in criticism and a desire to destroy. This is not usually a reflection of ourselves, but rather a sign that they are unable to voice their own truth.

So, too, can our own personal experiences bring about these types of associations. And just because they are recent doesn’t mean that they should be ignored. Perhaps cultural influences have always dictated that the pomegranates on the cloth behind the High Priestess stand for the Fruit of the Dead. However, recent reading has also explained that the fruits are powerful antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory  properties. This added information can bring layers of knowledge and help indicate the most appropriate train of thought to follow.

This is just another way of reading the cards – bringing in our own connections to add depth to a spread’s meaning. Allowing these kinds of associations also helps us become more adept at listening to our hunches. Our inner voice usually starts quietly. However, I often wonder if this type of intuition has been bred out of us, replaced with hyper-reliance on other senses and more tangible signs. I know our dogs often sense something is unusual before we notice it – when a storm is coming, whether a person should be avoided, etc.

However, this is where the High Priestess shines: she is all secrets, intuition, and esoteric knowledge that is known in the soul rather than memorised from a book. With this in mind, our validation can come from within. Internal validation means that senses of superiority and greatness can be sloughed off as unnecessary – we don’t need an inflated ego when working with the Higher Self. In the example of the High Priestess, intuition reigns and the secrets of this kind of knowledge can be kept without the ego stepping in and telling us to show off.

Voyager Tarot: Priestess

Apart from the overwhelming blue tones in this card, the first thing to catch my attention is the diamond in Nefertiti’s eye. This implies a multifaceted way of seeing the world, and an encouragement to not be too narrow in one’s perception.

Deck used: Voyager Tarot: Intuition Cards for the 21st CenturyVoyager Tarot

However, the figure of Nefertiti is loaded with symbolism of its own. She and her husband created a new religion and built the capital of Amarna, both of which were centred around the cult of the Aten (sun disk). She also possibly ruled Egypt as a female pharaoh after her husband’s death. In this way, Nefertiti is an icon for establishing a new order, for blazing one’s own path, and for never letting the fear of downfall deter spiritual pursuits.

Yet, even as Nefertiti moved away from Egypt’s established religion with the cult of the Aten, here we see the moon rising out of her head. Like the moon itself, the Priestess is a reflection of all that we do, both dark and light.

Next we see the dolphin, which glides easily though the mysterious sea. Dolphins operate on vibrations, picking up on others’ feelings and acting accordingly. Thus, they represent the way that the Priestess encourages us to act. Heightened intuition will help us act in a more free-flowing manner, swaying gently with the tides. We are anchored but never rigid. Accessing intuition is difficult if we are used to staunchly adhering to only surface information. We become more receptive when we let inner guidance lead the way.

The Temple of Delphi reminds us to keep hold of our inner oracle – meditation and pausing for reflection may not result in seeing the future, but mindfulness and greater understanding will abound. This will help us to make the best decisions possible. Our insight must be tempered against our innate wisdom.

One element in this card may act as a warning. The Sphinx is an  ancient guardian, and can be ruthless or kind depending on the portrayal. However, the Great Sphinx of Giza’s power was disregarded when it was disfigured – some say by Turkish soldiers using it for target practice, others insist that the nose was chiseled off because the Sphinx was considered to be evil. Yet it still stands, impassive and proud. So, too, must we be when others seek to denigrate us.

Thus, this card is ultimately about rising above the battering as well as remaining flexible enough to allow the world to flow around us. We are a reflection of others when required, as well as a reflection of the heavens – as above, so below. Receptivity guides us to make the best choices,  and we remain balanced and impartial. This is no time for sentimentality, but rather detached reason. Emotional and worldly complications can prevent us from fulfilling our true purpose. We need to get clear about our needs and reasons behind our actions to become certain about our spiritual purpose.

Tarot Card Meanings: The High Priestess

The Light: study, wisdom, intuition, faith.

The Shadows: closed mentality, conceit, surface knowledge.

The High Priestess represents the ancient route to wisdom. She may come to us in readings when we are embarking on a spiritual journey or when we need a gentle reminder to take a step back from more orthodox religious teachings and rely instead on our own inner guidance. Dreams and flashes of intuition are particularly important at this time. It can also indicate that a spiritual shift is about to take place, allowing you to step beyond the curtain that separates you from your subconscious. While the High Priestess can be an intimidating gatekeeper, only those brave enough to approach her will be able to step beyond to the sea, whose shoreline lies tantalisingly beyond the veil.

Deck used: Original Rider-Waite

In this card, the first thing to speak to me is the lunar imagery – she wears the crown of Isis, with two crescent moons and a full moon (also the symbol of the triple goddess), and her foot rests on an elegant waxing crescent moon. This lunar imagery shows us that our insight can grow and wane like the moon, and that the strength of our intuition can be directly linked to its phases. Additionally, the word ‘lunar’ is the root for lunacy – this can remind us that following our own truth can look crazy to others without our particular knowledge, but following this type of wisdom is based on something much older than ourselves. It is innate and ancient, brought forth into modern times as time marches on.

She is sitting before a curtain of fully seeded pomegranates, displaying that her authority is set against a background of organic growth, fertility and feminine potential. Interspersed with the fruits are palm trees, representing peace and triumph. The pomegranate bears a lot of cultural significance. Born out of the blood of Adonis, it became the fruit that Persephone ate which caused her to remain in the underworld for part of the year. This life-death-rebirth theme also ties in with the lunar and seasonal shifts. More recently, the pomegranate was the symbol of Katherine of Aragon. Pomegranates are also represented on the robes of Hebrew high priests as symbols of the promised land.

The Hebrew links continue in this card. The Priestess sits between two pillars, labelled J and B – this stands for Jachin and Boaz, the two pillars which stood at the doorway of Solomon’s temple. Hebrew is read right to left, so it makes sense to translate the words in this order, though they appear reversed on the card for those of us who read left to right. Jachin is roughly translated as ‘He establishes’ and Boaz as ‘strength.’ Additionally, the Priestess holds a Torah scroll in her hands.*

In some decks, she is also called The Popess, which is possibly a reference to the legendary Pope Joan. While Pope Joan may be a fictional figure, her story reminds us of the danger women often faced if they tried to excel in a male field. However, Joan’s religious acumen allowed her to rise through the ecclesiastical ranks to the Catholic church’s highest office, only to have her efforts betrayed by giving birth to a child. Depending on the account, Joan was either executed or sent away to do penance. In the latter tale, that baby went on to become a bishop himself, though his mother’s story will forever be shrouded in mystery.

*My own research outside of the tarot currently revolves around the Norman Conquest. With Tora Torbergsdatter being Harald Hardrada’s consort, seeing the scroll state ‘Tora’ immediately makes me think of her.