Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Empress: another look

Why is this Tarot card titled The Empress? What significance does she have in a Tarot deck? For a reality check, who was she in the historical past? Why is she in the Tarot anyway?

The Empress
There are two ways to think about The Empress in the Tarot: One is historical concerning several real Empresses of the past. The other is symbolical and mythological with references to an earlier ancient earth Goddess from the Middle East, Africa and early European cultures. (See my previous BlogSpot article on The High Priestess)

 Historical Empresses were the female sovereigns of past empires, especially the ancient Egyptian Empire; the Roman Empire; Persian Empire; Chinese Empire; and later European Empires, such as the Austrian Empire and British Empire. An Empress was usually the consort of the ruling Emperor but, in some cases, she was the supreme monarch, governing and having the power to command armies and rule other kingdoms. This was a position of power that was very rare for women in a male-dominated hierarchy of rulership. Empress Wu Zetian (625–705) ruler in the Tang Dynasty of China, achieved her power by eliminating her enemies in taking over the throne after her husband died. In a monarchy, the title Empress or Emperor is superior to a King or Queen, and the Empire is larger than a kingdom, sometimes incorporating many entire city-states. And the last historical Empresses are not too far in the distant past. British Queen Victoria, Empress of India, ruled many colonial countries around the world and she died in 1901. Her granddaughter, Alexandra, was the last Tsarina in Russia and she was murdered in 1918 with her family and spouse Tsar Nicolas I, during the Russian Revolution and overthrow of the Russian Empire. In some ways, it is hard for us to comprehend how such power was exerted in the past, which is the very reason that The Empress and The Emperor are part of the more traditional Tarot deck: emphasizing vast powers, supreme leadership, and control of their subjects.  

In a contemporary context, some Tarot decks present The Empress as the Great Mother Goddess, as in The Motherpeace Tarot by Vicki Noble. This deck exemplifies the resurgence of the modern Goddess movement in Feminism. In certain “back to nature” communities, the Goddess is viewed as immanent in nature with all its processes; therefore, most of nature’s functions on earth are regarded as sacred: cell-division and the self-generating processes of plant growth and seed-bearing; the fertility and abundance of crops; the sustenance of water; the reproductive and formative processes of animals and birds.

Archaeologist, Marija Gimbutas, in her extensive book, The Civilization of the Goddess, talks about the veneration of an earth Goddess in Eastern European prehistory who was represented by small clay female figurines found everywhere, particularly in areas that appeared to be temples. Archaeological evidence points to agricultural communities at least as far back to the 7th millennia B.C. where agrarian cultures were [thought to be] more ‘gynocentric,’ and women reflected the “sovereignty of motherhood,” she says. These little figurines were found by the hundreds at digs mostly in Eastern Europe.

“In Gimbutas’ view, old European female imagery expresses metaphoric concepts of sacred cosmology within a mother-kinship culture.”
(The realm of the Ancestors, Ed Joan Marler)

In another sense, there are derogatory Biblical references to the Middle Eastern goddess Ashera, or Ashtoreth/Astarte, a Canaanite Goddess worshipped as far back as 9th century B.C.; yet, in contrast, she was revered in Ugaritic legends and mythological texts from Ras-Shamara, discovered in Syria. In I Kings 18:19, worship of the goddess instead of the one God by the Hebrews was blamed on Jezebel, and in Deuteronomy 12:3, the destruction of a statue of Ashera was demanded by burning it. Ashera was condemned by the Hebrews as one of the gods to eliminate. These religious beliefs and the story of Eve’s downfall and deception, paved the way for many centuries of treating women as second class citizens and subordinate to men. Then there was Ishtar of Nineveh. She was the goddess of the Akkadian pantheon and was written about in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem inscribed in cuneiform on clay tablets around 3,000 B.C., where the goddess, Inanna, descended into the underworld; was killed by her sister Erishkigal, and resurrected by her priestess and companions. She was more of a warrior goddess of fecundity and procreation. (Descent to the Goddess by Sylvia Brinton Perera)

What meaning can we extract from The Empress card in a reading? She represents leadership in the community; self-respect as a liberated person free from dehumanizing oppression; exhibits mature judgment, and is not afraid to speak up against injustice. Her attributes are that of a self-actualizing person who is supporting, caring for, protecting, and nurturing her community. In a broader sense, she is the goddess of fertility, birth, motherhood, love, and the abundance of nature.

“The power to regain our own life comes from the discovery of the cosmic covenant, the deep harmony in the community of being in which we participate.” (Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father, Beacon Press, 1985)

When you get The Empress card in a reading, ask yourself these questions: How are you being an Empress in your life in taking charge and demonstrating leadership in your community? Are you speaking up, resisting, and pointing out injustices? Are you nurturing and caring for your family and friends? Are you helping to eliminate oppression, violence and war? What are you doing to promote the common good for everyone?