3. The Empress

The card The Empress has multiple layers. It represents, among other things, the feminine in man (the anima in Jungian psychology), and the feminine aspect of God. As an anima she is the other half of the Emperor – the animus. Their fusion – the sacred marriage – leads to a union with God.

Two cards of the Empress have been preserved from the 15th century Visconti decks. At first glance they do not seem to contain any esoteric symbolism. On both cards the empress holds a shield with an eagle on it. This eagle can also be found on the family crest of the noble Viscontis, so it is an explainable element. That the eagle on this card also has a spiritual meaning becomes only clear when we study the entire Visconti deck, and when we compare Empress cards from later centuries.

Visconti Di Modrone deck

Visconti-Sforza deck

Coat of arms of the Visconti and Sforza families

Alchemy

In the tradition of alchemy, which had its heyday in the 15th century, an eagle – the king of birds – represents the completion of the process of God-realization.

On the engraving of Jacob de Heyden from 1615 (right) we see an eagle balancing on two pillars. These pillars represent the inner duality, which must be merged into (divine) unity. They are connected by a rope with a wedding ring; a reference to the sacred marriage.

Click here to learn more about the SACRED MARRIAGE as an aspect of a kundalini awakening process.

Emblem from: The Hermaphrodite Child of the Sun and Moon, 1752.

Emblemata moralia & bellica (Jacob de Heyden, 1615)

To express the merger of the polar energies, alchemy uses the image of a king and queen uniting. The illustration from Rosarium Philosophorum (right) is an example of this. We see a royal couple lying in the water, which means that this process takes place in our subconscious. The wings symbolize the completion of the process of unification. One hand of the king lies on his genitals: the sexual energies must be preserved in order to experience the divine.

These powerful primal energies in our lower abdomen must be lifted to the higher chakras. In many spiritual traditions the challenge of gaining mastery over the sexual impulses is symbolized by a powerful dragon that must be conquered (see illustration below right).

From: Rosarium Philosophorum (circa 1550)

The flask symbolizes the alchemist himself. The queen/empress and king/emperor represent the masculine and feminine energies that merge during a kundalini awakening. From: Johannes Conradus Barchusen (1666-1723), The Symbolic Treaty of the Philosopher’s Stone (Elementa Chemiae).

The Magnum Opus of the alchemist (illustration from around 1400). The king and queen are fused into one figure, also called rebis or hermaphrodite. The conquered dragon lies at their feet. The three serpents in the cup represent the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening. The wings, and the ouroboros in the king’s hand, refer to a completed kundalini process and the resulting inner oneness.

Tarot of marseille

With the ages it becomes clearer that the cards number 3 and 4 of the tarot – the Empress and the Emperor – represent the alchemical royal couple that merges during the process of God-realization. The Empress of the Tarot of Marseille (17th and 18th century) sits on a throne with a backrest that suggests two wings; the symbol for spiritual completion. This reinforces the symbolism of the eagle on the card.

The Tarot of Marseille,
by Jacques Vieville (circa 1650)

The Tarot of Marseille,
by Jean Dodal (1701-1715)

Double headed eagle

A compelling indication that the eagle on The Empress (and The Emperor) has a spiritual significance is the double-headed eagle variant of some decks. The double-headed eagle is an alchemical symbol for a completed Magnum Opus (process of God-realization). The two heads represent the fusion of the polar energies/duality (see emblem on right).

The earliest Empress with a double-headed eagle can be found in one of the very first printed decks, the so-called Budapest-Metropolitan deck, of which only an uncut, uncoloured printed sheet has been preserved (below left).

The two other cards below are of a later date. Carlo Della Rocca (below right) has partially hidden the alchemical symbol under the Empress’ hand. The good viewer, however, sees that there must be a second head on the bird. The Empress confirms its meaning by the sign of the sacred marriage (two fingers together: 2=1) that she makes with both hands. The fact that the eagle’s second head is hidden indicates that it was a controversial symbol at the time.

Figuarium Aegyptiorum Secretarum (18th century)

Budapest-Metropolitan deck, 16th century.

The Tarot d’Epinal, a reproduction of a French deck, 1830.

Classic Tarot, Carlo Della Rocca.
(early 19th century)

Alchemy regarded Jesus as an alchemist who had successfully completed the inner Great Work. On the right a remarkable illustration of Christ as a double-headed eagle.

Also in Christian painting, the symbol of a double-headed eagle has been used to communicate that Jesus had experienced a kundalini awakening. An example of this is on the far right.

Christ depicted as an alchemist who completed the Magnum Opus (the double-headed eagle). From the alchemical manuscript: ‘Book of the Holy Trinity’.

Quentin Matsys, circa 1510, Rijksmuseum.

Oswald Wirth

The Empress of the occultist Oswald Wirth (below left) has real wings. Wirth has enriched the card with elements that refer to a vision of the apostle John, from the Bible book of Revelation: a crown of stars and a crescent moon under her foot (below right).

THE WOMAN, THE CHILD AND THE DRAGON
1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
2 and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.
3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.
4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.
5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.
(Revelation 12:1-5)

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

This is a vision of a kundalini awakening that John is going through. The woman represents his soul who is about to “give birth” to the divine. John has undergone a purification process of many years for this to happen. The crown with twelve stars stands for spiritual completion. The divine light flows through him unhindered (his soul is “clothed with the sun”). He has conquered duality / matter (the moon).

The divine birth is threatened by a big red dragon. Here also, a dragon stands for the animal instincts. The color red refers to the first chakra, the energy of our most basic (read: animal) needs. The iron staff with which the Child will rule, represents John’s spine with the kundalini energy flowing in it.

The birth of this divine child is the result of the sacred marriage. Alchemy also uses the image of the birth of a child, as an aspect of the Magnum Opus (below left).

Alchemical illustration of the Magnum Opus (18th century)

Chateau des Avenières (1917)

The Empress in the chapel of Château des Avenières (above right) largely resembles the Empress of Oswald Wirth. On the shield in her hand we see a phoenix instead of an eagle. This mythical bird, rising from its ashes, represents in alchemy the process of spiritual rebirth. The Empress has placed her staff on her lap/pelvis, the abode of the kundalini. In the esoteric tradition, the staff is a symbol for the awakened spine.

Click here for the STAFF as a symbol for a kundalini awakening.

The Rider-Waite-Smith Empress

Arthur Waite and Pamela Colman-Smith have added elements to the Empress that also give her a macrocosmic meaning. The RWS Empress is God the Mother: the feminine aspect of God, who can be found not only in man (the kundalini in our pelvis), but also in the outside world. It is the supporting, nourishing energy that makes up the universe.

The placement of the Empress in nature refers to her macrocosmic meaning. The grain in the foreground is an attribute of Demeter, the Greek goddess of agricultural crops and the harvest.

On the dress of the Empress pomegranates are depicted. As we saw on the card of the High Priestess, pomegranates, because of their red color and many seeds, are a symbol of the kundalini: the ‘divine seed’ in our pelvis, at the height of the first chakra (color red).

The pomegranate plays an important role in the well-known Greek myth about the abduction of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, by Hades, the god of the underworld. A story that is seen as an explanation for the changing seasons, but that stands at a deeper level for a kundalini awakening.

The Rider-Waite-Smith Empress (1909)

Persephone (the kundalini) is taken against her will by the god Hades to the underworld (the kundalini is “locked up” in the pelvis). Demeter is inconsolable and goes into mourning, as a result of which all the greenery on earth stops growing (spiritual aridity, no longer experiencing a connection with God). Zeus, the father of Persephone, orders Hades to bring her back. Hades, however, tempts Persephone to eat six seeds (at the sixth chakra the sacred wedding takes place) of a pomegranate. As a result she has to return to the underworld for a few months every year. Persephone is freed from the underworld (the pelvis) by the god Hermes, the god with the caduceus, that stands for a kundalini awakening.

Artist Frederic Leighton has incorporated the deeper meaning of this myth in his painting from 1891 (right). We see Hermes with one hand holding the caduceus and his other arm is around Persephone. This depicts the merging of the inner masculine and the feminine. This interpretation is confirmed by both hands of Persephone, that make the sign of the sacred marriage (2=1).

“The return of Persephone”,
Frederic Leighton (1891)

Detail

The transparent scarf of Mary runs from the pomegranate, which lies on the lap of the baby Jesus to the head, the path of the kundalini energy to the crown. (Neri di Bicci, 1450)

The RWS Empress is sitting on an orange-red cloth and leans against an orange cushion. These colors refer to the dwelling place of the Empress (the kundalini) in humans: in the pelvis, at the level of the first and second chakra (red and orange respectively)..

This interpretation is confirmed by the contours of a serpent on the pillow, rising from the pelvis.

The Empress detail

Kundalini

Kundalini-slang

The Empress detail

The pineal gland

On the right-hand side of the card we see a stream of water flowing from a tree, that is shaped like a pine cone, to the feet of the Empress. This water symbolizes the kundalini energy that flows from the pelvis to the pineal gland.

The color white of the dress the Empress wears represents the feminine. In alchemy, the colors white and red represent the opposites of duality that must be brought to a unity. Often the metaphor is used of a marriage between a queen dressed in white and a king dressed in red (see above).

The RWS Emperor

From the alchemical manuscript Aureum Vellus (1598)

The heart shape of the shield on the RWS card, and the symbol of the planet Venus (on the shield, on the black pillow, and the pomegranates), are elements that refer to duality, of which the Empress represents one half:
Empress – emperor
Female – male
Venus – Mars
Heart (feeling) – head (thinking)

The RWS Empress also represents a complete spiritual awakening: the scepter, the crown with twelve stars, and the laurel wreath on her head, express this. A scepter stands for authority / mastery. The scepter on this card has a globe at the top, which refers to dominion over matter. The stars on the head of the empress have the shape of a hexagram (six-pointed star); the symbol that expresses the merger of the polarities.

The laurel wreath (a wreath of laurel branches) refers to mastery over the sexual urges. This meaning is derived from the Greek myth of Apollo and Daphne. The god Apollo pursues the river nymph Daphne (a name that means Laurel), driven by lust. She desperately calls on the help of her father, the river god Penues. He turns his daughter into a laurel tree, through which she escapes Apollo’s persistent advances. Apollo turns the branches of the laurel tree into a wreath, which then becomes a symbol of chastity.

The moral of this myth is that the kundalini energy can only awaken and grow into a “tree of life” that reaches to the crown of man, if the sexual energy is preserved. A laurel tree is green all year round. This symbolizes the immortality of man after a completed kundalini awakening..

The Thoth Empress (1969)

Thoth Tarot

The Thoth Empress is also full of symbolism. According to Aleister Crowley, the Empress stands for both the lowest level of creation (matter) and the highest, spiritual level. Her throne of water spirals represents her birth from water; a reference to the goddess Venus. Water is a feminine element, just like the moon. At a deeper level, birth from water refers to a kundalini awakening.

The lotus flower in the right hand of the Empress is a classical symbol for spiritual perfection. The blue lotus was seen as the holiest of all flowers in Ancient Egypt. In his Book of Thoth, Crowley calls her “the blue Lotus of Isis, a symbol of the feminine.”

On the shield at the feet of the Empress we see a double-headed eagle. Usually the heads are shown turned outwards. Crowley has chosen to turn the heads towards each other, and to put a fusion of sun and moon between them, thereby reinforcing the symbolism of unification.

The pelican who feeds her young with her own blood, on the bottom of the card, is also a classic metaphor, from alchemy and Christianity, among others. Crowley herself explains this as Mother Nature who feeds her children (us). In Christianity, the self-wounding pelican stands for Christ’s self-sacrifice for the salvation of humanity. In alchemy, the pelican stands for the self-sacrifice of the spiritual aspirant: the sacrifice of the ego – and the suffering that comes with it – to realize the divine.

Conclusion

As a feminine aspect of God, the Empress resides in our pelvis (the kundalini energy) as well as in creation. When we look around us, everything that we can see, and everything that grows and flourishes, is “the Empress.”

The Empress also stands for the “completion of nature”. The tradition of alchemy sees nature / man as not “finished”. A process of sublimation (deification) is still needed (the Magnum Opus). The crown and scepter of the Empress represent a completed process of transformation, and mastership over matter and the animal instincts.

Right: reaching the Empress is not easy, as this alchemical illustration shows beautifully in the language of symbolism: a steep mountain with thorn bushes has to be climbed.

Brighid, the mother goddess of Ireland.

The Tarot of the Golden Serpent
(Sebastian Haines, 2009, www.thegamecrafter.com/games/tarot-of-the-golden-serpent)

A card full of symbols that express both the material and the spiritual side of the Empress, including a scepter with Cupid; symbol for the (divine) love, which forms the basis of all creation.

The Fairytale Tarot
(Yoshi Yoshitani, 2019, www.yoshiyoshitani.com)

Mary is depicted here as “Our Lady of Guadalupe”, one of her Catholic titles. In the symbolic layer of the Bible, Mary personifies both the feminine in man and the feminine aspect of God (the kundalini), just like the Empress of the Tarot. An example is her presence at the Wedding in Cana (a metaphor for the sacred marriage), where Jesus turns water into wine (a metaphor for God-realization). Read more about the symbolism in the Bible in my book ‘John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ’.

Mythical Tarot
(Kayti Welsh-Stewart, Ravynne Phelan, 2016,
www.ravynnephelan.com, www.animantras.com)

The Empress is surrounded by the five elements of Chinese philosophy: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. On her dress are symbols that refer to her spiritual meaning: a tree (of life), the sun and the moon, and a stream of water. She holds an egg in her hands: a symbol of fertility and (re)birth.

Rich Black Tarot
(Rich Black, 2019, www.rblack.org)

Nature’s beauty and fertility are concisely expressed by the image of a flower with a butterfly and the sun. A butterfly is also a classic symbol for transformation.

Tarot of the Wild Unknown
(Kim Krans, 2012, www.thewildunknown.com)

A card with beautiful, powerful symbolism. The tree stands for (the growing power of) nature, but can also be interpreted as a “tree of life”: the “kundalini tree” that grows in man from the pelvis to the crown. The color red suggests (kundalini) fire. The moon is a symbol for the feminine and for duality.

Emblemata Tarot
(Morena Poltronieri, 2018)

This card is a reproduction of a 16th century alchemical emblem.

This article was published in Paravisie Magazine (May ’19). Copyright Anne-Marie Wegh 2019

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

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Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres

2022-03-24T09:50:47+00:00
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