Mother Nature.

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From the MST

The Empress and her consort, the Emperor, appear to be two of the more straightforward cards of the Major Arcana. They are authority figures, Queen and King, Mother and Father. While the High Priestess and the Magician respectively represent the abstract concepts of female and male, the Empress and Emperor are more real: Woman and Man. She is the “womanliest,” and he is the “manliest,” of all the cards.

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TdM

Like all of the cards, the Empress does have several levels of meaning, despite her fairly straightforward nature. The absolute monarch “Queen” isn’t particularly applicable in this day and age, and “Woman” is incredibly generic, so while both of these words are accurate to the card, they aren’t very useful in divination. In her most mundane sense, the Empress is therefore often considered the mother of the querent, or else some other feminine authority in the querent’s life.

The Empress is by extension symbolic of the archetypal attributes of the Mother, and these generally fall into two categories. When she’s in a good mood, the Empress is loving, caring, and nurturing – the epitome of positive maternal instinct. When she’s not, she is overbearing – the parent who “suffocates” her child. The devouring mother is an archetype that often manifests in myth as a terrifying dragon, illustrating the devastating power of the Empress when she’s at her worst.

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She is Ishtar – Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth – RWS

Though she is capable of destruction, she is equally capable of creation, and I think many would agree that while the Empress may have some potential negative qualities, she is benevolent more often than not. She is a primal creative force. As the mother, she is a symbol of fertility, and so is associated with the earth. She is Nature herself, Great Mother to us all.

Unlike the High Priestess and the Magician before her, both of whom are also creative forces, the Empress is concrete. The Magician is the initial spark of inspiration, and the Priestess is the incubator of wisdom. Both are ethereal beings. The Empress, as the 3rd card in the progression, is the initial manifestation of these abstractions. She is fertile, and she fosters growth. I think this is her most important function, and though she is not the first card in the progression, in a way she represents the true beginning of things. The seeds of creation have taken root and begun to bear fruit. We now have tangible progress for the first time. It just needs a little nurturing.

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The Fool’s Journey.

Mr. Crowley had a thing about “aeons”. Humankind progresses through them, said he, at a rate of an aeon per every couple millennia, give or take a few years off the ends. So far our kind has known three: the Aeon of the Mother, the Aeon of the Father, and the Aeon of the Child. We are currently experiencing the latter; in fact, we have only very recently entered into it. The aeon is young.

The names of these aeons echo the primal archetypes of Mother and Father, with the Child, or self, being a product of some magical fusion of the two. This has psychoanalysis written all over it, and insofar as myths are considered projections of humanity’s collective subconscious, they portray an almost infinite number of interpretations on just what exactly it means to be the Child.

More often than not, creation myths equated the Father archetype with the sun and sky and the Mother archetype with the moon and earth. Prehistoric peoples told stories about how their environments came to be the way they were through variations of these archetypes and their interactions.

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The world is split in two. There is the Earth beneath, and there is the Sky above. We exist on a thin margin where these two vast entities meet.

But we do exist.

Which means that there are three entities, not two! There is the sky and the earth, and there is us to perceive them as separate from each other. This revelation raises two questions:

  1. Could there be more?
  2. What are we?

From one springs two, from two springs three, and from three springs everything. Certainly there is more; it’s only a matter of awakening consciousness. But that magic number three, what makes it so generative?

Not only does three hold the key to unlocking the multitudes, without it there is nothing to recognize one and two as separate from each other. Without the perspective of three, neither of them can truly be said to exist.

It appears that, whatever we are, we are in a very delicate place between oblivion and infinity. Whatever we are, we instinctively try to escape the former and run toward the latter. Our species does this on the material plane, because we reproduce.

Like the world apparently consists of both Earth and Sky, humanity physically consists of woman and man. It takes two to make three. Mother and Father come together to make Child. Of course, the Child grows and can possibly become either a mother or a father, thus renewing the cycle, but as an individual, he or she is an entity unto itself, separate from all else. The Child is therefore symbolic of the self, the individual. We are each and all of us the Child.

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The Magician is one, the Priestess is two, and the Empress is three. Taken as a creation myth, this makes plenty of sense. The Magician is the Sun or Sky Father, the Priestess is the Lunar or Earth Mother, and the Empress is the Child. She is life itself, and her card usually features a combination of heavenly and earthly symbols of fruitfulness. Sometimes she is pregnant. But the Tarot is primarily concerned with humanity’s dilemmas, not its origins. The cards are made by humans for humans – whether for games or divination, it matters not – to help alleviate for a moment the burden of conscious existence. In this context, the Empress is certainly not the Child, even if she might be a child of the High Priestess and Magician.

The Child is not card number three, but the third card. The Priestess is actually the third card in the progression, after the Fool and the Magician, but because the Fool doesn’t have a numerical designation, he falls in place as the card separate from One and Two. The Fool, then, is the Child.

Eden Gray wrote that the Fool “represents the soul of everyman, which, after it is clothed in a body, appears on earth and goes through the life experiences depicted in the 21 cards of the Major Arcana, sometimes thought of as archetypes of the unconscious.”* She called this the “Fool’s Journey,” which mirrors the Hero’s Journey myths.

Hero’s Journey myths are not about the beginnings of the world or the conception of the Child. They follow instead the Child’s development. The core Mother and Father archetypes manifest in these myths as various people (including biological or adoptive parents), creatures, gods, or forces, benevolent or otherwise. When these are benevolent, they help or guide the Hero in some way, often giving a gift or crucial piece of advice to be used during times of serious crisis. Such times arise when the Hero must face the malevolent manifestations of the archetypal parents. The Hero’s success depends on how well he uses the help of the former to overcome the obstacles presented by the latter.

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Clockwise from right: the Juggler, the Fool, the Popess, and the World – OWT

These are stories of nature versus nurture. We are the products of our environments and societies, nurtured by our educations and upbringings, and yes, our parents. Each and every one of us is the biological product of a father and a mother. There is no escaping this fact of life. But we blaze our own trails. We live our own lives, and we make our own choices. It is our nature to strive for better. We yearn for apotheosis.

In Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom Rachel Pollack prefaced her chapters on the Major Arcana with a discussion of the four cards pictured above.** The Fool, number 0, and the World, number 21, represent the before and after shots of the Hero. The Fool exists in the bliss of unconsciousness, and the World dancer exists in the bliss of enlightened consciousness. In between is the journey of life. To get from 0 to 21, the Hero must be born into the imperfect world of opposites, the realms of the Magician (1) and the Priestess (2), and work through stages towards reconciling those opposites in his or her psyche, to integrate the disparate elements of his or her own self, to become “whole” – separate from Mother and Father, yet made of them both. Opposition is only an illusion, and it is the Fool’s purpose to remove the veil of segregation from over his eyes. The path of the individual is paradoxically the path to realizing unity with all, and it is this path that is depicted by the Major Arcana, as walked by the Fool. The key to understanding the cards in this light is to recognize the three fundamental archetypes that they present. From three springs everything else, after all.

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*From page 228 of Gray’s A Complete Guide to the Tarot, published in 1970. Gray may or may not have been the one to coin the term “Fool’s Journey”; either way, it’s the earliest use of the term in my library.

**She used the RWS to illustrate, not the OWT. Page 13.