The word “Empress” originates from the Latin Imperatrix, imperare, “command” and denotes a replacement for the “emperor” legitimately designated to articulate a feminine idea.
The Indo-European root (Per) for “priest/priestess” has almost the same spelling and sound as for “emperor/empress”, although there are separate words, which in this other context means “to produce” or “to procure.”
Although the Arcana of the Empress remains, ideally, a distinctive depiction of the Earth Goddess (the sentience of nature’s sacredness to the utmost extent), it is essential to note the fact that just like the High Priestess, it has varying delineative patterns.
Therefore, the Empress is shown in this card in her most general manifestation melding the highest pure quality with the lowest material quantity.
The Orb and the Cross (Globus Cruciger) represent dominion over the world, covering everything terrestrial and subject to change.
On a more appropriate symbolic aspect, the Empress guards both the Entrance to the Earthly Paradise, but also guards the earth or the domain of manifestation as an embodiment of sovereign aspects that the Emperor also fuses.
A detailed representation here for this Arcana will not deal necessarily with a specific earth goddess; hence, a circumspect approach and an even more complex affinity with this card is with the Roman goddess Juno.
Some parallels concerning the relationship between Juno as a Celestial goddess and her different epithets among the one that entitles her as Juno Regina, meaning Queen or Empress are evident, denoting principally the honorific representation equaling the “Queen of the gods”. Moreover, just like the Empress in Crowley’s depiction, she is associated with the Waxing moon, and seemingly she is also the deity which presides over fertility, marriages, love, all related to Spring, as it can be observed in other Tarot systems (Rider-Waite) who introduced the quality of this card as the embodiment of Spring.
It is worth mentioning that Juno is a celestial goddess, and not an earth or Chthonic goddess.
To be relatively brief, the Chthonic goddess, as the name suggests, is specifically related to the underworld, as well as to death, to the life cycle of mankind and to all the figurative language of fertility, life, death and rebirth.
The power of the Chthonic goddess derives not from her majestic status, as does her Celestial sister, but from her inextricable connection to humanity.
To the contrary, a 78-card deck (originating from the Tarot de Besançon, which itself comes from the Tarot of Marseilles), is the Swiss 1JJ Tarot deck that replaces the Popess and Pope of the Tarot of Marseilles with the figures of Juno and Jupiter.
The Roman Goddess Juno
In Roman religion, the role of Juno is complex and enigmatic.
She had a large number of essential and distinct names, representing her various facets and functions.
Various and often incongruous interpretations have given rise to the multiplicity and ambiguity of her personality. Her association with the principle of vital power, the plenitude of vital energy “iuno” (the vital spirit of a woman), eternal youthfulness is immediately acknowledged.
Juno is not an imported Greek deity, but her pre-Trojan bonds with Italy offers her pre-eminence as the manifestation of the Etruscan goddess Uni.
Juno was among the Dii Consentes, the twelve principal deities of the Roman pantheon.
To portray the most significant aspects that have been observed is her epithet “Regina” and her arcane association with the gateways.
She had been called Lucina, Mater and Regina in Rome since most ancient times.
In accordance with her frequent epithet Lucina, (She-Who-Brings-to-Light), it identifies two interrelated aspects of Juno’s function: the cyclical restoration of time in the waxing and waning phases of the moon, and the continuance of fecundity and birth (here another connotation attached to the Empress Arcana shown as pregnant in many Tarot decks).
Moreover, Juno is represented with a matronly allure in some depictions, giving off a stern and majestic look, as befits her sovereign position. She naturally wears a goatskin cloak and carries a spear and a shield, although there are other portrayals with her wearing a crown of lilies and roses, holding a sceptre.
At an early date, she was matched with Hera, and myths of Hera were told about Juno. Juno’s first temple was historically established by the Etruscan kings in Rome, the Tarquinii, who recognized both the corresponding Etruscan deity, Uni, and the Hera of Greece.
Hera and Juno are the deified essence of women, the Everlasting Feminine, but principally marriage and childbirth goddesses.
In ancient Rome, white lilies embellished the altars of Juno, and in Greece, lilies were devoted to Hera. Both goddesses protect women and children, granting white lilies the symbolic meaning of protection and shelter.
The White Lily (Lilium candidum) is also one of the saintly attributes of the Virgin Mary and a symbol of chastity and purity, as well as the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Although the search for the origins of the stylized lily as a multivalent symbol extends as far back as the study of the hieroglyphics and iconography of ancient Egypt and Rome, the lily truly flourished as the now-familiar abstracted fleur-de-lis in medieval France.
The fleur-de-lis, which occurs in the tapestry at the feet of Crowley’s Empress, is the quintessential emblem of the Virgin.
Furthermore, Juno assumed vast roles as her cult spread and became, like Hera, the city’s highest feminine deity.
Juno became undeniably the divine guardian of the Civitas (Latin: city-state), and of the nation as a whole, representing both a sovereign and a fertility character often relegated to a military one as well.
A significant range of essential and varied epithets, names and designations were borne by Juno representing different aspects and functions of the goddess.
Moreover, she was named Februalis, Februata (Queen-of-Love’s-Fever), Februa, Februtis associated with the rites of purification and fertility of February and therefore with the rejuvenation of nature through the coming Spring.
For the Romans, the month of February represented the last month of the year.
Nevertheless, her name is the eponym of June (the propitious time for marriages) in the Western calendar.
On the possible connections that can be shaped here around the Roman goddess Juno, as the protector deity of marriages and married women, and that of the rites and rituals is her association with the sacred feast of the Lupercalia.
In fact, the amiculum Iunonis, or Juno’s gown, is the name given to the ceremonial instruments used by Luperci in the process of symbolic fertilization of young Roman women, namely leather strings made from the skin of the goat sacrificed.
Juno counts among her sacred animals the peacock. Some Tarot decks showing the Empress with a peacock among her sacred animals.
Juno is sometimes shown armed where She has become the chief deity of a warlike community.
In several towns in ancient Italy, the epithet of Juno in Lanuvium as Sespeis Mater Regina as the divine protector of the nation, who shows a sovereign and fertile character often connected to a military character.
She was called Sospita (The Saviour /The Preserver) in the Roman Temple of the Palatine Hill.
Her appellative in Lanuvium was IUNONE SEISPITEI MATRI REGINAE (“Juno the Preserver Queen of Mothers”) implying that in essence there is unity between fertility, regality and purification.
A connection here, if it may be permitted is between the Latin word Matri which means mother and the Sanskrit Mātṛ (मातृ, “mother”) which refers to the same aspect.
Moreover, other appellatives included: Goddess of labour and delivery; Answerer of prayers; Saviour of women in all their perils; Protectress of confinements; She Who is incarnate in the Fighting Spirit of a mother defending her offspring.
Later Juno became: Saviour of the state; Liberator.
Some scholars suggest that Juno’s original spouse was Janus, not Jupiter.
She was approached as Antevorta and Postvorta at her festival in early January, the goddess who looks forward and backwards.
Juno’s gate-keeping symbolic representation became an androgynous Janua-Janus as the Roman religion became further patriarchal; later it became entirely masculinized as the two-faced God Janus to whom all gateways were consecrated, and here, some additional remarks will be brought into view for the Arcana of the Emperor.
In Roman antiquity, “Kalends of January” (the first day of each month was known as “kalendae”) was a solemn festival devoted to Juno and Janus, in which the Romans pledged vows to these deities and exchanged gifts as a display of fellowship with each other.
In Juno’s temples, the Goddess was personified as the “Gate of Heaven” (Janua Coeli) with two faces looking in both directions—At birth, the outer passage of the Gate and at death, the reverse passage.
The Terrestrial Paradise
Perhaps the subtitle is longer than it should, but it deals with the inherent and interwoven meaning of the letter Daleth, the Goddess, and the Arcana of the Empress rather than attempting to disentangle each of the subjects separately.
To put it briefly, the Terrestrial Paradise is the home of Adam and Eve before they disobeyed God and were cast out.
The word Paradise comes from the Avestan “Pairidaeza”, but also has cognates in the Hebrew “Pardes”, the Greek ” Paradeisos”, and of continuity the Latin “Paradisus”.
In Sanskrit “Paradesha” also means “distant region”, referring to Agartha.
One of the most enigmatic passages in literature that attracted earlier and ensuing elaboration on Dante’s Divine Comedy is his encounter with an elusive, radiant and young woman who appears to be the Queen of the Terrestrial Paradise. Her name is Matelda as Dante reveals in the final cantos of the “Purgatory”.
Dante sees Matelda on the opposite bank of a stream shortly after Dante, Virgil, and Statius enter the Earthly Paradise at the top of the mountain of the Purgatory. She is gathering flowers, leading him to a holy ceremony and she tells Dante that he is in the Garden of Eden.
What is of significant importance here is that Matelda grants the access between the Terrestrial Paradise and the Celestial Paradise where Dante meets Beatrice.
Here two significant instances attached to the symbolism of both the Priestess (Beatrice) and the Empress (Matelda as the Queen of the terrestrial Paradise).
The scholars’ elaborations proved that Dante was alluding to Matelda, a countess that lived in his period, known as Countess Matilda of Tuscany (1046-1115). However, even other elaborations came to prove that Dante was alluding to many other instances of Matelda’s name, which, endeavouring to present them here, would make the case of another study.
The Purgatory is placed on a mountain, and the Terrestrial Paradise is located on top of it. The Mountain, as the Axis Mundi is known to connect the Underworld, the world, and the heavens, just like the Empress, is the doorway to the heavens.
The Empress grants access to the Terrestrial Paradise only to the initiated, to those who according to their inherent possibilities are capable of achieving a state of regeneration attaining the state of the “Primordial Man” – Adam Kadmon.
The pictorial design of the symbolic images in Thoth’s Tarot deck (and others) for this Arcana is abundant in various symbols.
What is particularly important to put into view, however, is the hypotheses about the “gynecomorphic” birth of ores and, therefore, the analogy between caves and mines and the womb of the Mother Earth.
The relationship between the Mountain and the cave is that both of them are taken as symbols of spiritual centres, being all axial symbols amongst which the Mountain is, in fact, one of the most important.
As the Mountain symbolizes the Axis Mundi, so the cave can be a concrete representation of the Terrestrial Paradise.
The seclusion in a cave is also assimilated with the return to the womb.
Attested in prehistoric times, the ritualistic role offered by the caves may also be interpreted as a spiritual return to the Matrix of the Earth mother, which would also help to understand the burials in the caves as well as the rites of initiation conducted in all of those areas.
More especially if the return occurs into a cave located in the mountains; this equates exactly with another representation of the Terrestrial Paradise through which the Axis Mundi converges.
The cave, either inside or beneath the Mountain, is situated on this Axis.
Incidentally, another comparison with the bees also tended to be associated with the Underworld. This was likely because natural hives are often located in fissures against rock walls or caverns, which were imagined to be entrances to the Underworld.
Another association with the gynecomorphic aspect of fertility and gestation of the Earth Mother is that she nurtures and matures in her womb the necessary nourishment both for bodily and spiritual conditions.
The holy rivers of Mesopotamia were known to have their origins in the generative organ of the Great Goddess.
If streams, mines, and cave galleries are analogous to the Mother Earth’s vulva, then all that resides in the earth’s womb is alive, but in a state of gestation. In other words, the mined ores are embryos in some way: they develop slowly, as if in adherence to a temporal rhythm other than that of vegetable and animal species.
Ancient metallurgists and various guilds, working with properties contained in the ‘womb’ of the earth, valued the ores across ancient Mesopotamia to Egypt and India, then to the Middle Ages, and continued under various forms today, deprived more or less of their essential meanings.
Here, the apparent reference is of the symbolism attached to the Empress’s association with Salt, which without any doubt the Salt is of the earth (“the salt of the earth”) which, similarly to other elements from the mineral kingdom, are found deep into the “womb” of the earth.
The Empress is called Sal Veneris (the Salt of Venus), the anima vegetativa (vegetable spirit) corresponding to the alchemical Sulphur.
Salt is the inactive principle of Nature and one of the three alchemical energy sources; Salt is an element which must be energized by Sulfur in order to preserve the pulsing rhythm of the Universe.
A primary alchemical process is depicted by the Empress, the Shield and the Pelican, where the Salt is the Empress, and the Salt is divided into the White Tincture (Shield) and the “impurities” (Pelican).
In ancient Egypt, references can be found in the Pyramid Texts on the relationship of the Pelican symbolizing the divinity as the “mother of the king” a position that can only be attributed to a goddess in religious documents. In non-royal funerary papyri, it has been found that the Pelican has the power to prophesy a safe passage for a deceased person in the Underworld.
The open beak of the Pelican is also associated with the desire of the deceased to leave the burial chamber and reach out the rays of the sun, probably an analogy between the long cavernous beak of the Pelican and the tomb’s shaft.
Some remarks on the symbolism of the Bees
One of the symbols that more or less captures the attention of the onlooker, in Crowley’s depiction, is that of the bees placed on the garments of the Empress.
The bee or its symbol is placed on the Emperor as well, but it is worth mentioning it here because it relates to the title of the Queen.
Presumably, what connects the Empress with Spring and nature, is also the cyclicity of life and death of the bees and the beehive.
For the Egyptians, the voices of the souls were compared to the buzzing of the bees.
The bees were also considered to originate from water and entitled as the great “Givers of Life”. When Ra wept, and his tears fell upon the earth, they became golden bees which produced honey, wax, and pollination as rewards.
In ancient Crete, the Bee Goddess had a central place; the Minoans portrayed her as the “Queen Bee.”
The Minoan civilization flourished from around 3,000 BC to 1,100 BC (although Neolithic cultures on Crete go back as far as 7,000 BC) (referring to the legendary King Minos who is synonymous with the Labyrinth and the Minotaur). Here, the Great Goddess was venerated as a sign of life, death, and rebirth, perhaps as an initiatory walking meditation inscribed in the mystery of the Labyrinth.
The Temple Palace of Knossos is known as the religious and administrative centre of this culture. Its walls and courtyards are decorated with dolphins, priestesses with double-headed spears, or arms with snakes, roses and lilies, and depictions of bulls and bees, all Goddess symbols.
Bees played an essential role in Greek and Roman religious traditions. The bees, and the honey they produce, have many symbolic meanings that have found their way featuring in many stories of the Greek and Roman gods. Jupiter, the husband of Juno, owns a long-lasting myth in conjunction with the bees.
Jupiter is the consort of Juno as Zeus is for Hera. Both Jupiter and Zeus have myths associated with their connection with the bees, which what is sufficing to say here, is that Zeus bore the epithet ” Melissaios”, as a cognate for the feminine term “Melissae.”
The instinctive life of the bees, (in which they hunt for the nectar of flowers, pollinate them, hovering in connection to the sun, providing honey with its fortifying, therapeutic and incorruptible essence) has always been a profound and ineffable mystery, its profundities pointing to an alchemical process of transformation in human beings as well.
In addition to her mandate of fertility and nurturing, the Empress describes two functions: as the guardian of the Entrance into the Earthly Paradise and the function of presiding over the cyclicity of generation and death as the presiding Goddess over the earthly realm.
In another line of thought, the card of the Empress symbolizes the door or gate from which the Entrance to this life is made, as into the Garden of Venus; and then the path that leads from it to that which surpasses that domain, and therefore the secret known to the High Priestess is revealed only to the qualified.
The most representative fact of this trait is strictly in view with the Hebrew letter Daleth which means “door” / “gate”.
In Gematria, the Hebrew letter represents number four. This quaternary number represents the vetero-testamentary Matriarchs ( mothers of the tribes of Israel: Sarah, Rebeckah, Rachel, and Leah. It is necessary to add that these four women convey a prominent position in the unfolding of the Abrahamic faiths in the womanhood hierarchy, especially linked with the Book of Genesis.
It’s entirely worth noting that the Greek Delta, which also comes down from the Phoenician alphabet, is related to the Daleth letter and carries the same analogous symbolism associated with the triangle. Pausanias (II, 2. 1) refers to a place in Argos known as “Delta”, considered to be Demeter’s sanctuary.
It is acknowledged that the Delta of the Greeks was a symbol for the woman.
Because of its ideal shape and because it reflected the archetype of universal fertility, the Pythagoreans viewed the triangle as the “arche Geneseoas”. Its original sense was “matrix” or “source” referring to “vulva” as some scholars proclaim.
As the path to the Supernals, the Hebrew letter Daleth,i.e. the Empress, as has been said in the Hermetic Qabbalah, connects the two sephiroth Binah and Chokhmah.
Therefore, the Empress represents the parental couple’s (Mother and Father) journey to unity; the passageway on which their contact takes place. In this particular reference, the Empress is proclaimed as the “Daughter of the Mighty Ones.”
All-Father and All-Mother, Chokmah (Wisdom) and Binah (Understanding) are linked by the path of Daleth; this is not to suggest one emerged before the other, considering the number series, but rather that Chokmah and Binah are interdependent and synchronous.
The Waite deck and many others thereby indicate the Empress as a pregnant woman, in a state of incubation and passivity arising from the fusion of Chokmah and Binah’s powers.
Consequently, the Empress is the universal womb where all manifestation is nurtured. It is a transitional state of energy which has been called the “Gate of Paradise” for the above and below.