Hebrew Letter: Daleth (door)
Key Words: Venus, bounty, unconditional love, fertility, (re)birth, connection between spirit and matter, nature
In a tradition so dominated by male energy, it’s refreshing to contemplate the Empress. The quintiessential representation of femininity, the Empress is the doorway connecting the earthly and higher realms. Poised between the moon and earth, gazing toward the dove (representation of the future) and looking away from the sparrow (the past), the pregnant goddess offers one a firm and nurturing ground to stand upon.
The Thoth version of this card is saturated in birds: not only the dove and sparrow, but the double headed eagle (representing unification of one’s disparate aspects), the maltese falcon (the union of spiritual and material), and the swan feeding its young (unconditional love). Birds are one of the few creatures able to connect with the earth and the sky depending on their will. A fitting symbol, then, for a card representing the unification of the above and below.
Another interpretation of the birds could be as divine messengers: “This is obvious, because there is no direct message which has been given to man like that which is borne by woman; but she does not herself carry its interpretation” (Waite).
But even the card of the feminine archetype is not without male energy. The phallic stemmed lotus is held before the heart chakra, the swan doubles as a sign of satisfied desire, and the duality of the earth and moon represent “The creative principle and the receptive principle, having, by their mutual action, given birth to the transforming principle, a complete entity is created” (Tarot of the Bohemians, p. 103). It is the mixing of these energies that gives birth to a complete being, by which the “Divine becomes Human” (ibid). Moreover, the moon (the unconscious) and the earth (conscious) are combined to create a unified energy within that is then capable of being harnessed. Crowley describes this union through the metaphor of salt: “the inactive principle of Nature; Salt is a matter which must be energized by sulfur to maintain the whirling equilibrium of the Universe.”
Here, I’m reminded of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.” Perhaps it’s a stretch, but it seems to me that the Empress represents the savory essence of life.
In a few of the resources consulted, there was an undertone of simplicity to the Empress, of dealing with the physical and tangible, but phrased in such a way that felt derogatory: lustful, emotional rather than thoughtful, and “basic life.” The Empress’ strength is quite different than that of the Emperor’s, and though each card has both positive and negative aspects (which perhaps is what this language was attempting to get at), it would be foolish to underestimate the innate power of the feminine strength. One only need see a hurricane or look to the ingenious evolution and survival of the Cheetah to be reminded of this.
The Hebrew letter Daleth, gate, is also of great importance to this card. I know I’ve mentioned the film before, but once again Polanski’s The Ninth Gate springs to mind:
“The opening in the arch behind her can be seen as a gateway to heaven. This beautiful physical form merely hints at something more beautiful, much greater, which is hidden in it. Hermann Hesse described ‘every phenomenon on earth as an image, saying that all images are open gates through which the soul can enter the inner world when it is ready. Here you and I and everything else are all one. Every person comes to such an open gate at some time in life, but few go through the gate or give up the pretty illusions on this side for what we may sense lies within the reality of the inner.” (Ziegler, p.21. Hesse quote from Die Marchen (The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse).
One must walk the path of the finite and the infinite, passing through the Empress, on the path to Binah (understanding or the godhead). But we must first give up our “pretty illusions” before going through that gate.