II. Imperatrix - Basileia - Empress (2, 3)

Magistra Sceptri - Mistress of the Sceptre

Magna Mater omnium nutrix (Great Mother, nurse of all)
Aphrodite, Venus; Demeter, Ceres; Hera, Juno.
1+2 = Love+Female (Water Hexactys); 2+1 = Couple+Female (Fire Hexactys).
Astragali: 1+3+1 = Love+Ruler+Female.
Greek Letter = Gamma:
Genesis = generation, production, creation, manner of birth.
::: Name: K'un = the Receptive. Image: Earth. The Mother, associated with receptivity, docility, frugality and support (tree trunk, wagon). North in the Earlier Heaven.


The Empress sits on a golden throne, the armrests of which are emerald lions. On this bright spring day she is surrounded by fields of wheat, and from behind her a stream forms a pool to her left; cypress trees grow in the background on both sides. In front of her right leg a peacock stands with tail spread.

The Empress is a young woman with a benevolent expression, rosy complexion, white arms, and shoulder-length, wavy hair the color of ripened grain. She has the ample breasts and distended abdomen of a mother-to-be. She wears a rich green peplos (loose robe), decorated with pomegranates, which partially exposes her left breast, as though she has been nursing.

Around her waist is a rose-red zona (girdle), richly embroidered with the evergreen myrtle and its pink and white flowers; a reddish-purple himation (mantle) is draped over her left arm and legs. A multicolored cloud shimmers like a rainbow around her head.

The Empress wears the polos, a tall, cylindrical gold crown, which is adorned with seven star-shaped diamonds and the images of three ears of corn. She wears a glistening white veil, which covers the top of the polos, and hangs down its back and sides to her shoulders. She has golden ear-rings with three drop-shaped gems, a necklace of twelve pearls, and silver serpent bracelets. In her right hand she holds a glowing sceptre surmounted by a cuckoo or dove. Her left hand holds on edge a round, copper disk emblazoned in silver with the astrological sign of Venus, a silver uroboros clockwise around the rim; a silvery liquid drips from the disk's lip onto the lion-armrest, which supports it.


Eternal Mother, mistress of the grain, Sustaining growth with either milk or rain, Engulfs again her children, whereupon The self-consuming wheel of life goes on. Within her womb we all descend again!


The Empress represents the characteristically feminine aspects of consciousness, the lunar illumination, which merges rather than separates. She is the First Mother "in actu," who creates, preserves, nurtures, conserves, and organizes growth and development - all with conscious awareness. Her activity is "mothering" in all its manifestations, and this trump represents all the ideas suggested by Mothers - negative as well as positive. The Empress represents activity that flows with Mother Nature, the universal processes of material birth, development and decline.

The Empress is the bright side of the High Priestess; that is, she manifests in the light those tendencies that the Priestess conceals, and gives them living, material embodiment. They are the two sides of the moon: light and dark, the opposite sides of the same Eternal Feminine. This is shown by the water flowing on the Empress's left, the side of the subconscious, for this stream has its source in the mighty river Ocean, the subconscious sea, from whose hidden waters emerges the High Priestess, and which irrigates the lush efflorescence of the Empress's garden.

The Empress can be terrifying, for she is the Queen who must devour her mate, the Old King, reducing him to primary matter, raw material for her desire to mold and reshape, and so beget the Young King. She is the all-consuming side of Nature, who destroys so that she may create anew.


The Empress is primarily the archetypal Mother, corresponding to the Emperor, the archetypal Father. However, it's important to keep in mind that these archetypal images relate to each other in multiple ways. Thus, when the High Priestess and High Priest mate, they become the Empress and Emperor, the archetypal parents. Conversely, the parents give birth to the High Priestess and High Priest, the archetypal virgin children. For example, Demeter, the Empress, is an alter ego of Kore (Persephone), the High Priestess (OCD s.v. Demeter). The High Priestess becomes the Empress when her pregnancy becomes visible, i.e., when in the waxing lunar light subconscious content is exposed to awareness (Jung, MC 356). Similarly, Juno was a moon goddess and associated with Diana (Larousse 203), for the Empress and High Priestess are alter egos (Nichols 89-90). They are simultaneously mother, sister, daughter, beloved, heavenly goddess and chthonic Baubo, as the Emperor and High Priest are simultaneously father, brother, son, lover, heavenly god and chthonic demon (Jung, Aion 12-3); their union is necessarily incestuous (Jung, MC 298-300).

Imperatrix (Empress), like Imperator (Emperor) derives from the Latin verb impero, to command, to order, to organize production, to rule or have authority; its deeper meaning is illustrated by the root verb paro, which means to produce, to provide for, to supply, to prepare, to plan. However, the Empress's primary concern is material welfare of her charges, as opposed to the Emperor, whose concern is their spiritual welfare (von Franz 214). These functions of the Empress correspond to Demeter as Thesmophoros (Law Giver) (Larousse 150), and Hera as Queen of the Gods (cf. Case 59).

Hera and Juno are deities of woman, especially of marriage and sex. The hieros gamos (sacred marriage) was celebrated in Hera's honor. Juno was connected with the moon (cf. the Empress and High Priestess as alter egos). (OCD s.v.), and her name has been related to a woman's iuno, or guardian spirit, who watches over her, as a man's genius watches over him (OCD s.v. Juno). As moon goddesses, Hera and Juno are also connected with pregnancy and with the birth and nurturing of children, for birth brings the newborn into the light. As a consequence they also presided over the multiplication of the race and fertility. (OCD s.v. Hera; Larousse 203-4) Hera was often associated with Aphrodite, and one of her most ancient statues at Sparta was named "Hera Aphrodite." In her role as a goddess of increase, Hera became a city goddess, which strengthens her connection with the Empress. Likewise, Juno Regina was a great goddess of the state. (OCD s.v.)

The Empress represents the maternal Eros (vs. the paternal Logos of the Emperor): the capacity to relate, which is the intellectually formulated intuitive equivalent of the archetypal image of the moon (IV.High Priestess). (Jung, Aion 12-3; MC 179) The Empress is accurately described in the alchemical Aurora Consurgens, where the Queen is called "the mother of fair love and of fear and of knowledge and of holy hope" (Jung, MC 377). She is female consciousness, which sees by the darker light of the moon, and so tends to merge things rather than separate them, as does sunlight (Jung, MC 179).

Aphrodite and Demeter were mother goddesses, both of whose human consorts (Iasion and Anchises) came to bad ends. We will see (VI.Love) that this is a part of the sacred coupling, for fertility has priority over marriage (OCD s.vv.). So also Hera brings about the downfall of Zeus's mortal paramours (Larousse 106-7). These myths warn us to beware of direct confrontations with archetypes: "Whoever gazes on the god unmasked, is swiftly burned to ash."

The Empress is Mother Nature, the Anima Mundi (World Soul) (von Franz 65, 213), and she represents fertility, of human, animal and plant. Thus Demeter and Ceres were in origin corn-goddesses, but they came to preside over all the fruits of the earth and to represent the fertile and cultivated soil. Through Triptolemus, Demeter taught agriculture to mortals. Ceres was closely associated with Tellus Mater (=Terra Mater, Earth Mother), and in ancient times Demeter's name was interpreted to mean Earth Mother (De=Ge Meter). (OCD s.vv.; Larousse 150) Though now rejected, Hera's name was similarly derived from an old Greek word for Earth (Larousse 106). There is evidence that Aphrodite and Venus are goddesses of vegetation (OCD s.vv.), for Venus symbolized the spring and fruitfulness, and Aphrodite was a goddess of fertility and generation akin to Ishtar and Astarte. In this role she is especially associated with Adonis, a vegetation divinity (OCD s.v. Aphrodite; Larousse 130, 211).

As vegetation deities, Aphrodite, Demeter, Ceres and Tellus all had underworld associations. For example, the dead were called "Demeter's people." (OCD s.vv.) This is the chthonic, dark side of the Mother.

The Empress corresponds to the Bride in the Sacred Marriage; in Sumerian-Akkadian mythology she is Inanna, Astarte, Ishtar, the Queen and Sister of the King and Shepherd, Dumuzi/Tammuz. Because she is also a war goddess, she gives the King his arms. (Kramer, Sac. Mar.) Similarly, Aphrodite was occasionally shown armed and wearing a helmet, especially at Sparta (OCD s.v.; Larousse 130), and as a goddess of the state, Juno Regina was shown armed and wearing a goatskin cloak (OCD s.v.).

In alchemy the Queen nurses the Green Lion and simultaneously drinks his rose-colored blood from a golden cup brought by Mercurius, thus, like the uroboros, consuming and regenerating her own substance, for she must integrate her own material nature before she can redeem the King (Jung, MC 292-3, 301, 305-11, 322, 364-5). The regenerated Queen is Luna, the High Priestess (Jung, MC 315, 322). Yet by this same alchemical process, the Lion also consumes his own substance, for he will be reborn as the Young King when he has transformed the strength of his animal nature (Jung MC 294-7). The lion and the peacock (see below) represent lust and pride, the "overweening pretension of the human shadow" (Jung, MC 365). Mercury and Venus are both cup-bearers, and each drinks from the cup of the other, the seminal cup and the menstrual cup, for rejuvenation requires that seed and moon integrate each other's substance (Jung, MC 301-3; cf. Rev. 17.1-2). Only then will there by psychological growth and development (Jung, MC 308, 310). Venus, clothed like Mercury in reddish hues, must be the Noble Whore as well as the Chaste Bride of the King, for her role is to rejuvenate the King (Jung, MC 302, 306, 310). Venus, the Empress, is but another disguise of Mercury, the Magician (Jung, MC 304).

Hera and Juno represent the deified essence of Woman (the Eternal Feminine, we might say), but are especially goddesses of marriage and maternity (Larousse 106, 203), and the well-known squabble between Zeus and Hera represents the inevitable confrontation of the ego-consciousness and the subconscious archetypes that must precede the birth of the unified child (Jung, MC 310, 359).

Aphrodite is also a goddess of marriage, though she ceded most of this office to Hera (OCD s.v. Aphrodite; Larousse 131). She lay with Anchises, a mortal, and bore his godlike son, Aeneas (Larousse 131), and bore Harmonia to Ares (Larousse 132) - Love and Strife giving birth to Harmony (cf. VII.Temperance). Indeed, Venus is the fountain in which the Emperor will be drowned in preparation for his rebirth (Jung, MC 303). In general Aphrodite was associated with water and her name was derived (falsely) from "foam" (OCD s.v.) She is the alchemical bath that will dissolve the Old King and nurture the Child (see VI.Love).

Demeter also could be fearsome, for she could bring famine as well as plenty. There is a Black Demeter of Phigalia, who was pursued by Poseidon. At first they fought, but then mated in the form of horses, and Demeter eventually gave birth to a goddess known only as Despoena (Mistress). Similarly, Zeus mated with her as a bull, and she bore Kore (Maiden). (OCD s.v. Demeter; Larousse 152) Both correspond the mating of II.Empress and III.Emperor and the birth of VII.Temperance (Wisdom = Sophia).

Our image of the Empress has a number of precedents. For example, a figure in Pictorius' Apotheoseos (p. 17) shows Juno nude above the waist; her veil, falling from a crown with eight rays, is draped around her groin. She wears tall boots and sits upon her throne, right hand holding the shears, left holding her sceptre. Two peacocks look back toward her from either side of her throne and a lion sleeps beneath her feet. (See Albricus, Allegoriae poeticae.) On Etruscan mirrors we see Uni (Juno), with Tin (Jove), naked, but for a cloak over her arm and a necklace (5 pendants), or with a peplos exposing her right shoulder. Her hair is short or tied up. (van der Meer 33, 116)

In an image of Tellus Mater in a relief from the Ara Paca (Alter of Peace) erected on the Campus Martius (Larousse 205), she is seated on an outdoor throne with two children, birds, animals and lush vegetation all around her. The elementals Air and Water accompany her.

Also, a relief by Vincenzo Pacetti in the Villa Borghese (Rome) shows Juno with her left breast exposed, her right foot resting on a peacock, and drawing a veil from her head (Bulfinch/Holme 118). This figure is reproduced in du Choul's 1556 Discours de la religion des anciens Romains (Seznec 96). In the Louvre, a Venus Genetrix from Frejus has her left breast exposed and two pomegranates in her left hand; the Vatican Hera has her left breast partially exposed, wears the polos, and holds a sceptre (right) and patera or libation dish (left). The card in the Cary-Yale Visconti deck that is commonly identified with Charity, shows a richly robed woman nursing an infant from her left breast.

Demeter is commonly depicted seated or walking, and has hair "as fair as ripened grain" (Larousse 152). Hera is the "white-armed goddess" (Larousse 106), and Aphrodite has gleaming fair hair and silvery feet; "On her sweet face she always wore an amiable smile" (Larousse 131). In Petrarch's Africa (III.242-7) Juno is described as having a many-colored cloud, the gift of Iris, around her long-haired head, and peacocks flocking about her feet.

On another Etruscan mirror Aphrodite stands, caressing Atunis (Adonis). She a long, decorated himation, ornate shoes, a tiara with seven visible vertical rays, an ear-ring with two links, a necklace with perhaps 16 visible links and a pendant with two links, and a snake (2 1/2 coils) around her left forearm. Her hair may be supported in a hair net. Behind the couple stands an enormous (> 2 m.) swan or goose (Tusna). She is accompanied by five attendants. (van der Meer 83) (The Etruscans divided their zodiac into 16 parts.)

In general, Hera and Aphrodite were depicted as young women (Larousse 106, 130). Representations of Hera and Demeter emphasize maternity; Aphrodite Genetrix (the mother bringing forth) also has this character (Larousse 106, 130, 152). Juno Lucina (of Births) may appear with three children, one in her arms, two at her feet (Larousse 204). In alchemy the Queen nurses the Green Lion, whom she holds in her lap (Jung, MC 310, 322).

Aphrodite is often accompanied by the Graces, nature goddesses, who spread joy and beauty, bring flowers (Thalia), and preside over the budding of plant life and the ripening of fruit. They were closely connected with Apollo and sometimes were considered to be the sun's rays. The Graces wear long chitons and crowns, or (after the fourth century BCE) they are nude and holding each other by the shoulder. (Larousse 132) The Visconti tarocchi deck in the Cary-Yale collections shows the Empress with four attendants, two of which wear red mantles over a green robes.

There is an ancient tradition of an androgynous Aphrodite, who was even shown with a beard; at root she is an alter ego of Mercurius duplex, and she is often associated with Hermes and had an ongoing affair with him (OCD s.v. Aphrodite; Jung, MC 304; Larousse 131). The story of Hermaphroditus, the son of Aphrodite and Hermes, may derive from the bearded Aphrodite. The nymph Salmacis spied the young hunter while he was bathing and tried to rape him. While they struggled in the water, she prayed that they never be separated, and so they merged into a single body. (Larousse 132) Here we have a myth of the merging of the male and the female in the waters of the unconscious. Since Venus is an alter-ego of Mercury, she shares a number of his attributes, including the element air, the color green, the lion, and the phoenix (Jung, Sp. Mer. 22)

Demeter and Hera usually wear a long tunic or chiton (Larousse 106, 152). The Rider-Waite Empress wears a gown decorated with pomegranates (a symbol of conjugal love and fruitfulness). The rose and red colors, especially rose-red and scarlet, are anciently associated with Venus and other love goddesses; it recalls blood and represents the "abiding water" (aqua permanans), the life fluid, as well as human beauty (venustas) and worldly lust (voluptas mundi). The "tincture of the rose," of Tyrian hue, is the blood of the dragon, the purple cloak with which the queen is covered. (Jung, MC 302, 306)

Aphrodite has a magic zona or zone (girdle), which enslaves the hearts of mortals and immortals. According to Homer it is cleverly embroidered and well worked; it contains love, desire and sweet dalliance - every seduction. (Larousse 131) For the zona see, for example, Mollett (s.v.) or Autenrieth (cut 44). Aphrodite is also said to wear a veil more dazzling than flame, bracelets, ear-rings, golden necklaces around her throat, and "her delicate bosom shone like the moon" (Larousse 131) Demeter and Hera also often wear a veil, white as the sun, covering the back of their heads (Larousse 106, 152).

Hera and Aphrodite are both shown wearing the polos, a high crown or diadem of cylindrical shape (Larousse 106, 130), and Demeter may be crowned with ears of corn or a ribbon (Larousse 152). In general, the triumphant Queen wears a crown of stellar diamonds (Jung, MC 378).

The seven stars/diamonds are, of course, the seven planets, whose influences she integrates. Similarly, the twelve pearls represent the months of the year and the signs of the Zodiac: the cycle of the year (cf. Case 60). Hera wears golden clasps on her robe and ear-rings set with three drop-shaped gems (Larousse 106).

The Empress holds the sceptre in her right hand to show that she is a conscious organizer (cf. Nichols 88). The pool is on the left because it represents the subconscious (cf. IIII. High Priestess). The Empress is Mistress of the Sceptre, and we will see that the sceptre is a frequent attribute of Hera, Juno and Demeter (for whom it may have the form of a torch). For example, Demeter is shown with a sceptre, ears of corn or torches (OCD s.v.; Larousse 152). Juno Regina is usually shown standing, wearing the veil, holding the golden sceptre, patera and sometimes the thunderbolt; her peacock is nearby (Larousse 106). Hera is also a queenly figure shown with sceptre, diadem or polos (OCD s.v.). Her staff is crowned with a cuckoo, which is phallic and recalls her seduction by Zeus in the form of a cuckoo (Larousse 99, 106).

Polycletus' image of Hera in the Heraeum at Argos shows her seated on a golden throne, wearing a diadem depicting the Hours and Graces, holding a pomegranate in her left hand and a cuckoo-sceptre in her right; Hebe, her daughter, stands nearby (Larousse 106). See also Neumann (pl. 153), which shows a Cyprian terracotta of Aphrodite enthroned, wearing the polos and holding a pomegranate in her right hand; in our image, green lions replace the sphinxes in the terracotta. Similarly, the Great Mother Cybele is commonly shown enthroned, flanked by lions, holding a tambourine, and wearing the polos.

Hera was a shield goddess, and so she was associated with a sacred shield; Juno Sospita (Savior) is shown with spear and shield (OCD s.v. Hera; Larousse 204). In the Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo Visconti-Sforza and Cary-Yale Visconti tarocchi decks, the Empress holds a staff in her right hand, and in her left a shield emblazoned with an imperial black eagle. In our representation, the copper disk doubles as a small shield and a patera (ritual plate), the vessel of Venus from which flows an endless stream of quicksilver (Jung, MC 304). The uroboros serpent is a symbol of the self-consuming cycle of nature (Biedermann s.v.); it moves clockwise like the sun and moon.

Aphrodite was called "Cypris" or "the Cyprian" because her first home was Cyprus, which was known for its copper (Lat. cyprium) mines; therefore copper is especially associated with her. The green color of copper compounds also suggests the fertility and vegetation aspects of Aphrodite and so green is her color, for green is the color of procreation and resurrection (Jung, MC 286-9). Cypress trees and myrtle, both evergreen, are especially dear to Aphrodite.

The peacock is a symbol of Hera and Juno. The "eyes" on its tail represent the stars of heaven and suggest the starry canopy of the High Priestess, her alter ego (Larousse 106). (See also a Diana Lucefera, pl. 161 in Neumann.) Since the peacock renews its plumage each year, it is a symbol of renewal and the cycle of nature. Its colors indicate the completion of the great work, as do the colors of Iris (the rainbow), who like Hermes is a messenger of the gods; Iris is also called Junonia (see 7.Temperance). :w The peacock and rainbow symbolize the synthesis of all the elements and qualities. The Empress is the Queen Mother, the mother of the gods, who grants renewal; she eats peacock flesh, the Cibus Immortalis (the Imperishable Food, since it was thought not to putrefy), during her pregnancy. (Jung, MC 290-2, 307) The phoenix is another symbol of resurrection associated with the Empress (Jung, MC 290).

Frolicking wolves, lions and panthers accompany Aphrodite when she climbs Mt. Ida (Larousse 131), and she is sometimes shown sitting on a swan or a tortoise (OCD s.v.) Juno's sacred geese protected Rome and her temple at Lanuvium was guarded by a serpent (Larousse 204). Finally, the dove is sacred to Aphrodite (OCD s.v.), as is the myrtle, which is an evergreen (N.B.) shrub with pink and white flowers.

The Empress Demeter is the daughter of Cronos and Rhea (Larousse 152), who correspond first to I.Magician and X.Fortune, and later to XI.Old Man and XVI.Star).

The Empress is the alchemical Salt, the material principle of nature, which is united with the Emperor, the alchemical Sulphur, the creative energy, through the agency of the Magician, the alchemical Mercury (Crowley 75, 77). She is called Sal Veneris (the Salt of Venus), the anima vegetativa (vegetable spirit) corresponding to the alchemical Sulphur. So also, the Cytherian (Venus) is the lapis, the Philosopher's Stone, which is also called the Cytherian stone and the pearl of Cytheria. (Jung, MC 304) (See also the Aces, Twos and Threes in the Minor Arcana.)

The numerical value of AFRODITH (Aphrodite) is 993, which reduces to 3-9+9 = 3; as does that of H DHMHTHR (He Demeter, Demeter) = 476, yielding 6-7+4 = 3. Both show the Empress to have the character of the Triad, which the Pythagoreans say is the principle of union, a synthesis of opposites, a fruitful conjunction, which the Pythagoreans called Marriage, Peace and Harmonia. (TA 19; see also the meaning of Gamma, above, and the discussion of the Threes in the Minor Arcana)

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Last updated: Mon Jun 7 16:26:03 EDT 1999