One of my favorite things about tarot is how, over the years of study and practice, each card accrues layers of meanings and association and strangeness and familiarity. Each image keeps teaching me newly, as I grow and change. Sometimes this is helpful in a reading, where a card kind of unfolds into myriad possibilities and you pluck out the most relevant one. But today I want to talk about how just one card, considered in this way, can create a kind of self-reflective practice that can teach you a lot about yourself and that growth and change we’re always doing.
Today, for me, that card is The Empress. Chalk it up to it being #womenshistorywomensmagic month, or International Womens’ Day this week and seeing a lot about that float through my social media, or my intensifying investigation into femme identity lately, or just the fact that The Empress showed up in my morning meditations and said,
Hanging out with Her in my head for a minute, I was amazed at the multidimensional map of my own changing relationship to The Empress and her psychic realm that just unfolded in that instant, like, *snap*
Now, I don’t have years of tarot journals like I do with my dreams but I do have a major-arcana-only deck I made long ago and far away as a project for an undergraduate class on history, fiction, and memory at Portland State. I know, those where the days. The Empress card that came outta that project was one of my favorites.
It’s a simple collage: text from a passage of One Hundred Years of Solitude atop a photo of a Passionflower I’d taken a few years before in Costa Mesa. But it takes me back to the way I related to this card during those days. The traditional entry into this card of “motherhood” or “fertility” or “passivity” weren’t really accessible to me at all during those times. But what I did feel all around me was the vibrant, pulsing life of the earth and the rhythm of human community outside in the flesh and sparkling in books I devoured hungrily, this current ebbing and flowing around me, and a sense of femininity and sexuality as mysterious powers that existed both at the root and somehow outside of this bloodbeat flow. The world felt magical and dangerous and alive and sensual – and I had a hard time being “in my body,” as they say, but I touched embodiment by touching in with that flow, and THAT, for me, was The Empress.
Later, in more recent years, my whole relationship with the card has shifted into the realm more traditionally associated with it: motherhood. The process of conceiving, growing, nurturing, birthing, and caring – for a project, for a person, for oneself. Unraveling the very fraught relationship with motherhood bequeathed to us by culture and family. The ability to relax into a flow and let yourself be carried and nurtured by it, in turn. The sacred mystery of the matroyshka dolls of history, ancestry, and future generations. All these things have been my go-to understandings of The Empress most recently, and I adore The Collective Tarot‘s take on this card – called Reception – and how it holds all this for me.
I picked up this postcard on my recent travels, and it reminds me this morning that The Empress is also the natural law of the body, which can sometimes be so oppressive but also a source of childlike joy, confidence, power, and flight. She is the voice that cries out in wordless feeling, her smile sassy and knowing, her body in motion, the wind in her face, her bike beneath her, the blossoms of spring reaching down with promise.
Mostly though – and what really prompted this post, the first kernal – was how The Empress started talking to me about Femme-ness. About how we claim power by claiming fierce and vulnerable femininity on purpose. About having a refuge of comfort and validation in this when the dominant-culture world tells us that femme is weak, stupid, and less-than and never-enough – which is pretty much every day. About how femme-ness isn’t defined by body parts or literal fertility or sexuality or anything alone – but by our own complex relationship with The Empress and wherever we find her temple, be it in our own bodies or the vibrant world or the ocean or your best friend or your lover or your sister or on the radio or on the dance floor or on your yoga mat or where EVER you are today. I am having another big round of just learning about this, and today The Empress reminded me to dig into my collage archives, throw up some images and let that be a new permutation of her card to guide me in my exploration.
And you can see how building your own images, or having different decks available, fosters this process of growing your own layers of meaning and associations with a card. This shows really brilliantly how archetypal imagery works – tapping into an experience or psychic realm that we all have access to, as human beings, and which we may use only one word for, but which we all must necessarily experience in unique and personally meaningful ways that are endless in their manifestations and permutations. I would love to hear about y’all’s experiences with The Empress and her imagery and her femme power, and what she means to you these days…
Kaeti is a therapist, teacher, and dreamer based in Long Beach, California. All of her work (and play!) is interested in dismantling intersections of oppression and breathing magic and radical healing into all the daily corners of her life, into all the spaces of community she helps weave.
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