In today’s post, we’ll continue to look at relationships between the Major Arcana cards in the first row composed of the Magician through the Chariot. If you’ve missed the earlier posts in this series, you can catch up with part one and part two.
Today’s focus is on the Empress and the Emperor, cards III and IV, but before we look at each of these cards more closely, I want to backtrack and take a bird’s-eye view of our journey through the Major Arcana thus far.
All cards are from The Witch’s Tarot
The first steps of our journey
We began with the Fool, and we talked about how the courageous, and at times foolish, risk-taking, energy of this card is an appropriate start to our journey, since the person lacking in courage or too busy weighing out the pros and cons will likely never embark on the journey to begin with.
Once the first step is taken, we meet the Magician who urges us to channel our inspirations and passions through our will, making tangible changes in the world around us.
From there, however, we move inward and begin to get in touch with our subconscious. The High Priestess sits atop her throne in front of the veils of consciousness beyond which we may be afforded a glimpse, but at this stage in the journey we are not prepared to plunge headfirst into the depths of our subconscious.
And yet, this newfound knowledge that there is more to life than meets the eye can be quite motivating for some, and this curiosity and drive will come in handy when obstacles arise and we might be tempted to give up on our journey.
Meeting the Empress
We then call on our friend the Fool to urge us back into the world, something that can be hard to do for some. One reason being that when we get our first glimpse of our inner stillness and the mysteries that lie within, it can be tempting to retreat inward, becoming increasingly cut off from the world around us in an attempt to find enlightenment and be “more spiritual,” and indeed, for some, this is where the journey stops.
It takes courage to return to the world and attempt to find mystery and magick in everyday life, but unless we have the luxury of living in a mountain cave free of worldly cares, that is precisely what we must do, and the Empress is here to show us the way.
Under her nurturing presence, we experience life and all its pleasures–not from a removed, intellectual distance but by plunging head first into the world with passion and feeling. With the Empress’s guidance, we experience our emotions and physical sensations, and in this direct experience we begin to see that we cannot hope to reach enlightenment by detaching from the world and pretending it doesn’t exist. Only by immersing ourselves in it and understanding the world first hand can we integrate the physical and the spiritual and begin to see the underlying reality (and magick) of everything.
Encountering the Emperor
And then we meet our first major obstacle in the form of the Emperor. Picture the young child running naked and free in the backyard who is suddenly stuffed into uncomfortable clothes and told to head off for school. It is this imposition of structure which the Emperor represents. But before we cast our Emperor as the villain, let’s look at his role more closely.
With the adoption of rules it becomes possible for people with diverse ideas and agendas to live somewhat peaceably together: societies are formed. And these societies can provide the space and resources for people to pursue their wants and needs and develop skills, and thus, it can be very valuable to learn how to live according to these rules represented and enforced by the Emperor.
The real task, however, is learning how to meet societal obligations without allowing them to become the end all be all of our existence. It can be easy to concern ourselves only with following the letter of the law and assume that by doing so we are all well and good. But true maturity comes not from blindly accepting and following rules but cultivating our own wisdom.
I’m reminded of some of my Catholic friends who complain about what they “have” to give up for Lent. In my mind, begrudgingly giving something up just to remain in compliance with the rules is a bit besides the point, and this is where we must tread carefully with the Emperor. Adherence to the rules can easily become our main marker of success, but we cannot let ourselves get so caught up in the realm of structure that we never look within to see why we’re following the rules in the first place.
It is in this realm of structure and rules that many of us lose touch with our inner guide. We become so caught up in fitting in and being a part of something that we learn to ignore that tiny voice that might feel cramped or quashed in certain situations, and over time, that voice gets tinier and tinier until we can no longer hear it.
Questions inspired by the Empress and the Emperor
- When are you most in touch with your physical experience–at a yoga class? while having sex? hiking in the woods?
- What can you do to be more fully present in these experiences? Perhaps you tune into your breath or concentrate on each physical sensation as it arises.
- When do you feel least connected to your physical experience–in the middle of an argument? while meditating? when you’re working?
- What can you do to bring your attention back to your body, even for a moment or two, in these situations? Perhaps you focus on where in your body you feel anxiety or anger in an argument and try to describe what that physical sensation feels like.
- How do you feel about the Emperor? Do rules bring you a sense of order and peace or does the urge to rebel arise?
- In what area(s) of your life could you use the presence of the Emperor? Is there an area that seems out of control or lacking helpful structure?
- In what area(s) of your life could you learn to transcend the rule of the Emperor and follow your inner compass? Perhaps you force yourself to work out every morning, even though some days your body is telling you it needs a break.
Much like the Magician and the High Priestess, a life lived solely through the Empress or purely through the Emperor would be lacking in depth. Rather, by calling upon each of these archetypal energies when the need arises they can serve a useful, positive function in your life.