The Empress and the Four Queens
In Part 1, I explained how I see the relationship between the Emperor and the four kings of the minor arcana and demonstrated how I thought the Emperor encompasses all of the qualities of the kings. In this article (Part 2), I continue this train of thought and discuss how I see the relationship between the Empress and the four queens.
“Behind every great man is a great woman.” This has definitely seemed to be the case throughout my lifetime. I think late 19th century satirist and writer Ambrose Bierce eloquently made this point with his description of a queen:
QUEEN, n. A woman by whom the realm is ruled when there is a king, and through whom it is ruled when there is not.
Note that this statement actually expands upon my initial quote because it implies that a queen has great power due to her influence in the throne as well as behind the throne. Even so, I still have the same type of question about the queen that I had about the king: wouldn’t it be even better to be an empress?
Who really ranks higher: an Empress or a Queen?
This question came to mind immediately after I saw the relationship between the Emperor and the four kings. It occurred to me once again that there are four queens in the Tarot but only one empress. This also struck me as odd. I decided to explore this in the same manner as I did with the Emperor and the four kings, which is to look at the relationship between these cards as people.
I went back to my trusty Oxford English Dictionary to get an answer to this question, and here’s what I found.
Empress A woman emperor. (1)
Queen A female sovereign, especially the hereditary ruler of an independent state. (2)
There is virtually no difference between these definitions and the definitions for an emperor and a king. The empress seems to be of higher rank than a queen, especially given the fact that the empress rules an empire. Those of you who possibly missed or have not yet read Part 1 of this article might be wondering whether an independent state can be considered an empire. I asked the same question when I was thinking about the emperor and four kings, so I took a look in the dictionary and here’s what I found.
Empire An extensive group of states or countries under a single supreme authority. (3)
Kingdom An organized community headed by a king; the territory subject to a king. (4)
An empire is much greater than a kingdom, so the empress is definitely of higher rank than a queen. While we’re on the subject of empires and kingdoms, consider this: Based on these descriptions, you could say that an empire consists of a set of kingdoms. Keep this in mind, as it will be an important point soon. Now let’s look at the Empress and queens a little more closely.
NOTE: This note appeared in Part 1, but I thought I’d repeat it again here for clarity.
I want to set a little context here before we go any further. I believe, as most of you likely do, that we have both a male and female aspects to our persona. Some of us have a stronger male side, others have a stronger female side, and still others are relatively balanced. This is an important concept because I believe the traits and aspects of the Emperor/Kings and the Empress/Queens apply to everyone, regardless of gender.
I focus mainly on the positive qualities of these individuals in my discussion. My specific intent is to show you how I perceive the relationships between the Emperor and the kings, so I need to describe each of them just enough to provide some context for those relationships. You can find more thorough explanations of these cards in the many good Tarot books out on the market.
The Empress – Supreme Feminine Ruler of the Temporal Realm
The Empress is commonly considered to be the archetypical matriarch and feminine ruler of the temporal realm (the High Priestess being her counterpart for the spiritual realm). She is the epitome of the female aspect. She is grounded, patient, strong, thoughtful, intelligent, a good communicator, caring, compassionate, sympathetic, pragmatic, deliberate and sociable. The Empress can be hospitable or snobbish, understanding or intolerant, generous or jealous, and, like the Emperor, a great ally or a feared enemy.
She is someone you may meet in your life’s journey, which may be advantageous or detrimental depending on when, where and how you meet her. She’ll definitely make her presence known to you, though. On a more personal level, she could represent a type of person you should aspire to be. There will come times in your life when you might need to embrace particular qualities of the Empress so that you can work through an issue or deal with a given situation that’s going on in your life with patience, grace, self-confidence and a good dose of pragmatism.
The Queens – Female Monarchs of the Four Suits
The four queens in the Tarot represent each of the four suits in the minor arcana, and each queen is the epitome of the feminine qualities of the suit she represents.
The Queen of Pentacles is the sovereign of earth and governs the physical aspect of life. She’s concerned with family life, friendships, finances, health and nature. She’s grounded, organized, pragmatic, creative, sagacious, and very content with her life. She’s a good manager, a considerate mother, a true friend, and a trusted counselor.
The Queen of Swords is the sovereign of air and governs the intellectual aspect of life. She’s concerned with learning, ideas, prudence, ethics, speaking and communication with family, friends and close associates. She’s very pensive, diligent, attentive, and self-assured. She’s a quite an instructor, a great spokeswoman, a voracious reader and an influential member of her community.
The Queen of Cups is the sovereign of water and governs the emotional aspect of life. She’s concerned with love and happiness, insight, personal relationships, and desires. She’s very loving, happy, compassionate, and loyal. She can be very nurturing, quite witty, and builds long-lasting relationships.
The Queen of Wands is the sovereign of fire and governs the energetic aspect of life. She’s concerned with focusing the will, business, opportunities for growth, personal progress, and resolving discord. She’s passionate, determined, willful, enthusiastic, and self-motivated. She loves to travel, enjoys managing and building businesses, is a persuasive leader, and can be quite inspirational.
The queens commonly represent people you know or are very likely to meet. The type of “queen” you meet will help you in some way with the aspect she represents. For example, you may meet a “Queen of Pentacles” type of person when you need support or guidance on family issues.
Queens can also represent the type of qualities you need to emphasize in your own persona at a given point in time. For example, you may need to emulate the Queen of Wands to gain the self-motivation you need to start a new project or business.
The Empress and the Queens
Now that I’ve established the aspects of the Empress and four queens, here’s my philosophy on how I believe they relate to each other.
The Queens and their Kingdoms
Remember that a queen reigns over an organized community, such as a territory, country or state; I’ll use “kingdom” for the remainder of this discussion. The four queens in the minor arcana reign over four distinct kingdoms – the Material Kingdom, the Intellectual Kingdom, the Emotional Kingdom, and the Energetic Kingdom. These kingdoms are wholly separate and each includes its own royal court and citizens.
The Empress and her Empire
Recall that an empress rules an empire consisting of an extensive group of countries or states. The Empress is part of the major arcana, so she is particularly significant as the sovereign of a vast empire known as the temporal realm. It’s important to note that the temporal realm encompasses all that exits on this plane of existence (as opposed to what is encompassed within the spiritual realm).
The Royal Relationships
Here is how I believe the relationships between these five individuals work:
The four queens have equal status, power and authority.
The Empress’ Empire encompasses all of the Four Kingdoms.
Given the nature of their realms, the queens ultimately pledge their allegiance to the Empress.
The Empress herself encompasses the personas and qualities of all four queens, and they are fully integrated into her being.
The Empress and the Queens in a reading
Here’s where everything now comes into play and how this particular perspective of the royal females can add more meaning to a reading.
Whenever you see the Empress and one or more queens in a reading, there are typically two possible interpretations you can derive from their appearance. Remember that context is very important. Let’s assume that the Empress, the Queen of Cups and the Queen of Pentacles appear in a reading.
Suppose that the Empress seems to be a major part of the reading’s focus, and the guidance seems to indicate that the querent needs to be more like the Empress in order to overcome or help resolve the issue at hand. Given my statement that the Empress encompasses the personas and qualities of the queens, the Queen of Cups and the Queen of Pentacles could likely indicate that the querent needs to emphasize or intensify the qualities of those two queens.
Now suppose that the queens seem to be a major part of the reading’s focus, and the guidance seems to indicate that the querent needs to emulate the qualities of those queens in order to overcome or help resolve the issue at hand. The Empress’ appearance could likely indicate that the querent needs to apply the qualities of the queens in broader context, beyond that of the current situation. There is likely a “bigger picture” that the Empress sees that the queens cannot.
You’re likely to come up with more types of interpretations as you experiment with this perspective – these are just the two that consistently come up in my readings.
Side Note: I’m Partial to the Queens
As I was developing my thoughts on the kings and the queens, I found that I grew to like the queens more than the kings for one simple reason: I believe they’re more well-rounded than the kings.
Let me make clear that I am taking nothing away from the stature and importance of the Kings. I just think, though, that being the epitome of the masculine qualities of their suits also means they represent the extreme qualities of their suits. I know this sounds like a typical gender stereotype, but bear with me here – I have an example.
Let’s take the King of Swords and the Queen of Swords and let’s assume they each have an important decision to make about a given issue. Here’s how I think they will approach their decisions.
The King of Swords will approach his decision with precision analysis and logic. He’s interested only in the facts. He’ll analyze the issue before him, perform a risk assessment of the situation, identify all possible resolution options, determine the benefits of taking action and the possible detriments of doing nothing, and determine (to the best of his ability) the consequences of the decision he thinks would be most logical and reasonable. Once he’s made up his mind, he’ll execute his decision and consider the issue closed for the moment.
The Queen of Swords will approach her decision with scrutiny, logic and reason. She’ll carefully examine the issue at hand, identify any negative aspects of the situation, determine what she can do to counter or nullify them, determine how she can affect the situation in the most positive manner, ascertain what options she has for a reasonable resolution, and then decide what she is going to do. Before she makes her final decision, however, she will do one thing that the King would never do: she’ll take a page from her sister The Queen of Cups and ask herself how she feels about her final decision. If she feels good about it, she’ll execute her decision with a clear mind; otherwise, she’ll run through her thought process again to determine if there is something she might have missed in her analysis.
I believe all of the queens have this more open way of thinking and behaving than the kings. I think they’re less strict and dogmatic about their suit characteristics than the kings, which, in my mind, can make them more valuable in a variety of situations.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the perspective on the royalty cards that I’ve presented in this two-part article. This is just one of the many facets of these cards that make them so interesting and fascinating, and you can certainly learn more about them in many of the great tarot books out on the market. I’ll have a section on them in a book I’m currently writing that will, hopefully, be out by the end of the year.
I hope you now see these cards from a new and fresh perspective and can use what you’ve learned to discover new ways to use them during your readings.
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2011 issue of Tarosophist International Magazine.
All card images in this article are from the Radiant-Waite-Tarot deck, Copyright © U.S. Games Systems.
1. Page 443, The Concise Oxford Dictionary 9th Edition, Copyright © Oxford University Press 1995
2. Page 1122, The Concise Oxford Dictionary 9th Edition, Copyright © Oxford University Press 1995
3. Page 442, The Concise Oxford Dictionary 9th Edition, Copyright © Oxford University Press 1995
4. Page 747, The Concise Oxford Dictionary 9th Edition, Copyright © Oxford University Press 1995