Looking Within: the Empress

Looking Within is a series that explores the symbols and meanings associated with tarot cards and how they can be used as tools for growing and evolving. Read the whole series here!

How to grow & change your life (with the help of tarot symbols)

“Until we learn to experience the other world completely we cannot hope to transcend it.” – Rachel Pollack

So far, we’ve received some neat tools and tips for our journey. The magician was the power of will and intention, and how they channel our energy into shaping reality. The high priestess warned us to be careful and listen, always, to what happens within us. When we listen, our attention sheds a light on emotions and thoughts moving just under the surface, and that’s where we can discover hidden and forgotten things about us, our past and our beliefs.

But where should we focus our attention on?

On the fabric our life is made of. On the physical world – the garden of the Empress.

Our most immediate connection with the physical world is the body. Even though we may think of it as separate from ourselves, there actually is a profound unity between psyche and body.

For example, if we go back to a time when we felt stressed or under pressure, chances are we reacted to that pressure on different levels. Maybe we felt confused and unable to think straight (mental level), or maybe even about to cry (emotional level), and our face went red, or our hands started trembling, or our heart beat quicker and louder (body level).

This shows that all levels are connected and act in accordance with each other. Like a stone thrown in the water, what happens in one of these levels makes ripples in the others as well.

This means that suppressed thoughts and emotions can resurface and emerge through the body level as well. Sometimes we harbor anger or resentment towards a friend,  but those feelings stay under the surface because we are unable to accept or express them – and yet our body reveals how we truly feel by becoming tense or giving us cramps whenever we see that friend.

Similarly, unresolved issues going on for a long time “sediment” in our body, and as a result we start experiencing prolonged back pain, for example, or stomach aches, or contracted muscles or headaches. This is, in a sense, the last line of defense of our psyche: our organism unloads these issues onto the body only when our psyche is unable to bear them any longer. At the same time, it’s difficult to ignore our body when it is in pain, so this works like a wake-up call to force us to pay attention to what is going on in our life. “Uh, Houston, we have a problem here!”

In A. L. Swartz’ The Wooden Tarot, the empress is an elephant holding a scepter in their trunk. Trees seem to be sprouting from their head, and below there are a pomegranate and ears of wheat. The blue triangle pointing down reminds us of water, which is the element most connected to the emotional realm, while the elephant represents the earth. Elephants are known for interacting with their dead, mourning the loss for days, sometimes even when the dead elephant does not belong to their tribe. They are also very loud in expressing their joy upon meeting members of their family who had to leave due to shortage of food or water. They understand and live changes to their fullest, without holding back. Not by chance the elephant is also a symbol of wisdom and memory.

But our body is also the means to come into contact and understand the cyclical nature of life. The body grows and changes; our hair and nails gets longer, we cut them and they grow back again; we become intolerant to certain foods and start loving others. Even our cells constantly die and are replaced by new ones. Outside, the seasons move from spring to summer to fall to winter and to spring again. Trees bloom, bear fruits, shed their leaves, and re-grow them after winter. Planets move along their paths in the sky and come back again, and again, year after year.

The empress lives in this flux and makes it their own. They know that this cycle governs all activities, from processes in the body to emotions and ideas. Even creativity – another theme often associated with the empress – follows a cycle of outward-focused work and inner elaboration, like a seed gathering strength underground before sprouting to life. And when we understand this, we become once more connected to all the living beings in the universe.

Everything in the universe is a cycle: this is the message of the empress. When we accept change as the nature of everything living, we slowly stop fearing things as pain and loneliness, for we see them as temporary. Everything becomes part of the cycle of life. We come to understand and love everything living exactly because they are temporary. Because we see the beauty and wonder in their impermanence – we hold it dear, and we nurture it in the ways we can.

“You would know the secret of death.  But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?” – Kahlil Gibran

We come into contact with our inner empress when we tune to the life force of change. Even if we don’t live near the forest or the ocean, we can still observe this in how our body grows, suffers and heals every day. All activities connecting us to our body work well for this purpose. Likewise, taking care of a plant or a pet (as plants and animals are more attuned to the cycle of life), walking somewhere with trees and fresh air, swimming in the sea etc., taking time to stay in the moment, are other paths we can follow to feel more connected to our world. Taking care of a fellow living being is also another path to experience the connection and love our inner empress is capable of.

Journalling prompts

  1. Take some time, with your eyes closed if you want, to feel your body. Scan it from the crown of your head to the tip of your toes, taking notice of where you feel particular sensations. (For example, muscles tensing, warmth or cold, etc.) If some images pop up, take notes of them too. (For example, a knot in the stomach may look like a real knot, a tangled ball of yarn, or butterflies flying everywhere.) Write everything down and periodically check how they change over time.
  2. How do you currently feel about your body? Is it a part of you, an ally, an enemy? What is your history together? If you were two people in a relationship, what would your body say about you?
  3. How do you live changes in your life? Do you feel scared, excited, or nonplussed? Whereabouts do you experience tension in this regard?
  4. Observe the natural flow of the seasons. Choose a plant in your house, or a tree you often see while going around, and observe how it changes with the passing of the seasons. You can keep a diary and take small notes, or even take some pictures. How do you feel about their changes?
  5. Read Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Joy and Sorrow.” Journal about it and how it resonates with you.
  6. For the vision boarders/visualizers/imaginative: put on some relaxing music and draw your body as if it were a map. What would it look like?

If you have already done some visualizations before, you can use one of these images of the Empress (or look for one you like on the internet) to contact this aspect within yourself.

Sit in a comfortable positions, take some deep breaths, and when you are ready close your eyes.

Enter into the image and look at the Empress. Observe how they feel, and how you feel in their presence. Observe what they do or say. If you wish, you can ask them for a gift or a word, something that could help you connect with them in the future.

Once you want to leave, thank them for their presence. Take a few breaths, move your body, then open your eyes. Write everything down.


The deck featured in this post is the Wooden Tarot deck.

Do you have thoughts or doubts bothering you? Do you just want to vent? Ask Box is the place where you can drop your questions about life, the universe and everything. My inbox is always open – email me at theinneratlas@yahoo.com.

{Original picture: PICSELI via Unsplash, Tj Holowaychuck via Visual Hunt}

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