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The Empress tarot card shows a beautiful woman, usually dressed in a flowing garment, covered with pomegranates (a fruit related to sexuality and fertility) with the symbol of Venus on a heart near her feet. She’s often shown in a lush environment, with wheat growing beneath her. Sometimes she is shown as a pregnant woman.
The major themes of the Empress tarot card include fertility, abundance, and feminine power. The Empress is an appropriate symbol for the springtime, when the world begins to come back to life after the dying time of winter. Mythologically, she relates to two other goddesses of the cycle of life and springtime.
Inanna is a Mesopotamian goddess of fertility, love, sex, and war, known as the Queen of Heaven. In one of her stories, Inanna enters the underworld, which is presided over by her sister Ereshkigal. In order to enter, Inanna must pass through seven gates, and at each one she must remove some item of clothing or finery, stripping her of the symbols of her queendom.
Eventually, Inanna enters the underworld completely nude. Her sister judges her guilty and strikes her dead, hanging her on the wall for three days and three nights. During this time, the above world loses the energy of this goddess: the energy of life, procreation, and vitality. The crops and flowers die, and the animals stop procreating—it is, effectively, winter. Inanna’s followers find a way to rescue her, bringing her back to life and back to the world so that the plants and animals can return to life and love.
Because she truly died, however, Inanna owes a life debt to her sister. Many of Inanna’s followers offer to take her place in the underworld, but when Inanna finds her husband, Dumuzid, sitting on the throne in his finery, and not mourning her like he should, she sends him away to take her place in a fit of rage.
Inanna immediately regrets this, however, and misses Dumuzid terribly, threatening to return the world into the death state of winter once again. The gods conspire to allow Dumuzid’s sister to spend half the year in the underworld so that he can spend the other half with Inanna.
Inanna’s hope and love of having Dumuzid present with her alternates with the regret and grief she feels when he must return to the underworld. This eternal cycle is said to be the reason for the pattern of the seasons.
There is a parallel in Inanna’s myth to the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter. Demeter is the goddess of grain, the food we need to eat to survive. Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, was abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld, throwing Demeter into deep grief, effectively withdrawing her life-giving energy from the crops, causing winter.
Persephone is eventually retrieved from the Underworld, but because she ate six pomegranate seeds while she was there, she is required to spend six months of the year with Hades. Demeter’s cycling grief when her daughter is gone and hope and love when she returns is said to be the reason for the turning of the seasons.
In both stories, we learn about the cycles of life, hope, femininity, and the fertility of the earth alongside the cycles of death and grief. The pomegranates on the Empress’s dress refer to this fertility, as does the myth of Persephone.
The Empress represents the reawakening of the earth in springtime, as well as a reawakening in us: a shift away from a time of death into a time where new hope and new life become possible. We all have periods where we visit the Underworld, intentionally or not. We do eventually return to the above world, but when we do, life is a little (or a lot) different from what it was before.
Tapping into the energy of the Empress means allowing for the energies of pleasure, abundance, enjoyment, fertility (whether literal or creative), springtime, and hope, even while knowing that this is just one aspect of a cycle that goes the other way, too.
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