The Women of the Tarot

Tarot is filled with images of beautiful women. One is draped in ritual robes, another is taming a lion, and many are naked! Who are they and what do they represent?

When you first look at these cards you might think that they are just pretty pictures, but they are more than that. These symbolic designs are affecting your subconscious mind whether you realise it or not. These are images of Goddesses. These are the key players in the drama of the world’s myths and religions. These are the representatives of important women you will meet in your life; and these are milestones of your spiritual development.

Let’s take a look at some of the main women of the Major Arcana: The High Priestess, The Empress, the maiden in Strength, Justice, The Star, and, of course, the dancing lady in the card called The World.

The High Priestess: The character in this card is more of a girl than a woman. And her youth represents purity. She is robed in blue, a peaceful colour, so she has a clear mind. Behind her is a screen filled with images of pomegranates, which are the symbols of the Goddess Persephone. She sits at the entrance to the Temple of Solomon, with the book of Hebrew wisdom on her lap-and this represents that she is a keeper of secret knowledge or special wisdom. This card represents intuition and spirituality. She wears the crown of Isis, so she has links to Goddess energy. She is our introduction to the Tarot’s Feminine Divine.

The very next card in the series is The Empress. This is a card of manifestation. She is the strength of the earth. The Empress is earthiness and connectedness. She is voluptuous, earthy, sensual, and full-figured. She, too, has images of pomegranates on her dress. This time the pomegranates have their stems pointing down, so that they form the symbol for female, which is also the sigil for Venus, as shown on her heart-shaped shield.

This shield is not a defensive shield, it’s more of a banner-something she can hold aloft and say, “This is who I am-I am woman of the earth-I am a Goddess!” Even behind the cushion, the abstract pattern is really a series of Venus symbols joined together. With this image, A. E. Waite (designer of the modern Tarot) is saying that The Empress is not just giving an outer show of being a woman and a mother figure-every part of this card supports this idea and tells us she is all about comfort, softness, femininity and desire in its most loving form.

The Empress can also be associated with the Greek Goddess called Demeter, with the symbols of this myth being the corn and pomegranates shown on this card. Demeter is a Goddess of fertility and agriculture. She is known as the Mother Goddess who held back the growth of crops when her daughter Persephone went missing.

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The Empress is THE mother figure of the Tarot. She is the embodiment of creative energy. The positive aspects of a mother is one who is kind and compassionate She is someone who holds you when you were not feeling well, someone who protects you, and loves you regardless of your faults and failings. When you see The Empress card, think of her as a mother and all of these meanings can be seen in her.

Strength: The maiden in the card called Strength is closing the lion’s mouth. The lion represents the primal beast in each of us-our physical or mundane urges and desires. The Strength card shows us that even though women are seen as “the gentle sex” with passive qualities, they have an inner strength and in their own gentle, quiet way they can overcome difficulties. This is a card of courage, motivation, and a subtle power that we can draw upon whenever we need it.

Justice is another card showing a woman as the main character. You could be forgiven for wondering if this figure is a woman-the character called Justice has very short hair and a rather stern expression, quite unlike the feminine imagery usually associated with the women of the Tarot. However, the virtues are always portrayed in female form and this card Justice is associated with Themis, the Goddess of Justice, so this is definitely a female image. Representing the concept of Justice as a seated woman with a sword and scales was a well-established device in religious art many centuries before to the Tarot was invented. Justice is portrayed as a woman with masculine features because Justice is supposed to be equal to all-it shows the fairness and equality that is implied by the meaning of this card.

The Star is another card featuring a Goddess. This is Ishtar, Queen of the Heavens, whose symbol is an eight pointed star. The woman is naked to represent freedom and natural expression. Waite calls The Star ‘The Great Mother’.

Finally, we come to the last card of the Major Arcana, The World. In this image you see a female figure, draped in a violet sash, dancing in an oval wreath. This dancing figure is similar to the image of the Hindu God Shiva, whose dance of bliss is also a dance of death, representing both the creation and destruction of the universe. The white wands in the woman’s hands show that she has the power to create her own reality. The purple sash signifies the attainment of spiritual wisdom.

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In the Minor Arcana women pop up all over the place, as you would expect from cards describing everyday life. But there are also some very special cards showing women in the Minor Arcana-the Queens from the Court cards.

The Queens are a series of images showing powerful women of the Tarot. These women know who they are and they know how to express their true nature. The Queens have a commanding nature and they radiate authority and accountability, albeit with a sense of subtlety befitting the essence of the feminine.

The Queen of Cups: The focus of the Queen of Cups is relationships. She is deeply concerned about her own relationship, and the emotional ties of others. She acts as counsellor to others and she expresses her feelings openly. She is supportive and empathetic. This queen considers herself to be a healer of hearts and bodies, and is devoted to family, friends, and the concept of romantic love.

The Queen of Pentacles: This queen is practical, resourceful, and down-to-earth. She is an Earth Mother who loves food, gardening, and the security of a happy home. She is a successful business woman and enjoys decorating her home in a stylish manner. The Queen of Pentacles has the patience and determination to bring prosperity into her life.

The Queen of Swords: This Queen combines intelligence with wisdom gleaned from her many life experiences. She is a walking encyclopaedia of current affairs and trivia too. If there is a problem that needs to be solved, she will use her communication abilities and strategies to work out a solution. She sees things as they are and loves to tell you all about it. Because she’s a thinker, not a feeler, she can seem ‘cold and distant’, but she is decisive and level-headed and you always know where you stand when talking to this Queen.

The Queen of Wands: The Queen of Wands is a woman of passion and action. She has energy and personal power and knows how to use them to her advantage. Her boldness is alluring. She is motivated and creative, but sometimes her restlessness with everyday life forces her to travel to distant lands.

Blending all of these qualities together brings us back to Goddess energy as a whole. We take the Cup, Sword, Pentacle, and Wand (which are the elements of water, air, earth, and fire) and we fuse them with the spirit of Tarot and they become the Goddess. If you spend time contemplating the women of the Tarot, you will align yourself with Goddess energy. This is the true magic of the Tarot.


by Don McLeod