Who are 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 the women of the Tarot 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.
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—with the emphasis on ‘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. In today’s terms she’d be called a plus-sized model—a Goddess with curves in all the right places! 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—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.
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.
The High Priestess and The Empress are archetypal images. An archetype is a symbol that occurs in mythology, fairy tales, and religions. They are powerful symbols holding deep, meaningful qualities that we can all associate with. Archetypes are as old as mankind. They are universal symbols or images that express concepts that affect us, and have meaning to us, even if we can’t put those feelings into words. They are primordial principles. All archetypal images are ingrained in our understanding even before we are old enough to think and reason. They are universal images—archetypes are found all over the world and all cultures resonate to them. Carl Jung said, “It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them.” Because Tarot is full of archetypal symbolism, when you find harmony with the characters in the Tarot, wisdom is yours for the taking.
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. I assume that Waite and the artist Pamela Colman Smith portrayed Justice 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. It reflects the concept of balance as represented by the scales.
Some may expect me to include the card Temperance in this article, but this is another androgynous figure. This angel is neither male nor female, so it cannot be included.
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 we 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. Maybe this Tarot Dancer is showing us the ballet of the stars and planets in 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. It’s a lovely way to end the sequence of cards known as The Major Arcana.
The women of the Tarot are goddesses of the universe. They can also represent important women you will meet in your life. And above all else, they are milestones of your spiritual development.