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Location: Ucluelet, BC, Canada
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Legend: The Empress Guenevere


Unlike the depictions in many decks, the Empress, Priestess, and Horned One are the only Legend Majors cards in which the viewer faces the Tarot character, as if called before them for a state audience. Arthur is upon his throne but faces to one side, in thoughtful reverie or perhaps in communion with Pellinore, and the characters in the remaining cards are involved in the action rather than trying to engage with the observer.

So here we stand before the Empress Guenevere and we have her attention. What messages has she prepared for each one of us?

For me, it is firstly that the cost of her soul-to-soul love is worth more to her than any kingdom or country. Like Lancelot, she is a true hero of the legends who risks all she has in pursuit of her deep love and passion. Guenevere comes much closer than many others to finding her purpose, the reason for her incarnation. She sees the consequences of her love play out around her and is as much a victim of them as any other. At last she retreats to the cloisters, perhaps burdened with the cost of her choices, one imagines her love remaining in that state of unrequited longing which has transformed the souls of so many before and since.

But her choices also resulted in the fall of Arthur and the realm. Loyalty to her husband might have preserved both the balance of the Land and the effectiveness of their co-rule. She might have chosen a different path. Were the riches and power of her queenship too much to relinquish? Did she lack in honesty and courage? Could she not have divorced herself from a loveless marriage or simply ran away with Lancelot and left the Land in peace?

So I have mixed feelings about this Empress, just as I have about the Emperor, and I believe this is a healthy thing. Without balance, even the most positive of archetypes are destructive. And taken simply as the story of one person's life, Guenevere's narrative models the typically difficult and unclear choices that we each must make, the outcomes never perfect, neither good nor evil but the best we can do in the circumstances. Heroism emerges when we have the courage to at least make choices and to take responsibility for them.

In a Keeper of Words, Anna-Marie Ferguson has described some of the imagery of the card, but quite a few details remain to be explored. As she notes, the Empress is dressed in typical green, with flowers in her hair and beneath her feet, symbols of fertility and new life. The brown of her throne evokes the earth, the green its growth. The Empress wears an outer cloak of royal purple, balanced with an inner shirt with purple Celtic imagery. She wears the sacred torque of nobility about her neck and holds a sceptre of rulership in her hand.

Guenevere's crown highlights a star in the centre, an emblem of hope and balance like the Star card itself. Her golden harp suggests she is a musician, a further symbol of her creativity and devotion to beauty and art.

The wooden throne is rich in imagery. Directly above her head the symbol of the female, the cross below the circle, is clearly portrayed. Above that, perhaps holding the feminine symbol in its talons, rests the noble eagle, the divine incarnate within the Empress. In The Power of Myth, page 27, Joseph Campbell brings forth a wonderfully evocative image:

Quote:
Here's the eagle, the bird of Zeus. The eagle is the downcoming of the god into the field of time. The bird is the incarnation principle of the deity.
On each side of the eagle a crescent moon balances the masculine divine with the feminine. The brown leaves on either side of the symbol of the female draw one's attention to the symbol and suggest connectedness to the head of the Empress. Together the twin moons and the eagle descending with the female symbol are like a visualization of the Crown Chakra, shown in a balance of masculine and feminine energies, in connected consciousness with the universe. This is a most apt image for the positive Empress archetype, who seeks to draw all things together in feminine relatedness and natural harmony.

On either side of the Empress a rampant snake frames her head, further imagery appropriate to the card's theme. Associated with goddess energy, the snakes are wise, cunning and sacred. The snake is a symbol of the circle of life: birth, life, death and rebirth. Again from The Power of Myth, page 45:

Quote:
The power of life causes the snake to shed its skin, just as the moon sheds it shadow. The serpent sheds its skin to be born again, as the moon its shadow to be born again... Sometimes the serpent is represented as a circle eating its own tail. That's an image of life... to be born again.
Lastly, the Empress is framed with two columns, and at the foot of each column a face with clearly defined eyes and nose. The metaphor here is somewhat unclear to me, but I think of her masculine unconscious dwelling in the shadows, supporting the throne room of her consciousness, an inner strength and structure for Guenevere to trust and draw upon.
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