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Sophie-David 
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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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Know that you are - already - the Christ, the Bodhisattva. By your great love the One became Many, as with delight and joy you assumed the cloak of duality. Form is made of but three things: energy, change, and love.

Last edited by Sophie-David; 04-04-2005 at 14:13. Reason: Added link to jpg
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Old 17-01-2005     Top   #1
RedMaple 
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I have always had problems with Gwenevere - she was difficult to like. On the one hand, she seemed the dutiful daughter, soooo Christian, who then succumbs to her passions, which seems liberating, then repents and becomes a nun. Yikes. Not much to like for a young girl growing up catholic.

The Mists of Avalon presents a different image, one who is truly caught between the worlds of the Old Ways and the Christian ways. One who is destined to marry the king, although her love leads her another way. She is portrayed also, as a woman who has the sight, but who mistrusts it because of her christian upbringing. And she struggles over and over again, unsuccessfully, to give Arthur an heir.

I found it interesting in the Keepers book, that in the Welsh tradition, she was fertile, and did give birth to sons. It is difficult to see how she would have the people's allegiance otherwise, as her fertility was so tied to the fertility of the land.

I want to think of this Guinevere, the fertile, prescient Guenevere, who embodies the Goddess and the land, in this card.

The eagle, for me, is not about maleness at all. Birds were often used as symbols of divinity in Britain, and the eagle simply offers a contrast to the Raven or Crows intimately connected with Morgan. This bird is the regal bird, of leadership, and it clearly holds a symbol of femaleness -- thus female leadership.

I think this card is essentially feminine, as is Nimue, while the Merlin and Arthur cards are essentially male, so that when we get to the Lovers cards, the merging of the two principles is so dramatic. In the Empress, HP, Emperor, and Magician we see them separate, in all their strength.

Especially in a reading, I would not see this as carrying anything of the male energies. I am hoping this new Cymric image of Guenevere will allow me to read this card as fertility. (Cymric (KIM-ric) = Welsh -- a student of mine encouraged me to use the word Cymry, as the other word is actually an English word)

Last edited by RedMaple; 19-01-2005 at 05:48.
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Old 19-01-2005     Top   #2
Lyones 
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Guenevere holds in her right hand, a golden orb, which often signifies dominion in both the political and royal arenas. It is also said to signify perfection, fertility and the womb - which, together with the septre would show sexual union - desire personified.

Entwined at the tip of the septre is a serpent - which seems to be common in tarot and always reminds me of the story of Moses and Aaron who raised a staff with a serpent on it to heal the Egyptians, so for me there is not only productiveness, but also restoration and repair affiliated with this card.



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Old 19-01-2005     Top   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RedMaple
I I am hoping this new Cymric image of Guenevere will allow me to read this card as fertility. (Cymric (KIM-ric) = Welsh -- a student of mine encouraged me to use the word Cymry, as the other word is actually an English word)
Just a funny note, that a lot of the English place names in Wales, sound far more welsh than the actual welsh names - my favourite being Abergavveny in english, which is actually Y Fenni in welsh lol. I love this strange land

So yeah, back to the Empress...
The one striking thing about this Empress is that she's not pregnant! Its one of the very few Empress cards that does not depict obvious fertility. But of course, like many of the cards in this deck (and I think as it should be for a 'themed' deck) the tales and the explanations of the story is far more important than the 'actual' depiction. Though, I think the placement of the Orb on her lap seems to be in the right place, so theres the female fertility and the intercepting Spetre. As Lyones said..
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lyones
desire personified.
She has her green dress, and her purple robe, fertility and soverignity, linking her fertility to that of the land. Even the Christian monks would know the importance of this link and a fertile couple, so maybe that is a reason for the changing of the myth to suit their own propaganda - although she had a struggle she seemed to find a mid-way between Paganism and Christianity, and lots of monks and clerics would not have wanted to project this nice on the fence image.
The harp, indeed does suggest her
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sophie-David
Her golden harp suggests she is a musician, a further symbol of her creativity and devotion to beauty and art.
I really love this harp, and its a great bridging thought from the empress to the hierophant, Taliesin. Creativity, and the gifts that one could bring to the court with a good voice and an instrument were warmly welcomed! No tv n few books folks It could also symbolise her ancient knowledge, of the lore of her family and her role as the High Queen.
All these seem to bring more of an empress feel than lots of fruits and a heavily pregnant woman. She really does seem to have more going on in her head, more intelligence and fertility than the usual Empress, or maybe I'm not very good at looking into feminine figures lol. A true equal to Arthur.
The pillars could relate to the similiar energies of Nimue here, both are the same side of the coin.

Lovely card, again, I wish these cards were bigger to see her wonderful face more clearly!

Sezo
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Old 20-01-2005     Top   #4
Sophie-David 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RedMaple
The Mists of Avalon presents a different image, one who is truly caught between the worlds of the Old Ways and the Christian ways.
I'm really going to have to get around to reading The Mists of Avalon...

Quote:
Originally Posted by RedMaple
The eagle, for me, is not about maleness at all. Birds were often used as symbols of divinity in Britain, and the eagle simply offers a contrast to the Raven or Crows intimately connected with Morgan. This bird is the regal bird, of leadership, and it clearly holds a symbol of femaleness -- thus female leadership.
Try as I might, I still can't see the eagle as a feminine image, but it was stimulating to try! We see many bald eagles here, some resident, and many transient in fishing season. The females look very similar to the males. I think of the eagle as the king of birds; there is also Biblical imagery associated with the eagle and of course its male imagery.

I take the background of her chair as symbolic of the forces within. So for me the masculine eagle grasping the symbol of female sexuality, the feminine moons and the snakes, and the masculine featured pillars, show an Empress who through her experience of soul-to-soul love has achieved a degree of integration.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lyones
Guenevere holds in her right hand, a golden orb, which often signifies dominion in both the political and royal arenas. It is also said to signify perfection, fertility and the womb - which, together with the septre would show sexual union - desire personified.
Well, that was really helpful - I had thought that round red thing was a medallion on her dress! But yes that makes sense, its a golden orb, a symbol of the perfection of feminine sexuality and fertility. I would take the sceptre as a masculine symbol, and as you suggest, together the symbols are in union. A Keeper of Words notes that Arthur also has the union of symbols, page 45:

Quote:
Arthur holds the sceptre and orb, confirmations of his sovereignty. The sceptre also symbolizes his potency; the orb his fame and feminine principles.
And in Arthur's unconscious I see the unintegrated feminine dragons.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lyones
Entwined at the tip of the septre is a serpent - which seems to be common in tarot and always reminds me of the story of Moses and Aaron who raised a staff with a serpent on it to heal the Egyptians, so for me there is not only productiveness, but also restoration and repair affiliated with this card.
Again, I was not able to discern the details here. So not only are there snakes in Guenevere's unconscious, but in her conscious control. As you suggest Lyones, the snakes on the staff are an image of healing and restoration.

Teamwork on these cards is so helpful!



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Know that you are - already - the Christ, the Bodhisattva. By your great love the One became Many, as with delight and joy you assumed the cloak of duality. Form is made of but three things: energy, change, and love.
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Old 20-01-2005     Top   #5
WalesWoman 
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At first I thought, well if Arthur was the Emperor then Guenevere had to be the Empress, since she was his queen, yet a barren Empress? It doesn't make sense, unless it's something similar to Arthur's sacrifice of emotion. There is no water in the Emperor. So perhaps to truly be mother of the land, she couldn't have any children of her own to distract her, so that she would pour her emotions more outward to the earth and all that get their sustenance from it. I know I'm probably repeating Lyones and others, but it's something that's bugged me.

I like the Empress as a card, but I'm going to have to do some searching for Guenevere, as a person. I'm not feeling very sympathetic for her. Tho' who can control sometimes who makes your heart sing and who doesn't? I guess she was brave and foolish to follow her heart, and very human. Hmmm, you could say she broke the trust of the land as well, by falling for Lancelot and doing something about it and the price of loving him was her barreness and unfulfillment in love as well. (Where was Linnet when she was really needed?)

Perhaps this was how the Holy Grail was lost!!! Auther was too busy planning his strategy, lining up power, too much time with the guys and not enough wooing her, making her feel beautiful and loved and needed and killed any chance of love between them. A woman ignored is vulnerable and one who professes his undying love and suffers visably from it, is almost irresistable. Perhaps her Christianity...oh man!

I haven't gotten a chance to read the Da Vinci Code, but I watched a special on the History channel the other night that discussed the book and the "facts" surrounding this, no one can say for certain is true, but very much of what is in the book was based on real places and people, real happenings, or atleast real writtings, it's very possible. Perhaps Guenevere carried the blood of Christ in her veins, if the Holy Grail truly was the child, Mary Magdalene carried and traveled with Joseph of Aramathea to Briton!
If Guenevere was the last of her line, by not having a child, the Grail would be lost!
Or did she have a child by Lancelot, secretly taken away? Was it a child the Knights sought? If she had Arthur's sons as some Welsh tales say, who were they, what happened to them?



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Last edited by WalesWoman; 20-01-2005 at 13:29.
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Old 20-01-2005     Top   #6
Sophie-David 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by inanna_tarot
Just a funny note, that a lot of the English place names in Wales, sound far more welsh than the actual welsh names - my favourite being Abergavveny in english, which is actually Y Fenni in welsh lol. I love this strange land
Sezo, you're making me home sick for a place I've never actually been to! In common with many English people, we didn't travel around much when we lived there. My mother's family name was Llewellyn and I have a strong sense that my true heritage is Welsh, more so as I've grown older. There's that spiritual-psychic sense that I seem to have in common with her and her brothers - my mother said they were "fey people". And of course singing is my life.

Quote:
Originally Posted by inanna_tarot
She has her green dress, and her purple robe, fertility and soverignity, linking her fertility to that of the land. Even the Christian monks would know the importance of this link and a fertile couple, so maybe that is a reason for the changing of the myth to suit their own propaganda - although she had a struggle she seemed to find a mid-way between Paganism and Christianity, and lots of monks and clerics would not have wanted to project this nice on the fence image.
Yes, the later writers were anxious to demonize Guenevere as a representive of the older traditions of feminine power.

Quote:
Originally Posted by inanna_tarot
I really love this harp, and its a great bridging thought from the empress to the hierophant, Taliesin. Creativity, and the gifts that one could bring to the court with a good voice and an instrument were warmly welcomed! No tv n few books folks It could also symbolise her ancient knowledge, of the lore of her family and her role as the High Queen.
I agree, the harp emphasizes not only her creativity but the Empress as a source of story-telling knowledge and wisdom.

Quote:
Originally Posted by inanna_tarot
All these seem to bring more of an empress feel than lots of fruits and a heavily pregnant woman. She really does seem to have more going on in her head, more intelligence and fertility than the usual Empress, or maybe I'm not very good at looking into feminine figures lol. A true equal to Arthur.
Yes, perhaps Anna-Marie was going more for the rulership feel. I've really wondered why she didn't have Guenevere pregnant and do away with all the debate over whether or not Guen was barren - but maybe Anna-Marie enjoyed leaving Guen as an enigmatic figure. I also considered if she wanted to emphasize the idea of Guen's lack of fulfillment with Arthur and the perhaps consequent romance with Lancelot.

Quote:
Originally Posted by inanna_tarot
Lovely card, again, I wish these cards were bigger to see her wonderful face more clearly!
Yes, me too. I have good eyes, and I put the cards under a strong light when I'm studying them, but unless I have some idea what I'm looking for I don't always recognize what I see, such as the orb and the snakes entwining the sceptre. I suppose it was the usual marketing decision about the size of the cards - "Well that deck will only have a limited market, so we don't want to make the cards bigger and increase the price by five dollars". If a larger sized edition ever came out I would certainly buy it.

David



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Old 20-01-2005     Top   #7
RedMaple 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WalesWoman
At first I thought, well if Arthur was the Emperor then Guenevere had to be the Empress, since she was his queen, yet a barren Empress? It doesn't make sense, unless it's something similar to Arthur's sacrifice of emotion. There is no water in the Emperor. So perhaps to truly be mother of the land, she couldn't have any children of her own to distract her, so that she would pour her emotions more outward to the earth and all that get their sustenance from it. I know I'm probably repeating Lyones and others, but it's something that's bugged me.
I have trouble with the idea of Guenever's barrenness, too. But Morgan bore Arthur's child, and she was one of the Ladies of the Lake (water). Perhaps she was meant to be the Empress, and Guenevere and Lancelot were meant to be together. It does seem that way from some of the stories.

Quote:
I haven't gotten a chance to read the Da Vinci Code, but I watched a special on the History channel the other night that discussed the book and the "facts" surrounding this, no one can say for certain is true, but very much of what is in the book was based on real places and people, real happenings, or atleast real writtings, it's very possible. Perhaps Guenevere carried the blood of Christ in her veins, if the Holy Grail truly was the child, Mary Magdalene carried and traveled with Joseph of Aramathea to Briton!
If Guenevere was the last of her line, by not having a child, the Grail would be lost!
Or did she have a child by Lancelot, secretly taken away? Was it a child the Knights sought? If she had Arthur's sons as some Welsh tales say, who were they, what happened to them?
I want to read the Mysts of Avalon and the Da Vinci Code side by side -- two very different takes on the Grail legend. In the Mysts of Avalon, the Grail belongs to the Lady, and breaks up the Round Table. It is because they are betraying Avalon -- the visions are like those of the 7 Cups -- illusions, but some are real, too.

Isn't it great that this story is so potent that we still get additions to the myth now? 1500 years after the "real" Arthur might have lived?
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Old 20-01-2005     Top   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RedMaple
I have trouble with the idea of Guenever's barrenness, too. But Morgan bore Arthur's child, and she was one of the Ladies of the Lake (water). Perhaps she was meant to be the Empress, and Guenevere and Lancelot were meant to be together. It does seem that way from some of the stories.

I want to read the Mysts of Avalon and the Da Vinci Code side by side -- two very different takes on the Grail legend. In the Mysts of Avalon, the Grail belongs to the Lady, and breaks up the Round Table.
I want to re-read all of those books again as well as a few of the other ones. Yesterday I just came across another book to put on the reading list. "Marion Zimmer-Bradley's Ancestors of Avalon" by co-writer Diana L. Paxson, traces Avalon's history back to it's first inhabitants.

Whichever way, Guenevere's betrayal of Arthur with Lancelot, or her percieved betrayal by Arthur, having an illegitimate son by his half sister and Mordred's disruptive actions...or the combination...it sure seems that the Grail was the blood of someone embodied in a child. Sort of adding injury to insult. Wouldn't this make a great soap opera tho? I'd even start watching soaps again if they came out with one for this. Now I'm thinking of titles for one!



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Old 21-01-2005     Top   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by RedMaple
I want to read the Mysts of Avalon and the Da Vinci Code side by side -- two very different takes on the Grail legend.
I haven't read the whole of the Mists of Avalon yet, but what got me interested in the Grail legends was "Daughter of Tintagel" by Fay Sampson - essentially a story about Morgan told from different perspectives. The Da Vinci Code I enjoyed because it brought out things I hadn't thought about and got me researching bits and pieces.

Quote:
Originally posted by WalesWoman
I like the Empress as a card, but I'm going to have to do some searching for Guenevere, as a person. I'm not feeling very sympathetic for her. Tho' who can control sometimes who makes your heart sing and who doesn't? ........ So perhaps to truly be mother of the land, she couldn't have any children of her own to distract her, so that she would pour her emotions more outward to the earth and all that get their sustenance from it ... but it's something that's bugged me.
I've just been speculating about Gwen & Arthur & Lance. Would it have been possible that Guenevere and Arthur's marriage was arranged for similar reasons explored in the 5 of Spears (bringing cultures, languages, religions together to protect the land and it's inhabitants ... possibly even his need for an heir)? We (well, I know I do) tend to see Medieval way of life from today's viewpoint and what constitutes a marriage, but it may have been very different back then. I think in not knowing too much about Arthur's time, it makes it all to easy to judge our characters on the cards by our own standards in the present (I can think of various cultural traditions which have been changed or tabooed to fit in with what is acceptable to modern society). I have not been able to find conclusive results about what it would have been like in Arthur's time with regard to handfasting and marriage, only that the 'till death do us part' was constituted by the church, and that, only towards the end of the Middle Ages? The 'marriages' though, from what I can understand, and I may be wrong, seem to have been by consent and stipulation of the agreement, and some even say that time periods could have been set to the arrangements. If Arthur was out fighting or making his presence known in the land, he may not have been spending much time in the role of fathering an heir, which doesn't give a woman expected to bear one much chance to fulfil her role in that aspect. Nonetheless, according to legend she was sexually active, and I think it would have been the most unlucky of circumstances if she were barren.

From a modernised standpoint, I can see why Guenevere would be judged for taking Lancelot as a lover ... but I'd like to play the devil's advocate here and just suggest that things may not have been so clear-cut in those days ... what we know as the norm today, may not have been categorically law ... going from the 'old ways' to the 'new' all in one life-time - what may have been valid one day, may not necessarily have been 'civilized' the next.

Although I'm relying mainly on fiction for a personal view of relationships back then, it seems to me that the old ways encouraged what most would see today as promiscuity, and yet, with no man-made directives to the contrary, why would it be otherwise? I imagine that festivities and sex were among the few pleasures of life ... and still are ... until the society in which they lived deemed that it should not be so, or regulated their choice of partner/s?

Anyway, just some thoughts on what may or may not have been ... enough rambling from me this evening



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Old 21-01-2005     Top   #10
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