The Empress - This card is the archetypal Mother, with a capitol "M". She is Mater and matter. She represents all the joys and troubles you have ever had with mother figures, and mothering. She is Ninharsag who created modern man. But more she is Nature.
When reading the Major Arcana as "the Book of Life" this card is the supreme governess of Life. And she tests her children - is the duckling sound enough to break free of his shell, is the child robust enough to survive childhood disease. It is her's to oversee Life's balance; impersonal life, nature. She is also the loving mother, but when it comes to nature vs ego, the continuance of Life takes precedence over the continuance of a life. She is all that is good in life, pure waters, fruitful orchards, laughing children; but she also allows into life that which will ultimately be sacrificed for the good of the whole - fruits, crops, deformed wildebeast calves...
In mundane terms she is also the cerebellum. Here are a few examples of the unconscious processes the cerebellum oversees: Every second we loose 10 million cells, and in the next second it makes another 10 million to replace them. Every one of the 100 trillion cells in the body goes through 100,000 chemical reactions every sec. There are 3.2 billion nucleic acids that make up the genes in one cell, and enzymes are sent up and down those chains all the time repairing mutations. It runs all the organized processes of digestion. This is why the cerebellum is called the house of God/dess in man.
When she shows up in a spread mothering is the issue. It may be mothering one's own children, or how the querent is being mothered. It could be pregnancy or infertility(some people have so many children in one life they get to have a life free of child care). It could even be Nature herself saying you need to be more aligned with her, more respectful of her needs and powers.
The symbolism in the card reads thus - She wears the 12 starred crown of all living, which is to say: all living were born under one of the 12 signs of the zodiac, and she is queen of that. The pearls at her neck are 7 in number, which says the lessons enfolded in the seven seals are only understandable lessons if you have a body with which to interact with matter. The pearls are the wisdom gained from those lessons. The fruits (pomegranates) on her dress are stylized to look like the symbol for both female and Venus, indicating sexual reproduction. The rod and globe in her hand is a stylized brainstem and cerebellum. She reclines on red cushions that indicate the carnal nature of birth and survival in nature. Her couch is on a raised earthen mound(pregnant belly of nature) surrounded by the waters (her nurturing fluids) on one side, and grains (all of us alive) in front. The tree above her left hand also is indicative of the cerebellum as director of the body's unconscious processes.
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"You create your own universe as you go along" - Winston Churchill