Crowley and Harris’ rendering of Atu III – ‘The Empress’ – is awash with detail, and encapsulates, with very broad-strokes, the understanding he sought to eternalize in his rendition of these eclectic Mysteries of the past.

He seemed to see these as of great import in the occult understanding of the modernity and Cultural Modernism which was crashing down upon his generation and his World at the beginning of the 20th Century, iconoclastic and disruptive, and right up his street because of that fact, though perhaps even he would have preferred to avoid the carnage of the War to End all Wars.

Alchemy, Astrology, Tarot history, Kabalah, Enochian, Numerology and the power of Myth, from as broad a cultural lens as any of his age could adequately hope to achieve, the deck is a veritable labyrinth of meaning and erudition that can be studied for the rest of your life without exhausting new insights and connections and taking the ideas forward in your own practice…but you *do* have to study a bit!

Since we’re in the Watery Mysteries of “the Queen of the Moon…”

I think his tarot is revolutionary for precisely this contextual relevance, to say nothing of that fact that my own Spiritual Path – Santo Daime, an eclectic ayahuasca derived cult from the Amazon in Brazil, which venerates this very Spiritual Entity – and a close relative in Brazil, Umbanda – all sprung into life around the same time that Crowley was receiving Liber AL vel Legis – The Book of The Law (1904) , and declaring the Old ‘Aeon of Osiris’ to be over, and to be superseded by the ‘Aeon of Horus’ – of which he, of course, was the Hierophant and leader, as Christ was of Christianity and Mohammed was of Islam.

The man had some chutzpah, no doubt 🙂

But then: so did Mestre Raimundo Irineu Serra, the Godfather of Santo Daime, and so did Zélio de Moraes, the originator of Umbanda (and, indeed, L Ron Hubbard, a contemporary and friend of Crowley and the leader of Scientology…the rumour (most likely apocryphal, as most are) goes that he and Crowley had a bet about who could become the figurehead of a brand new religion for the 20th Century and beyond, and…well…here we are, I guess…?!?!))

To be clear – I am not comparing any of these men, nor their practices and doctrines, to each other. Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy were also batting for the women’s participation in this Age of the New, of course, but – then, as now – it was mostly a Manly Pursuit™ at the Top of the Game, as in many domains, and equally if not more questionable in this particular one, though historically depressingly familiar.

I just wish to point out that this ‘push’, this urgent drive toward updated, more relevant, connected but separate, continuous but qualitatively different urges toward the Spiritual with a capital ‘S’ – all occurred in the first two decades of the 20th Century. Quite a moment for global Spiritual expansion and contraction, in the heave-ho of Modernism and the ‘Death of God’… for His rebirth in new matrices, new ages, new dimensions, of and for new people.

As I was going up the stair
I met a woman who wasn’t there…

Crowley and Harris’ Empress is The White Queen of Alchemy, Venus-Aphrodite, Mother Nature, Alchemical Salt, and the creatrix of ‘the White Tincture’ – to be combined in Coniunctio (Conjunction) with her counterpart Red King’s ‘Red Tincture’ in the so-called ‘Alchymical Marriage’ that we subsequently see depicted the card Atu VI ‘The Lovers’, and then some really weird shenanigans continuing in the card Atu XIV ‘Art’ (typically ‘Temperance’ – and Crowley is nothing if not a cunt for forcing everyone to always clarify that when attempting to compare his tarot with other tarots…)

So…what the Great White Goddess does all this have to do with you and your interest in tarot, and art, and reading the cards?!

Well, the White Queen and the Empress are perhaps the most ‘Tarot-y’ of the symbols of the pack, and invite us to enter our ‘Alchemical Water’ – a very specific term. Alchemy is like legalese, like technical shit that will confuse you if you assume it’s vernacular (‘Nonce’ in cryptography stands out as a highly amusing recent example of this :))

Water in Alchemy is the ‘Water that does not wet’ and more or less refers to the Mind, to Mercury, with its dual nature (Mercurius duplex – utriusque e capax : ‘Mercury double – capable of either and both’).

This dual nature could fairly be thought of in modern terms as ‘Conscious and Unconscious’, or ‘Masculine and Feminine’ or ‘Active and Passive’ or ‘Intellectual and Soulful’ or ‘Penetrating and Incubating’, or ‘Analytical and Intuitive’, or ‘Mercurial and Lunar’, as ‘Awake’ and Asleep’, or even ‘You get the Picture and You don’t get the Picture’.

Perhaps the Picture gets you?!

You get the picture?

Crowley says in his Book of Thoth that in this card, the Empress, more than in any other that’s exactly what you have to do : you have to ‘Get The Picture’.

“In no other card is the Whole so much more important than the collection of parts” he opines, and truly, this is the nature of Mind, and thus Environment, and thus the Whole, actually…your fundamental experience of yourself depends upon your intimacy with this truth, and capacity to explore it thoroughly – a truth alluded to in Atu VI, ‘The Lovers’ (‘Solve’) and Atu XIV, ‘Art’ (‘Coagula‘).

Solve et Coagula‘ is the fundamental maxim of alchemy, and essentially Tarot also, and indeed Science, if you think clearly about it.

And so the Great Temptress is present to help us dissolve, in our own Waters, the preconceptions and ideologies and false stories and fake news and emotional armour and crystallized pain and fossilized baggage and hurt inner-child, that we have carried, and still carry, in the freshly renewed waters of the Albedo moments in our becoming.

In the Thoth tarot, she is the archetypal Mother, possessing the highest qualities of both the Moon and Venus. The symbol of antimony is above her head in the position of Kether – the Crown – in the microcosm of man and above the path of Daleth­ on the Tree of Life – the path that connects Kings and Queens in the tarot, and 2’s and 3’s (Chokmah and Binah – Wisdom and Understanding, respectively), and exists above the Emperor – food for thought in there.

She participates in the ‘Supernal Triad’ of Kether, Chokmah, Binah, above The Abyss.
He is located below the Abyss, in Chesed.

Her posture intimates the Alchemical symbol for Salt. This Element of the Alchemical process is feminine, passive, receptive, heavy, solid and manifest, crystallized. Much like the Empress performing the pass with her asana as alchemical salt – this is the vehicle of manifestation, the great Birther of the Cosmos, the Big Mama pregnant with possibilities and ‘children as numerous as the fish in the sea’.

She sits between waning and waxing moons, facing the waxing moon – hence ideas of growth, creative energy, fertility and birth inherent in this Trump. All around her are birds sacred to Venus, and to the Albedo of alchemy – sparrows, doves & swans. Behind her there is an arched door, which is what Daleth means in Hebrew (‘Door’ – perhaps the ‘Door’ through which all Life, including you and I, emerged, a Cosmic Yoni, ever-birthing, opening and closing for the manifest and un-manifest, like Binah – the source of all Life, and the ultimate return of all Death).

We see ‘the White Tincture’ alluded to in her shield, as ‘the Red Tincture’ was present in her counterpart The Emperor, Atu IV. Purified Salt, leads her to the Mysteries of the Moon, and to Silver…

These are associated with sexual alchemy and the so called ‘gluten’ – feminine sexual fluids.
As I said, the ancients were pretty obsessed with sex and reproduction as something Divine, Holy and Magickal.

The pelican feeding its young with its own blood is a symbol, once again, of sacrifice and the Aeon of Osiris, now passed in Crowley’s spiritual ideas. She has her back turned to its wasted gesture, and is no mere plaything of paternal or misogynistic forces. She ain’t Daddy’s Girl, she is “armed and militant, girt with a sword for the New Aeon”.

The bird has 24 feathers – this links it with the 24th path on the Tree of Life – Nun (Water) – which is associated with the Death card, Atu XIII, and the Nigredo – which we will come to very shortly of course 😊.

In as much as the Nigredo is associated with Scorpio, we should remember that Venus – the Empress – is in her detriment in Scorpio, where superficialities are discarded and intensity and naked sexuality-as-power are the name of the game. Venus struggles in the underworld, where her frock is going to get ruined, and there are no coolers for the Champagne, which isn’t even Champagne, darling, it’s some kind of rum-cocktail. Scorpio is the realm of The Maiden, Kore, who was rarely mentioned by name, though it was known – Persephone. Now, that’s a Different Mystery™ 😉

The bird and its martyrdom for its offspring stand under the waning moon – and thus are the ‘dross’ or ‘gross impurities’ of the alchemical operation – the influence of the Old Aeon is being removed, and the purified Salt of the New Aeon stands firm, purged of the Spiritual uncleanliness of the past, armed with the Science of the alchemists.

The antimony in her crown is the catalyst for this separation of the gross and wild from the spiritual and perfected.

So the Empress is our desire-body – perfectly amoral! – concerned mostly with satisfaction of urges, impulse, emotional well-being and exploration, and the creative impulse (as sexual or abstract as you may take that to be), and the essential relationships between everything.

Compare and contrast to the Emperor, who focuses upon Self, and Agency.

She is maternal, mothering (and smothering, according to dignity). All the qualities of Venus (and, to a large extent, the Moon) are present : Beauty, Pleasure, Aesthetic concern, Attraction, Fashion, Empathy, the nurturing behaviour of all loving instincts, the tension in Nature in Springtime, or the barrenness of Nature in Autumn (Fall), the security of a safe nurturer, or the absence of anyone who ever told us they loved us without condition, the response we have to our own creative impulses, the line of matriarchy in our family, and the whole relationship we have to creativity (and gestation and birth) in general and specific. She doesn’t like cities, there are too many straight lines and hard edges. Hers is the crinkly fractal of a coastline, a treeline, a leaf edge, a wild space, any measurement which just keeps getting longer the closer you look for detail, a riot of colour and noise and rhythm with nothing but the joy of making it, rather than seeking a ‘tune’.

At her worst, ie ‘ill-dignified’ – near the Death card, perhaps, or trapped in close proximity to Scorpio pip cards (the 5, 6 and 7 of cups) or ‘Mars heavy’ pip cards (the 2 of Wands, 5 of Wands, 7 of Wands, say) – she will portray her worst qualities upon all the congregated participants in the reading -being  jealous, petty, ‘hysterical’ (God, language is grim), possessive, cruel, barren, stagnated, demanding, frivolous and unpredictable, prone to flights of temper, rage, emotional blackmail, and manipulative speech.

‘Hell hath no Fury…’, somewhat infamously.
Even Zeus/Jupiter would avoid Aphrodite/Venus if she was on the warpath.

The Unconscious – the ‘Water that does not wet’ inside the Mind, the Mercury/Moon – was certainly known to the wise of our ancestors, and they fully grokked Her power to Seduce – both into Illusion and into Truth.

The Road of Excess may well lead to the Palace of Wisdom.

But it can just as easily lead to the Asylum of Criminality, as much as the Hospice of Rehabilitation or, indeed, the Nihilism of Despair.

So: In the depths of these Alchemical Waters – Learn to swim?

Probably a Good Idea that’s bubbled up the surface, there.

Find a suitable instructor, or brave the tides yourself, it’s up to you.

You must become able to easily consult with your deepest psychic structures and wounds, and properly analyze (‘solve’) them in order to proceed wisely.

The White Queen is waiting for you, seductively, and ready to fill you with new desires, no matter the consequences for you, should you remain exclusively under Her influence…

Take your time to reflect upon her Waters, and the Moon-Venus ways you imagine your goals into Being.
The White Queen is waiting for you, seductively, and ready to fill you with new desires, no matter the consequences for you, should you remain exclusively under Her influence…

Take your time to reflect upon her Waters, and the Moon-Venus ways you imagine your goals into Being.

As ever, share comments below on your insights into working with the Empress in your own Tarot practice, I love to hear from you about your own encounters with Her.

Love and let love.
Rejoice in every shape of love, and get thy rapture and thy nourishment thereof.

~ Aleister Crowley, ‘The Book of Thoth’

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