The Empress is the archetypal Earth-Mother - she is depicted surrounded by lush growth, with a cornucopia at her side, and with children all around, clinging to her, seeking her boundless nourishment.
The Empress gives and gives and gives, and then gives more. She becomes a conduit of divine love, of unqualified, uncompromising nurturing. She is a well of love, a provider, a mother.
This may seem, at first look, a wonderful energy to use to build intimacy. After all, by loving the other unconditionally, generously, copiously, we let go of nasty selfishness and pride, and feed the other. And surely, feeding the other is feeding the relationship. Those of us who have provided for children know the great intimacy that arises when we nurture a young life and help it to blossom.
Yet, for true intimacy between adults, the mothering instincts of the Empress are more a trap than a key. Parenting, whether paternal or maternal in its aura, remains an asymmetric relationship. The child is not just companion, but also learner. We help our children along the road to maturity by wisely engaging their natural awe and respect for us as providers and caretakers. They look to us for answers, for solace, for challenge, for nourishment...and we oblige.
But among adults, the situation is different. Neither the paternal imposition of structure nor the maternal unconditional nourishing are adequate for creating an adult relationship between equals. There are certainly times when the Empress's maternal love is welcome, as when a loved one is in crisis and simply needs comfort and care. But more often, the maternal instinct goes awry, creating an asymmetrical relationship in which one person sacrifices and the other suckles. Both partners lose identity if they follow this pattern. The Empress loses her personal ambition and character when she devotes herself exclusively to caring for her consort, and her beloved also loses self, by becoming dependant, subserviant, and childlike.
The adolescent man in the corner of the card is struggling with issues of separation. He imagines that his mother, the Empress, does not see his inner turmoil. She would accept him happily if he joined the younger children in clamoring for her body and attention, but he will not do so. He needs to be an individual, a warrior, an independent spirit, untethered to hearth and womb. He loves his mother, but also hates her. She symbolizes his dependent childhood, which he feels he must escape to be a man. Separation and independence need not fall into this confrontational mold, but escaping the trap requires both parent and child to move consciously and caringly away from the overwhelming power of the Empress archetype and toward more symmetrical relationship.
The Energy of the Empress is seductive, but ultimately problematic, in a relationship between adults. On the one hand, it strokes our desire to be children again, to return to the unconditional love of the Mother. We are drawn to it, both as receiver and giver. But this is a form of love whose price is asymmetry, assymetry on a deep, psychological level. We may adore being mothered by our lover, but when mothering becomes smothering, we rebel, reject, and retalliate. An adult relationship is not one of Madonna-like sacrifice, subordinating the lover to the role of child. Rather, it is an extraordinary dialog between equals, in which both parties exhibit their need to be loved as a child, and their complementary need to love the other unconditionally, as a mother. In such an emotional dialog, the energy of the Empress has a pivotal role to play. She reminds us that it is OK to be nourish and to be nourished, despite society's insistence on cold independence. But Empress energy must always remain a two-way street, a force to harness in the service of a symmetric, loving relationship. If this force ends up reducing one partner to mother and the other to child, then it must be released, however painful that process may be.
Both Empress-identification and Empress-rebellion are serious issues in intimate relationships. It can be very hard to see when we are inappropriately mothering, or inappropriately defensive about being mothered. The Empress card appears to raise awareness about these issues; their resolution happens when the cards are put away, and we engage ourselves in authentic introspection and engage one another in honest dialog.