Queering the Tarot 3 & 4: The Empress & The Emperor

Queering the Tarot is a guest post series written by Cassandra Snow. Cassandra takes the most common interpretations and manifestations of the cards and discuss ways you might read them for a LGBTQQIA* client—or for yourself.

Read all posts in the series here!

Queering the Tarot 3 & 4: The Empress and Emperor

Book of Shadows So Below

From the Book of Shadows Tarot (So Below deck)

I decided for this month’s column to combine the next cards in the tarot deck, the Empress and Emperor, because the problems and solutions in queering—or even updating, them are so similar.

This is in part because they’re so connected, with the Empress traditionally representing the mother and the Emperor the father.

The Empress is historically said to deal with maternal energy, and this is understood to be the nurturing side of ourselves, and the side that deals with unconditional love. She’s also a positive omen for creative energy and fertility. In the negative, this card can represent “mommy issues” flaring up, or love that is overbearing.

Not very flattering, but the Emperor has a dark side too. This card, the yin to the Empress’ yang, often represents control and stability. This most often means getting control of your own life in an advice spread, but in the negative it does signify someone—usually assumed to be a man—who is too controlling, won’t let you spread your wings, or is absent and therefore your sense of discipline is absent. Occasionally, this oppressive force is even violent. In short, when negatively aspected this card is often read as “daddy issues.”

Prisma Visions

From the Prisma Visions Tarot

Most readers, at least at the professional level, have figured out how to read around gender in the court cards, but these present a different challenge.

Mother and Father are different archetypes with deeper ingrained biases in definition than King or Queen or even Male or Female. To truly queer these two, you have to be willing to throw the gendered notions of them out, not only to acknowledge same sex relationships, but to acknowledge the experience of transgender people, including those who don’t identify on the binary. Furthermore, the way these cards interpret mother and father is troublingly outdated in a world where dads often stay home and do the nurturing, moms are frequently charged with both roles, and many people aren’t even raised by their birth parents.

The Empress, boiled down to simplicity, is someone who is nurturing and creative, with lots of love to give.

This describes as many men and genderqueer people in my life as it does women. I would actually argue that since I run in primarily queer circles, this is more likely to represent a non-female friend than not when it shows up for me. While there are a lot of negative stereotypes of feminized gay men it’s not untrue that a great number are far more in touch with these sides of themselves than men in the world at large. It’s not always inclusive enough to acknowledge in a session that a person is LGBTQIA* or throw out gendered language.

We have to take the life experience of those falling under their specific identity into account, as well as the culture of the queer community at a given time. The negatives of this card do not have to be feminine either. The issues may not be with a mother figure at all, just someone in the querent’s life who is overbearing, or indicative that a system of support and nurturing has been absent or taken from the querent’s life. The latter is not uncommon in the queer community at all.


From The Spiral Tarot

The Emperor in it’s simplest form is about control and stability, or often, someone who is too controlling.

It can also indicate a lack of stability. Again, not uncommon at all for LGBTQIA* persons. This one “queers” a new way though. The Emperor, especially if negatively aspected and paired with The Heirophant and/or Justice card can also be indicative that something in the querent’s experience is being hurt or damaged by our society or legal system. If this card is about being allowed to call our own shots in life, even with all the personal support in the world, it remains true that there are rights and dignities not afforded to queer people that severely impact the ability to fully take control of our lives fully.

I have seen the Emperor indicate this enough times that it stays in my mind as a standard interpretation of this card. Finally, for members of the kink community, a “negatively aspected” card of control may not be negative at all—if the querent is looking for elements of control and dominance in their relationships, that should obviously be taken into account.

Finally, something that came out of discussion during a Queering the Tarot workshop I performed recently that was in queering these cards, sometimes we do need to take them completely literally. It is a sad truth that those of us who identify as not straight or not cisgender frequently have strained relationships with our parents, the damage of which can and does prevent us from moving forward in our lives. It is not uncommon then for a parent of any gender to be seen as The Emperor. The Empress deals with smothering affection and love though, and while less common, it does sometimes happen that a parent is so happy with their queer kid that they still run into typical issues of overbearing parents.

As with all the cards, queering the tarot requires a look at what a queer person’s life path is and how it differs, but some experiences are universal. The queering comes in understanding that this is still part of a LGBTQQIA* person’s path, but that it may affect them differently and the results may manifest uniquely.

Thinking of these cards as Mother and Father is not only outdated, but doesn’t take into account the unique experiences queer people face long after leaving the rule of their parents. Not only do our relationships look different, but how we navigate through society is different. Tarot should help people transform their lives into the best possible version of it, and if we look at the Empress as nurture and creation and the Emperor as stability and control, as well as leave room for intuitive and alternative interpretations, that’s going to be a lot more beneficial in helping most querents—of any identity—do so.

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  1. Tarotheart says:

    This is very well written Beth i enjoyed reading about this both of these archetypal genders in Tarot can often play their reversal roles in relationships? the Empress will not always be a nurturing motherly type and the Emperor’s masculinity can often be the reversal role of a gay man or woman!!

  2. Jeanna says:

    OMG this is my first exposure ever to the So Below deck of the Book of Shadows series and I am in love. Thank you thank you thank you.

    (Also, this was a super-helpful read.)

  3. Nosgo says:

    Excellent series of article about queering the tarot. I find that often, that LGBTQIA aspect is completely missing in anything esoteric/occult related stuff, as in tarot and thus it is often difficult, as a gay man (or any other LGBTQIA person) to understand where I am in all this stuff and how I interact with it when going out of hetero-normative perspective.

    Thank you for you work, really nice stuff, well written and informative. Are you going to break down every major arcana? Court cards also? Can’t wait to read more 😉

  4. vwjou says:

    I’m a cis hetero white person just starting to work with the craft and tarot, and the heteronormative portrayals and assumptions bug me to no end, not to mention doesn’t make sense in much of my life despite being hetero. Thank you so much for your work and insights on queering the tarot – it’s making my journey much more powerful.

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