Women and Feminine Tarot Cards
When reading Tarot, you almost always see certain people pop up. A mother, a brother, a friend. You find yourself warning your sitter about a colleague or telling them to listen to a woman in their family. But how do you find information about this person? The first step is of course to study each Tarot figure and learn what they stand for. Understand who they are, what’s their story. Your intuition will do the rest.
If the Empress pops up and your inner voice screams “Sister!” Then we’re looking at a sister. If she says “Friend!” Then, it’s a friend. Simple.
Now, sometimes your intuition doesn’t immediately recognize a character and that’s when step one will save your reading.
In this post, I will exclusively focus on the women and feminine figures in Tarot. Who are they? What is their message? What is their story? Who do they stand for?
First things first: there are 8 feminine figures in the major arcana. Just like there are 8 male figures.
The other 6 are gender neutral (a possible male or female energy can be established sometimes depending on your deck, but they should remain open and generally open).
Women and Feminine Figures in Tarot (Major Arcana):
The High Priestess
Then, there are the 4 Queens of the minor suits. The Queen of Wands, Cups, Coins/Pentacles and Swords. Each of them is as fascinating as informative in any spread.
Male (or male energy driven) figures of the Major Arcana are:
The Hanged Man
Plus the 4 Kings and the Knights and Pages of the minor Suits. Yes, there are way less women in the minor suit and that is not fair – hello Medieval roots 🙂
But on the other hand, their presence in a spread is even more powerful. Just like in Chess, a Queen is the real deal. I recently had 3 Queens in one reading. And that really made it memorable.
There are also the gender neutral or “open to debate/follow your gut feeling” cards, which more or less relate to female or male energy but mostly adapt to their context or deck.
Wheel of Fortune (neutral / feminine energy)
Death (neutral / feminine energy)
The Tower (gender neutral)
Judgement (Gender Neutral / masculine tendancies)
The Lovers (gender neutral)
Based on your cultural background and more importantly, on your deck, this may vary a little bit. But that’s the most common order of things.
Now that we had a look at the deck, let’s only focus on the women and female figures.
The Female Figures of the Major Arcana
When thinking of women in Tarot the first images that come to mind are probably the Empress and High Priestess. Maybe because they are actual female characters where as the Star, Justice or Strength are allegories. But they are female nevertheless through their energy and “human” incarnation.
The feminine energy in Tarot can be very ambiguous and depending on the decks, more or less dark. Females were long associated with the night, deep waters, the moon and everything mysterious. Where masculine energy is all fire and light, the feminine one has always been considered more complex if not all negative depending on the time and place.
It’s something that needs to be said and dealt with: yes, the origins of Tarot are tainted with sexism. They also show a social order which is (becoming?) completely obsolete but used to mean something.
Today, we can grow past these “stains” and simply keep the universal language and symbolism of the cards. Its intelligent structure makes it possible. But to truly understand all the nuances of the female figures of Tarot, we sometimes need to dive back into the darkness of essentially sexist and sexophobic Medieval times.
The High Priestess
The very essence of feminine intuition, motherly love, patience and ancient sacred knowledge all lie in this card.
The High Priestess is a woman who’s already lived a lot. She does not represent a young girl. To become the High Priestess, one has to go through many experiences and different phases of life, love and health.
Time and life are her teachers. Through them, she understands the secrets and reasons of our very presence in the world. That’s what the book she is holding is about. It is a book that can only be understood through intuition. No matter how many times and how fast you read it, you may only understand it through experience.
The High Priestess often represents the Mother or a mother. She is supposedly based on the legendary figure of Pope Joan, the only female Pope in “history”. Joan was not only a Pope, she was a mother too.
She can also be an ally to the sitter: someone whose advices are essential and wise. She can be a spiritual mentor, a healer or the partner if the sitter is younger than his/her partner. She usually is 40+ or someone very mature for their age.
When reversed, the High Priestess becomes a futile and superficial person. She is a woman with whom the sitter is having a conflict, a manipulative person who is not revealing her true personality. She is a rival, a true enemy.
A person represented in a spread by the High Priestess is usually: wise, calm, experienced, mysterious, motherly, secretive, knowledgeable.
A reversed High Priestess is: jealous, manipulative, lying, hostile, proud, lazy.
The Empress is somehow a complementary card to the High Priestess. Where the latter stands for the knowledge acquired through the heart and experiences, the Empress is all about the female mind. She rules over her Empire. With her head.
She thinks, plans ahead and is never short on ideas. Two words best describe the Empress: Creative Intelligence.
Qualities associated with the Empress that can help you identify someone in a spread include: intelligence, control, practical sense, youth, dynamism.
The Empress is all about the mental and intellectual realm. She originally had wings, which are associated to the element of Air (the head). Her authority is natural, her mind is sharp, her life is under control.
Qualities associated with a reversed Empress: low energy, ignorance, silliness, selfishness, instability, harshness.
We have all seen statues or representations of Lady Justice in our life. She is holding a balance and a sword, her eyes often covered with a blindfold.
Justice as we know it today is a direct heritage of the Roman Empire and so is this representation. Most of our Western laws and systems are still based on Roman Justice. Justicia, the Roman Goddess of what we now call Justice was yet another adaptation of a Greek Goddess: Themis. She was the first wife of Zeus and would always be by his side when crucial decisions were made because she was truly impartial and constant.
This is why, and to this day, Justice has always been represented by a woman. Goddess or allegory, she is always female and so is her energy.
Qualities associated with Justice that can help you identify someone in a spread include: cold blood, constance, honesty, good temper, reliability, rationality, impartiality.
Justice speaks of the righteous order of things and balance in life.
She also naturally is the card you expect when discussing legal matters. Upside, she is usually favourable to your question.
A reversed Justice figure is: unfair, foolish, irrational, incoherent, corrupt, crooked.
Strength, another allegory, shows a lady taming a lion or sometimes simply walking side by side with him. She may gently put her hand on his head. The lion completely surrenders to this woman and yet no violence or weapons are used.
That is because the strength represented by this card is not the one of guns and muscles. It is a more subtle way of fighting, which brings better and more impressive results. Generally, the kind of strength developed by women who were not allowed to fight or carry weapons.
Real strength does not depend on how big you are, it comes from the head and the heart.
Qualities associated with Strength that can help you identify someone in a spread include: self-control, benevolence, restraint, altruism, strength of character, diplomacy.
A reversed Strength figure is: unfair, mean, agressive, unbalanced, moody, easily influenced by others, irrational.
The figure of Temperance in Tarot is not an actual woman and not a Goddess either. She’s an angel.
In most traditional representations she’ll wear wings and the sky embraces and surrounds her. But before turning female and becoming the reassuring angel we know, she was a man inspired by the legendary figure of Ganymede. He was a hero and the official cupbearer of the Ancient Greek Gods.
In Tarot tradition, the angel went from gender neutral to female. For two main and simple reasons it would appear: first the word “Temperance” itself in French and “Temperanza” in Italian, is female. There is also the water. The most feminine elements of all, which is obviously key in this card.
Still present, the male origins of Temperance make it a moderate card, in which gender isn’t necessarily a crucial element of the reading. This is also why Temperance is often associated with friendship. It goes beyond gender and romance.
Qualities that can help you identify someone through Temperance in a spread: moderation, self-control, generosity, productivity, good temper, patience, fairness.
Qualities that can help you identify someone through a reversed Temperance: passion, extremism, insanity, vice, unfaithfulness, dishonesty, moodiness.
The Moon is a well loved card among readers today, especially the younger generation. And yet, it is traditionally a darker and difficult card. Ruler of the night, ever-changing and accomplice to all that happens in the shadows, the Moon was long considered a card as negative as the Hanged Man or the Devil.
Its energy always was and remains entirely feminine. The kind that was long misunderstood and even oppressed. The cycle of the Moon is the same as one of a woman and both are therefore naturally, spiritually and culturally linked. This is true in most cultures and civilizations.
We may find some of these archaic concepts ridiculous or insulting today (the ever changing mood of unstable women and all that jazz…) but the history of a card remains crucial to read it properly.
The Moon stands for the darker side of feminine energies. The ones that are still often misunderstood or even feared. It is therefore the card of witchcraft and mystery. In a more tangible and every-day-kinda-light it is the card of gossip and manipulation.
But there is a brighter side to this fascinating arcana: the Moon is the card of intuition, dreams and motherhood. Like the High Priestess, it’s a card of secrets known by women only.
It is also the card of memory and growth.
Qualities that can help you identify someone through the Moon in a spread: secretive, motherly, gossipy, dark, spiritual, pagan, intuitive.
The Star is hard at work constantly reviving the old water in the lake – sometimes a stagnant river – at her feet. The water she pours is hot and purifying. It brings back life, hope and balance. Once again, this very feminine figure is directly linked to the Water in the most literal way.
It is a card of harmony and good luck.
The Star pours water where it is most needed: in a dying lake in a desert or dried out land. Just like she brings back good luck and protection in difficult moments of our lives.
She is the opposite feminine energy to the one we find on the Moon card: she’s a healer, a good witch, a nurse.
Spiritual, devoted and brave, the Star ensures that dreams will come true, diseases will heal and broken hearts mend. She is also a card that speaks of faith, divine protection, creative talents and romantic love.
Qualities that can help you identify someone through the Star in a spread: hard working, kind, optimistic, healthy, beautiful, helpful, creative or artistic.
A reversed Star can be: alcoholic, unhealthy, lazy, ill-intentioned, sarcastic, cynical, toxic.
The World is the female equivalent of the Sun. It is one of the very best cards in the deck but its energy is slower and more constant than the one of its male counterpart.
Surrounded by a crown of braided leaves, the Goddess of life and fertility stands in perfect balance and harmony with the elements, both material and spiritual.
At the four corners stand the symbols of the 4 seasons, 4 cardinal points and 4 central star signs (Aquarius + Air, Taurus + Earth, Leo + Fire and Scorpio + Water). She is the glue which holds everything together. She makes the World go round.
The Goddess of fertility in her egg shaped frame reveals her female body where life is made and born and is therefore a great sign for women wishing to become mothers.
For anyone, the World is the card of achievements in any given field, of challenges overcome and happiness in their personal life.
Qualities that can help you identify someone through the World in a spread: mature, open, nurturing, confident, balanced, wise, happy.
A reversed World is: unhappy, defeated, pessimistic, grieving, arrogant, hostile, sterile.
The Queens of the Minor Arcana
All court cards carry the very essence of the suit they rule or serve. This essence defines their character as a man, woman, ally or opponent among other things.
In the Marseille traditions, Kings are always good and benevolent figures unless the card is reversed. Once again, this has to do with the medieval tradition in which this Tarot finds its roots. In this same tradition, naturally, Queens are mostly good and seriously powerful, but also more complex.
Queen of Wands
The Queen of Wands usually stands for a well balanced personality where sweetness and dynamism are combined. She is active and speaks of success.
Often considered the most positive of all Queens, she is a good friend, a caring mother, a faithful wife or a helpful colleague. When the card represents a person in the sitter’s life, she is most likely linked to their professional or social activities.
She brings good advices and support, you can rely on her.
Queen of Cups
The Queen of Cups is also a rather positive card although she starts to show grey areas. She is emotional and spiritual. She represents motherly love and maternal instincts.
She is a devoted partner in a love spread. She is sweeter and softer than the Queen of Wands. The Queen of Cups is less active also and can even be shy.
When the surrounding cards speak of trouble she may be a mistress or a manipulative lover.
Queen of Coins / Pentacles
She used to be the only Queen represented standing up and holding a Coin. In more recent decks she often sits like the other queens. But this original position was not meaningless.
Like the Empress and Strength she is linked to the Earth when most feminine figures are usually associated with Water. She speaks therefore of the material and down-to-earth realm. She is connected to the home, finances and family life. She is most pragmatic.
The Queen of Coins is a woman of influence and power. She can be her own master but she is also deeply passionate, often ambitious and jealous.
The 3rd Queen of the deck reflects all the different ways we have to manage our every day life, our money and belongings. On her own, she is balanced but she can easily become a source of problems when surrounded by less beneficial cards. More so than the Queen of Cups or the Queen of Wands.
Queen of Swords
The Queen of Swords is my personal favorite. She is the one of the most human and real figures in the deck.
The Queen of Swords is often a widow, an older woman or one who has suffered enough to understand the true challenges and hardships of life.
Her story is not an easy one but for the price she paid she is the wisest, most intelligent and trustworthy of all Queens. She is not the easiest one to approach nor to understand. But she brings hope through her own story: pain and suffering also bring true wisdom. Her message is that we can overcome anything. Literally. She is all about strength, perseverance and prudence.
Beware of a reversed Queen of Swords though: all her suffering, all the darkness she normally turns into light becomes a threat. As the toughest and most clever of all Tarot figures, you do not want to have her as your enemy.
More about the Queens in Tarot in this previous post.
That will depend on your deck. In the Marseille tradition only one Queen appears to be pregnant and the Empress is not. With the development of modern decks it became quite common to see the Empress with a round belly. So, why is she sometimes pregnant and sometimes not?
Originally in the Italian and Marseille decks the Empress spoke of the female mind and its fertility. It’s all about the birth of ideas, the spark of the mind. It’s the rational genius of the woman who thinks.
But this “fertility” over time and with the many “softer” versions of Tarot lead to an actual pregnancy. That is why many readers today associate the Empress to a maternal figure. And with some decks, you just have to. There is not just one system for all and you should always set some rules with your own deck before you start predicting.
The only Queen originally drawn as pregnant is the Queen of Swords. Now that makes little sense it seems since she is the coldest and oldest of all. The Queen of Swords, also Queen of Winter and icy winds, the Queen of the mind…pregnant? Once again, let’s travel back in time and to to the Middle Ages to understand:
Pregnancy has not always been a happy time. Until very recent times in the Western World, pregnancy would equal a very high chance of dying in the next few months. While Kings would look forward to their much needed Son(s), Queens (and all women) would worry about not making it through labor or the pregnancy. A pregnant woman would constantly worry for herself and her child. Could they both survive? Nothing was ever less sure.
So the pregnancy of the Queen of Swords is one of the many more subtle symbolisms in Tarot. She’s a worried woman. With reasons to be. It stands for one of the scariest and most universal fear women have shared in all countries since the beginning of time.
One other major aspect visible on the picture below is that each Queen stands for one one phase, one season but also wears a growing belly! The Queen of Wands has no belly. Wands are about the “first spark”. You couldn’t tell for sure on the Queen of Cups, you may suspect the rounder shape of the Queen of Coins and you’re definitely in presence of a big belly with the Queen of Swords. And to put it bluntly: the bigger the belly, the higher the stakes.
So, does the Queen of Swords ever announce an actual pregnancy? She definitely can. But only if the cards around are heavily associated with motherhood and childbirth. Most of the time, she does not.
So, who is pregnant? Well no one actually is. And a single card will never announce a pregnancy in a spread. This would take a specific association in a pre-determined context. See more about Tarot Cards Announcing Pregnancy in this previous post.
How do you see and read these fascinating cards? And how do you respond to their energy? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.