The Empress - Archetypal Motherhood and Self-Sacrifice in Caregiving and Social Service Work
The Empress card depicts the image of a strong, feminine subject confidently reigning the realm of emotion, intuition, creativity, healing and nurture. She knows the power of surrender, and the magic of creative expression. She represents the divine feminine energy in all of us.
Divine feminine energy is severely oppressed, derided and undervalued all over the world. The message of the Empress has never been so important or so pressing as it is now.
The divine feminine principle represents the energy of collectivism and reception, while the masculine principle represents individuality and action. One is not more important than the other, and both should be in balance for optimal wellness. This applies to all energy systems from the individual to the cultural.
When the Empress is reversed, toxicity results.
The Empress in reverse takes the traits of the Mother archetype and pushes them to the extreme; to martyrdom, overbearing caregiving and conflation of self with others/those you are serving or supporting.
On an individual level, the result is unhealthy/toxic/abusive relationships. On a cultural level, the result is uneven distribution of caregiving work and emotional labour to women and femmes.
The Empress represents the Mother, the Creator. Her energy is ‘reversed’ in our social environments and cultural institutions due to the limited roles, behaviours and characteristics we allow in our cultural understandings of motherhood, creativity and caregiving.
As a social service worker in a field run on emotional labour, I have noticed the simultaneous reliance upon and devaluation of these features of the feminine principle represented by the Empress.
People who are drawn to this work can be generous with their time and energy in providing tireless emotional labour to others. They are often truly selfless.
As a society, we admire feminine self-sacrifice, and place the trope of the selfless mother on a pedestal. As lovely as this sounds, it’s actually problematic and limiting. To be selfless is to be without self, to give of yourself until your needs no longer matter.
Selflessness is the root of toxicity, not romance. When anything is placed on a pedestal, a fall from grace is inevitable.
The social service system operates within Capitalism by functioning within a framework guided by corporate values. Organizations exploit the selflessness of their workers by treating this trait as an expectation, part of an implicit agreement that no one chooses this work for the money.
The Empress energy cannot thrive or flourish in this field, because the system is not set up to empower these traits, but rather to support the broader goals of a white hetero-patriarchal system by undervaluing the Empress while exploiting her emotional labour.
When we talk about the oppression of the Empress, we are talking about all kinds of oppression. The Empress is the power in all of us to speak out against racism, to interrupt transphobia, to support newcomer communities.
Elevating the divine feminine is using our individuality to build community, getting comfortable using inclusive language or listening and reflecting rather than talking over marginalized voices.
In my tarot readings, I always emphasize that any reversed card in a future position can be turned right-side up by the action we take today to shift our energy and mindset.
The work of empowering the divine feminine is underway in our communities. The systems and institutions within which we strive to survive will be revolutionized because of it. We can all support this collective effort by working with the Empress energy in our own healing work.
Take a moment to reflect and move toward healing your Empress energy:
Think about the ways in which you embody the Empress or engage with this energy in your life.
Is the Empress reversed in your relationship with your mother?
Do you feel your creativity is thwarted by your 9-5 office job, or other institutional barriers to creative freedom?
Do you have difficulty setting boundaries in your relationships (personal and/or professional) to the point that you are burning out or building resentments?
Remember that boundaries are not always about saying ‘no’. When we have weak boundaries, we are more likely to unknowingly cross others’ boundaries in the name of caregiving.
We may enable destructive behaviours to ensure our role as a caregiver is needed.
In conversation, we may prepare what we want to say next instead of listening to our partner’s point of view. Or we may selectively hear what suits our narrative or conviction, instead of honouring another’s truth.
When boundaries are weak, it can be difficult to determine if our actions are selfless or selfish.