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Tarot Stories: The Empress

Updated: May 1

My Meme and me, looking at a dress pattern in 1981. I was wearing the unbleached muslin prototype.

My maternal grandmother, whom my cousins and I affectionately refer to as “Meme,” (pron. Me-me) was one of the strongest, kindest, and most creative souls I’ve ever known. Although she experienced turbulent hardships throughout her childhood and adolescence—many events of which inspired my novel Only the Rocks That Float—she persevered, using her learned experiences to create a life rich with love and art.

As a young, married woman and mother back in the fifties, Meme expressed her creativity through her kitchen. From brewing the most delicious pot of coffee you’d ever smelled and/or tasted, to delivering a four-course meal every evening for her family, she imbued what she produced with care and love. Meme was a gardener, planting, growing, and harvesting her own herbs and vegetables: spearmint, oregano, thyme, tomatoes, squash, okra, and the list grows. Fruit trees staggered about my grandparents’ property—fig, peach, crabapple, and pomegranate—the harvest of which she’d use for jellies, preserves, cobblers, and pies. Muscadine and scuppernong vines twisted along the tops of their chain-link fencing, the fruits from which Meme’d used to ferment (and hide from PawPaw, who was a pastor) her own wines.

Meme’s fruit-stained hands were white lightning at her sewing machine; she designed and produced clothing for her children, grandchildren, and herself. When I was a little girl, almost all of my clothing were Meme’s creations; everything she made was perfected down to the detail. Oh, how I looked forward to Saturday afternoons spent picking out fabric and notions with her at the Piece Goods store!

Meme also enjoyed quilting and crafting, and in the eighties she went through a period of creating the cutest (or most terrifying, depending on who you asked) clown dolls you’d ever seen in your life. Fashioned from fabric remnants, Styrofoam balls, woodblocks, old-fashioned clothespins, and a glue gun, the results were posable clowns, each with their own unique personality. They were the stuff of Stephen King books, yet she couldn’t produce them fast enough for those at the church and school who collected them. Many of us grandkids were secretly relieved when the nineties rolled around, and Meme’s creative interests shifted to constructing wreaths from dried grapevines and faux flowers.

Look at Meme's creepy clowns perched on the bookshelf behind PawPaw! *chills*

Apart from the creepy clowns, everything that Meme was doing I also wanted to learn how to do. And so, from cooking to crafting to sewing, she taught me everything she knew. When I was a freshman in high school, however, the tables turned, and I was able to help Meme birth and hone her greatest and most rewarding creative endeavor: painting.

In the late eighties, I started painting landscapes and seascapes in oils on canvas, selling them to save money for school clothes and supplies. In 1991, when Meme and PawPaw built a new home next door to my parents’ house out in the country, Meme liked to walk through the woods and watch me paint. She’d bring sweetened iced tea (sweet tea) and something to snack on, and she’d marvel at how I was able to capture the likeness of a pine tree with a few easy taps of my fan brush, or the way scraping a palette knife downward along the canvas would form the reflection of bushes and trees in the stream or lake below them. One day, while I was painting a lighthouse scene and Meme snacked on Chex Mix, she told me, “Mandy, when I turn sixty-five, I want you to teach me how to paint.”

Three years later, Meme turned sixty-five. It was 1994 and, as promised, I showed her everything I knew. We set up two easels in the art room at my house, we chose one of Bob Ross’s paintings as inspiration, and I laid out our palettes with all the requisite colors— Titanium White, Mars Black, Alizarin Crimson, Prussian Blue, Dark Sienna, and Yellow Ochre, to name a few. From the very first stroke of her paintbrush, Meme’s natural artistic talent bloomed across the canvas. More than six decades of creativity manifested on that canvas that day, and when our paintings were done, we both stared at each other wide-eyed before erupting into a fit of giggles. Her landscape was spectacular! It looked as though she’d been painting her entire life.

Since that day, Meme painted right up until just months before she passed at ninety-one. Over the years, my family and I made sure Meme had all the painting supplies and every Bob Ross and William Alexander video tape and book she’d wanted. PawPaw and my uncle had a sunroom built onto their home so that she could have a studio space. She filled it with artwork she either sold or donated, and for many years she opened her home to students who also wanted to learn the craft.

Like the Tarot, Meme took the risks of The Fool, the ingenuity of The Magician, and the intuitive insight of The High Priestess to birth generations of creative people, myself included. She harnessed her imagination and honed her skill, nurturing and harvesting a legacy of love and creativity… and a collection of artwork to rival the Louvre.

Meme's incredible work, and a few of my favorite photos of her, one with my boys and one with me.

What's happening in the card?

Typically referred to as female and/or exuding feminine energy, the Empress is pregnant with creativity, joy, and pleasure. She’s the epitome of beauty, growth, and sensuality, and she uses her magic wand to bring about fertility of the mind, body, and spirit. She is the physical manifestation of The High Priestess’ hidden knowledge and desires, resting on a soft, relaxing chaise-of-a-throne and shrouded in a comfortable, breathable gown—the yoga pants of gowns—embroidered with sliced pomegranates.

The Empress’ crown is fashioned with twelve six-pointed stars—the Jewish Star of David—one for each sign of the zodiac, and her shield is branded with the symbol for Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love. Its shape is reminiscent of a planchette, a tool for divining messages from the spirit world to the physical. The Empress is both: she’s equally sacred and mortal. She’s Mother Nature, the Great Mother, a celestial goddess.

The Empress lounges about on her plush throne, red, the color of passion and longing. She basks in the warmth and abundance of a lush forest, a flowing river, and a golden field of grain, her magical harvest, manifested by intent and desire. She is all things abundant and fertile and plentiful.

The Empress: A Deep Dive

There is beauty and abundance within you, just waiting for the world to read. Whatever you are writing, whatever your process or practice, stay with it. Keep nurturing it because it can grow and thrive, your efforts cultivating a plentiful harvest of book reviews and sales. Everything you touch or work on right now can grow and thrive under the Empress energy.

When you are the Empress, now is a great time to pen that first novel, finish that fifth novel, or research, gather, and ponder that project you’ve been flirting with for so long. Harness the Fool’s faith, the Magician’s will, and the High Priestess’ wisdom, and you have the beautiful combination of creativity and expression and growth that is the Empress.

The Empress Reversed: the Shadow

When our Empress lands on her head, she has trouble getting back on her feet. She’s lazy and uncoordinated. She’s needy and dependent on other people for help. She can’t make a decision on her own and her energy is erratic and undependable. The reversed Empress is codependent and desolate, barren of thought and action. She’s terrible with money and she needs constant reminders of her worth. She seeks love and acceptance in all the wrong places as her self-esteem and value have plummeted from her once thriving status.

Notable Symbols for The Empress


Major Arcana


Spirit / Water


Three is the number of creativity, expression, and growth. It represents the unity of the mind, body, and spirit; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; the Musketeers; past, present, and future; the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Other Symbols

There are 12 stars adorning the Empress’ crown, one for each sign of the zodiac.

The Empress wears a necklace of seven pearls, one for each plant in our solar system.

She wears a gown with sliced pomegranates, a symbol of the succulence of life and arriving at the seed, with which you might produce life again, thus contributing to the cycle.

Her planchette-shaped shield boasts the female symbol, an emblem of Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love.

She has manifested a robust harvest of grains, a symbol of abundance.

A plentiful river flows around her, a symbol for the subconscious. Again, heaven and earth, intellect and intuition.

The Empress, Characterized

If you are writing an Empress-worthy character, then you’d better make certain she is one bad mama jama. An Empress character is as voluptuous as Serena Williams and as creative and expressive as Pamela Colman Smith… and my Meme. As Theresa Reed, The Tarot Lady, likes to say, “She’s large and in charge,”[1] and she rules without having to lift a finger or say a word. Her mere presence is enough to bring any gender to their knees (no dirty puns intended... or maybe they are).

The Empress would make an excellent unassuming heroine, a thoughtful and strong supporting character—like a grandmother or a favorite auntie, or even an alluring and seductive antagonist, the irresistible other woman.

Who can the figure in the card be?

A woman, a feminine man, a nonbinary soul, a mother, a surrogate, a side chick-turned main chick, a beauty queen, a princess, a queen, a drag queen, the GOAT, an icon.

Notable characters, people, or personas

My Meme, Beyoncé, Lady Violet Bridgerton, Rupaul, Angelina Jolie, Freida Kahlo, and Dolly Parton.

Photo credit: All photos pulled from Pinterest.

In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of literary, Southern Gothic, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.

Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative®, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, and she has worked as an instructional designer for nearly twenty years.

When she’s not writing fiction, Mandy enjoys the movies, theater, music, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, and binging The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to enhance creativity and foster wellness. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four sons, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.