The Empress

The Great Mother Goddess

✨Spoiler alert :: Steven Universe. ✨

The Great Mother Goddess. The wild feminine. 

Whereas the High Priestess’ magic was buttoned up, the Empress lets it all hang out. 

At number three, the embodiment of daddy, mommy, and me. She is the creamy middle. The afternoon between morning and night. The childbed, between the bridebed and deathbed. She is in her prime. Bathed in golden afternoon delight, she sits on her velvet plush pillows in between the maiden and the crone. 

She is personified fertility. 

She’s every fertility goddess who ever was, all the Venuses, all the Madonnas.

She’s Mary, Mother of God.

As round as the world, all yin energy, she is the only person the Emperor will yield before, but make no mistake, she definitely yields too; their relationship is reciprocal, she wears his pearl necklace.

As Gaia, she wears a diadem of the zodiac, with its twelve burning stars, she’s everybody’s mother. The stars on her crown represent her children as they are her legacy. Cushions embroidered with the Venus sign support her plump curves because everything is probably in pain. From behind her a lush green forest erupts and a babbling brook flows behind her. On her scepter is an orb, her crystal ball, because a mother always knows. She can see the future too in that crystal ball, because she knows that there’s only ever death on the horizon.

In a field of dicks, she is the ear of wheat. This is the gold beneath her feet. She is the summer smells of decay, the impending fall on the breeze. This momma’s grief kills everything until her daughter returns back to her bosom.

So the Empress, with her autumnal threats, is Lady Death. She is the sacred feeling women carry in their bones of the life-death-life cycles.

Covered in Hades’ forbidden fruit, she looks delicious, saucy. She’s luxurious, sprawled, full of Death’s seed. Pomegranates may symbolize fertility, but to Demeter, they represent loss. Persephone comes home every spring, not until then will Demeter allow life to bloom again.

She is corporeal. Her body is magic, she is the womb and the tomb. She gives life, then she takes it back. The dead are buried in the ground where they rise again as food.

The Empress is the primal goddess of the planting agricultural peoples, slaughtered by the masculine god of the herding nomadic peoples.

The Empress is the Goddess’s tragic struggle against the Emperor’s patriarchal tyranny. She’s Dumbo’s mother, Bambi’s mother. She’s Nina Paley’s Seder-Masochism.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls her Wild Woman. She’s “the fairy-tale knock at the door of the deep female psyche… [She] is old and substantial, for she carries the thunder-world in one breast, the underworld in the other. Her back is the curve of the planet Earth with all its crops and foods and animales. The back of her neck carries the sunrise and sunset. Her left thigh holds all the lodgepoles, her right thigh all the she-wolves of the world. Her belly holds all the babies that will ever be born.” (Women Who Run With the Wolves)

If the High Priestess’ language carries, The Empress’ contains. The Empress is the equivoice that affects you, fills your breast with an urge to come to language and launches your force. She’s Juila Kristeva and the Semiotic, the pre-linguistic, pre-mirror stage of infancy when the child thinks she is still one with the mother.

For Hélène Cixous, in woman there is always the mother who makes everything alright, who nourishes, who stands up against separation. “There is always within her at least a little of that good mother’s milk. She writes in white ink.”

The Empress is Molly Bloom and her blooming body, with all its decay, with all its “and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” 

She’s another Molly, Molly Weasley and her howlers, her “Not my daughter, you bitch!…You-will-never-touch-our-children-again!”

Julie Heffernan’s Booty series reminds me of the Empress. Large oil paintings of women clad in gowns of harvest teaming with dead animals and rotting fruits and flowers. 

Waite :: All nature is divine and all that lives, lives. 

Take a walk through your local forest, or watch any Hayao Miyazaki movie, if you pay attention, you can see exactly what Waite means. 

Eve from Wall-E is all Empress, carrying the one and only plant that will save all of humanity in her womb. Wendy Moira Angela Darling is an Empress, it’s why Peter took her, because he wanted a girlfriend and a mother. Marge Simpson too. And Catelyn Stark. 

Pregnant Beyoncé channeling Oshun with that golden Empress crown.

All the dead moms in fairytales belong to the Empress. (One can even argue, as Marina Warner does, that a grand purpose of the fairytale was to prepare little girls for the very real possibility of dying on the childbed.) The dead mother is Gilbert and Gubar’s Angel in the House who haunts the hearts and homes of protagonists everywhere. She is the good mother to the High Priestess’ bad mother. 

Edgar Allen Poe :: The death of a beautiful woman is “unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.

Virginia Woolf :: “We must kill the angel in the house!” Meaning, kill the aesthetic ideal that the only good woman is a dead woman. The ugly myth of purity. The Empress confuses the male gaze with its virgin/whore dichotomy. No longer a virgin, but definitely not a whore, we don’t know what to do with her inside our stories. So we kill her. 

Steven Universe :: Rose Quartz (as Rose Quartz), Steven’s mother, leader of the Crystal Gems. As a quartz soldier, Rose was locked inside an oppressive, colonizing alien race of gems run by White Diamond’s Authority (all rigid Emperor stuff). Rose looked the opposite of a soldier: a gorgeous fat giantess with her bubblegum pink hair and pouty lips. She only wore a white gown edged in scalloping pink ruffles with a star cut over her belly, which bore, instead of a navel, her rose quartz gemstone, the gemstone of unconditional love. Gems’ bodies emanate from their gemstones, they are only manifestations of light and was thousands of years old. Even though she was not made to care for organic life, she couldn’t help it, she loved what she was sent to destroy. She rebelled against her kind who hate all things organic and unpredictable (all things Empress). She took in all of the misfits gems – the outcasts, off-colors, and fusions – and started a rebellion. She could cry healing tears, and bring life back from the dead. She could’ve gone on living like this forever, until she fell in love, and to fall in love is to know you’re going to die. Now, bursting with love, she gave her life to make Steven. Mother is divided into three gems, they, together with dad, raise this hybrid as best they can.

Sometimes the Empress is deadly. Take something from her, or worse, mess with her children, and Te-Fiti turns into Te-Ka. Think Mama Grizzly. Think the Beldam (the Other Mother) in Coraline, with her spindly, anti-maternal Louis Bourgeois spiderbody, stealing children and sticking them in her web of woe. 

Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen: Hell’s Vengeance Boils in my Heart.” The Queen of the Night sings this rage aria to her disobedient daughter in Mozart’s Magic Flute. “Outcast be forever, / Forsaken be forever, / Shattered be forever / All the bonds of nature.”

Motherhood as an institution :: read Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born, and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (the Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier translation). Dive into the weeds that strangled Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The woman’s body is the terrain on which patriarchy is erected.”  Adrienne Rich.

Simone de Beauvoir has commented that the human male’s “transcendence” of nature is symbolized in his ability to hunt and kill, just as the female’s identification with nature, her role as symbol of immanence is expressed by her central involvement in the life-giving but involuntary birth process which perpetuates the species.” (Madwoman in the Attic)

Superiority goes to the sex that takes life, not the one that gives it.” Simone de Beauvoir.

“If I could have watched you grow / as a magical mother might, / if I could have seen through my magical transparent belly, / there would have been such ripening within: / your embryo, / the seed taking on its own.” Anne Sexton. Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman.

Overexposed, like an X-ray. / Who do you think you are? / A Communion wafer? Blubbery Mary? / I shall take no bite of your body, / Bottle in which I live…” Sylvia Plath. Medusa.

If the mother shows ambition, insists on being more than a mother, or wasn’t cut out for motherhood, she’d be transformed into a Medea, that High Priestess witch, undeserving, vile. 

Bibliography

The Book of Symbols; Reflections on Archetypal Images. ✨Women Who Run With the Wolves; Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. Clarissa Pinkola Estés. ✨

Writing Exercises

What can you give birth to?

How can you take care of yourself?

Who is your character’s mother?

How should your character take care of themselves?

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