Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Who are the Feminine Tarot Cards and Women of our decks? What do they stand for and how can we make the most of their guidance in a reading?
When reading Tarot, you almost always see specific 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 kick in 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?
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).
Women and Feminine Figures in Tarot (Major Arcana):
The High Priestess
In addition to them, there are 4 Queens in 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 four Kings, 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 fluid 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 deck, this may vary a little bit. But that’s the most common order of things.
Now that we had a look at the full deck, let’s 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 common depictions.
The feminine energy in Tarot can be very ambiguous depending on the decks. Women were long associated with the night, with the element of water, with the Moon and everything mysterious. Whereas masculine energy is all fire and light, the feminine one has always been considered more complex if not simply dangerous.
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 and 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.
An advisor and guide, she is 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 in a pragmatic way.
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 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 or inspired by 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. Strength in Tarot is the exact opposite of aggression.
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, aggressive, unbalanced, moody, easily influenced by others, irrational.
The figure of Temperance in Tarot is not an actual woman or Goddess but 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” in French and “Temperanza” in Italian, is female. Water is also the most obvious element present on this card even though air (with her wings) is adding balance.