Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols by Robert V. O'Neill The Empress

The Empress

Stone BenchWirthMinchiateCary Sheet
ShieldWirthT de MarseilleCary Sheet
Orbed scepterWirthT de MarseilleCary Sheet
Left Hand on legGoulinat
12 Star TiaraWirth
Pearl Necklace1JJ
Gold LapelWirthT de MarseilleVisconti-Sforza
White GownGoulinatGumppenbergCary Sheet
Flowers on GownVisconti-Sforza


  1. Woods/Stream/Waterfall/Wheat - Waite identifies this card as Mother Nature - “...a field of corn is ripening in front...the fruitful mother...universal fecundity.” There is wheat growing, indicating the Goddess Ceres. This is reinforced by the crown of 12 stars which comes from Revelations 12:1 - “Now a great sign appeared in Heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the Moon, and with the 12 stars on her head for a crown.” This is “...the Earthly Paradise...” Notice this is the first of the four cards that shows a stream/river - probably the four rivers that flow from the Garden of Eden - Genesis 2:10 “A river flowed from Eden...and from there it divided to make four streams.

  2. The sign of Venus is on the Shield, the cushion and appears as flowers on the gown - In the Golden Dawn system, this card is assigned to Venus.

  3. Laurel Wreathe - Perhaps the crown of laurel continues to emphasize the “Mother Nature” theme or perhaps it implies that she is victor/ruler over the natural world and productivity.

  4. Waterfall - Following the passage in Revelation about the woman crowned with 12 stars, she gives birth to a son, and the Serpent tries to destroy them both. Revelation 12:15, “The serpent vomited water from his mouth, like a river, after the woman, to sweep her away in the current, but the earth came to her rescue; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river.”

    The image is somewhat alien to our modern eye, but has an incredibly rich occult heritage. Consider the following from Wilmshurst The Meaning of Masonry (p 183), "at a certain stage of progress, the candidate is likened to an ear of corn by a fall of water.”

    Then consider Waite’s (Works of Thomas Vaughan p 245ff) account of a mystic/alchemist’s vision/dream: “whispers of a soft was in the leaves of the trees, so that I concluded myself to be in some was not a wood but a building...the Temple of Nature...I could see...a most exquisite, divine beauty...Attired she was in thin loose silk...(She speaks:) 'I have many names, but my best and dearest is Thalia for I am always green and shall never wither ...I will shew thee the original of Nilus'...I could see a stupendous cataract or waterfall....”

    In my personal opinion, the image of the waterfall is particularly instructive - by looking at his other writings, it becomes apparent that Waite and Smith lived in a world of symbolic imagery that is extremely difficult for us to enter or intuit today.

Based on original research by Robert V. O'Neill. To add to this collection of information, please email Robert V. O'Neill.

The Fool
The Magician
The High Priestess
The Empress
The Emperor
The Hierophant
The Lovers
The Chariot
The Hermit
Wheel of Fortune
The Hanged Man
The Devil
The Tower
The Star
The Moon
The Sun
The World
Introduction to Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols

Additional Tarot History Resources Related to
Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols

Holly's Rider-Waite Site A. E. Waite
The Hermitage: A Tarot History Site Villa Revak