When discussing the aspects of the tarot to my students I often find it more fitting to use the terms Yin and Yang when referring to the feminine and masculine representations in the tarot. The term feminine is a loaded term today. It comes with so many associations, both negative and positive, that really fog the aspects of it we should look to for guidance and knowledge. Linguistically, feminine indicates something or someone who has qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness. Now, to me, that in itself is a bit skewed, because those qualifications I do believe are specific to sex, rather than gender. It is in this case that when discussing the tarot, I look to term yin to identify the various qualities of the cards represented traitionally by women and the term yang to identify the various qualities of cards represented traditionally by men. The original concept of yin and yang came from the observation of nature and the environment. “Yin” originally referred to the shady side of a slope while “yang” referred to the sunny side. Later, this thinking was used in understanding other things, which occurred in pairs and had complementary and opposing characteristics in nature. Ancient people recognized nearly all things could have yin and yang properties.Yang is often associated with functional aspect of an object and has more energetic qualities, for example, moving, ascending, expanding, heat, bright, progressing, active and hyper-functioning states. Yin, on the other hand has less energetic qualities such as stillness, descending, contracting, cold, dark, degenerating and receptive.
I’ll take this time to look at the various female cards present in the traditional deck to explain how they might relate to this idea.
The High Priestess: In my opinion the high priestess embodies the yin aspects of the female archetypes found in the deck. She is silent, still, introspective, calm, passive yet all knowing and strong. She is the queen of our inner world. So much so that she requires nothing more than her stillness to be whole. In her inactive silence she brings us peace, awareness and an inner nurturing. She knows all, she feels all and with that brings comepletion and serenity.
The Empress: On the alternate side of the high priestess, I believe the empress represents the active, yang, aspects of the female archetypes in the tarot. She actively nurtures, expresses, cultivates, grows, enjoys lovingly and exudes all the inner beauty outward. She is an unappologetic blossoming flower and nurturer. Her confidence in her delicate and cultivating caregiving, emotionality and passion is what brings her beauty. She is undoubtibly the mother earth.
Strength: Again we find ourselves with the yin aspects of the female archetypes of the tarot, but now on a broader lesson found in the strength card. In this major arcana card we see that true strength is not found in actively overcombing physical obsticles, but rather quieting the lion that rests inside of all of us. Represented by a female taming a lion, we see that this card denotes an innerward battle of taming our own lion , (women often being used to represent the subconscious world). We are again shown the value of passive instrospective journeys of the self and that the true struggle is battling from within.
Justice: Justice, our stoic warrior. She is calm, strong and ready to sweep her sword in the name of moral justice. She holds our conscience and inner moral compass acountable for our actions. She is our ultimate judge. Not just our actions, but our motives are her battle ground. She acts in response to the reactions and manifestations of inner world.
Queens: My favourite depiction of all of the tarot is the depiction of each queen. The suits in our minor arcana are such a holistic way of viewing the world. We have wands, our passions, energy, motivations and manifestations. We have swords, our intellect, logic, communication, and minds. We have cups, our subconscious, emotions, intuition and life blood. And lastly we have pentacles, our true worldly manifestations and creations, our relationships and stability, and of course our physical bodies. The queens in my opinion are the culmination of all of these aspects of ourselves. Each suit of wands, swords, pentacles and cups is a cycle of various aspects of ourselves. The queen depicting a true achievement. The kings, the more outward of the court card pair, shows how we may take that achievement and better the world with that knowledge. The queens then, recieve, digest, learn and hold onto the knowledge of the world.
It is this receptivity, the yin, that is the true essence of our ‘feminity’ as a society. We have been barged with ideas that men and woman hold these qualities separately, but in fact, if the tarot teaches us anything it’s that, we all possess both yin and yang, feminine and masculine, necessary qualities. We tend to promote masculine or yang tendencies in our society. The active, outspoken, agressive person gets the job done. They are heard. They are the leaders. Really what we need is a balance and celebration of what the tarot denotes as feminine, but I say is our yin aspects. Having excess of either of these qualities is problematic. Excessive feminine/yin creates inactive stoic and dark environments, whereas excessive masculine/yang creates overly active and agressive energy that can be destructive. There must be a balance between active, passive, action and reareat. I think only then will we finally find some solidarity and unity.