In the Tarot you almost always immediately associate the “mother” with III The Empress. She is the caring mother who gives space to everyone and takes care of the growth and development of others. She is close to nature and her energy is limitless. It is a “positive” card whose opposite (negative point) is that the lady in question is often so concerned with taking care of others that she forgets her own needs. Providing unlimited energy to allow everything to grow and bloom can have the disadvantage that you go beyond your own limit. And that is of course not advantageous.
Readers do usually not get much “darker” or “more negative” in terms of interpretation. And that’s funny, because when I had to create an exercise for one of my Tarot courses a few years ago, the Empress also reminded me of Olivia Godfrey from the “Hemlock Grove” series. This rather special mother is brilliantly portrayed by Famke Janssen. She ensures that you navigate the entire series between feelings of disgust and hatred for the bitch on the one hand and then again pity, admiration and sometimes even sympathy. You never know what her ‘true face’ or motive is, there are so many sides (often dark) to her character.
The mother archetype has many aspects; In addition to the (personal) mother and grandmother, it also includes the stepmother, mother-in-law, school teacher and other women with whom one has a relationship. According to Jung, the mother archetype appears in many more concepts and (underlying) associations: the wise woman, loving goddess, mother of god, beautiful young virgin.
Places where one is “free” or “safe” have feminine or maternal connotations: paradise, heaven, earth, sea, forest, land, lake, universities, churches, cities, ships. The moon, water and matter are linked to the mother archetype as well as specific places related to fertility and birth: gardens, fields, wells, flowers (rose, lotus) and helpful animals like cows and hares.
Because everything has 2 sides – or rather: is on a scale between 2 polarities – there are also quite a few ambivalent and negative aspects associated with this archetype: Fate (domain of the 3 Fates), the false witch, the dragon ( and any other devouring or strangling animal such as snakes and sharks). The grave, death, nightmares. In the west we often tend to see the “good” side of the mother and that is what they often do in the Tarot as well. As said before, we see the Empress as a mother and a symbol for fertility and growth. But also the The high priestess – who is the ‘same’ woman as the empress but we will get to that in another article – is seen as positive; With her beauty and mystery, trusting in her intuition she is attractive to both men and women.
The Tarot Queens are all – as “more mature” adult women – dealing with the elements in a nurturing way. Only the queen of the swords is often portrayed negatively, at least in the Rider Waite and the Toth Tarot (both the intellect and – albeit to a lesser extent – the “will” were more than 100 years ago seen as beign a negative trait in women). But of course the “bad” sides are always part of it, it is another side of the same coin. We in the West occasionally have an evil stepmother or a bad fairy, mainly in fairy tales. They are actually somewhat pathetic, jealous and lonely women who you either dislike or feel sorry for….
But in Eastern myths and religions of older times, people knew goddesses that make Snow White’s witchy stepmother look like an angel. For example, the Hindus have Kali (black earth mother) who looks terrifying with four arms with a sword in one of her hands. This reminds you of the Queen of Swords in the Tarot .. in terms of image she comes close to Aleister Crowley’s Sword Queen. Kali is a protective mother who kills demons, drinks their blood and thus keeps the world safe. But her strength and energy can also be completely destructive!
The Greeks have Hecate, goddess of protection AND destruction. She is the goddess of both fertility and death. She rules witchcraft and magic. The ancient Egyptians saw Hathor as the ultimate mother goddess. She was the “mother of mothers” and symbolized fertility and security (hence her name literally means “home”). But the Egyptians also recognized her “terrible” side that everyone feared: she could become a completely bloodthirsty person! For example, she once committed a massacre among the gods: she killed them, drank their blood and could still not be stopped! Because of this “incident” she often got the head of a lion in pictures. As she could get into this kind of ‘mood’ more often (and then threatened to destroy the whole world) she was also depicted as a snake. Later she was identified with the goddess Isis, who was seen as the goddess of motherhood. However, in Isis mainly the positive sides are emphasized, which is why she became the most popular goddess in Egypt.
There are many more examples, but I think the point is clear; The “dark” side of the mother is underexposed in contemporary culture, but also in the Tarot. If you were to list all Tarot cards that represent this mother archetype, you would make a positive personal description for all of them (alltough to many of the tarot readers the Queen of Swords is still the exception). The downsides that are assigned to these Queens are small things, they cannot even be called character flaws. And in general they are mainly detrimental to the person themselves and to a lesser extent to their environment. Let’s look at some examples:
The “dark” side of the High Priestess is that she “hides” something, or has knowledge of something that she does not yet share. The Empress is 1 and all growth and development, the downside to her is that she sometimes has no boundaries, of which she mainly suffers from herself: she forgets that she also needs space and time so that things cannot grow above her head. The Queen of Pentacles is a nurturing mother, a sensible woman who loves nature and is good with money. She loves beautiful things and a house with a garden. She is a good hostess, a traditional “mother mother” who often says “That’s the way the cookie crumbles my dear”. The Queen of Cups is sensitive and gentle. She can get into that a little bit and then plays the helpless women card. This then acts like a magnet on men, who fall over each other to “save” her. The Queen of Wands is the most popular given today’s standards: not only is she a nice mother who emphasizes her femininity, but also a smart and spunky aunt, businesswoman and a fun creative “witch” who can express herself well. Everybody likes her: she loves nature and the city, she is friendly and warm, in short she is very popular and always seems to have access to an unlimited source of energy. You can already see her go: before she goes to work, she puts the responsible treat for her children in bags of organic cotton that she painted herself the night before with watercolor made from drained fruit. Then she goes to work (manager, fashion designer), after which she picks up the children right on time, she serves a responsible meal and then she is off to her Yoga classes to finally end the day with a glass of red wine and a good chat with her partner.
The Queen of Swords does not get a “sugar” description from many people. Arthur Edgar Waite also seemed not to know what to do with her; He emphasized the “negative” side and it is often the first to be addressed. She is a bitter, single or divorced woman. She’s also bitchy so no man wants her (or no man wants her and that’s why she’s bitchy that’s a bit unclear.). The positive side sometimes comes at the end of the list: that she is not guided by convention, that she is independent and does not accept bullshit. But this is not very valuable (it is for herself, but not for others.). She can look at her feelings objectively, she fights against injustice and stands up for the weak. But just like with Kali, that’s a small detail. Apparently the Queen of Swords is more or less the only one to survive the current of the trend that started by the ancient Egyptians from 2700 BC.
Carl Jung, however, was someone who found it interesting to look at dark sides. He has elaborated on the mother archetype extensively. The “negative” feminine aspect is sometimes emphasized so strongly in his work that you wonder what is behind it (something in his personal unconscious probably LOL). Yet you also in his descriptions that of the four “main types” there are three types that are slightly more positive (and one that comes off a bit more badly).