A gown decorated with pomegranates, a crown of stars, a rod, a heart-shaped shield with the symbol for Venus, a field of ripe wheat.
Having decided what he will create with his tools, the Fool strides forward, impatient to make his future a full-grown reality. This is when he comes upon the Empress. Her hair gold as wheat, wearing a crown of stars, and a white gown dotted with pomegranates. She rests back on her throne surrounded by an abundance of grain and a lush garden. It is possible that she is pregnant.*
Kneeling, the Fool relates to her his story. And she, in turn, smiles a motherly smile and gently gives him this advice: "Like newly planted grain or a newborn babe, a new life, a new relationship, a new creation is fragile. It requires patience and nurturing. It needs love and attention. Only this will bring it to fruition." Understanding at last that his creations will take time to develop, the Fool thanks the Empress and continues on his way.
* Pregnant. Well, not in the Rider-Waite deck she isn't. But many other decks go for pregnancy as part of the Empress' iconography.
The Empress is a creator, be it creation of life, of romance, of art or business. While the Magician is the primal spark, the idea made real, and the High Priestess is the one who gives the idea time and space to decide on a form, the Empress is either the womb or nursery where it grows till it reaches a certain level of maturity.
This is why the Empress' symbol is Venus, goddess of beautiful things and gardens, as wells as sex and love. Venus is the goddess of artists, and helps them painstakingly develop their pieces from clay to statue, from first brushstroke to masterpiece.
Even so, however, the Empress has more in common with Demeter, goddess of abundance, then sensual Venus, as the wheat in the background and the pomegranates on her dress imply. She is the giver of Earthly gifts, the great, fertile mother goddess. Yet at the same time, she can, in anger, withhold as Demeter did when her daughter, Persephone was kidnapped. In fury and grief, she kept the Earth barren till her child was returned to her.
The Empress card is one of the easier trumps to read. She's the Great Mother, so much so that she's often viewed as one of those cards that can indicate a "positive" answer if a woman is wondering if she can get pregnant. This is the fertile womb where anything can grow and thrive (as compared to the protective "incubator" of the High Priestess). The Empress' ability to mother goes beyond the womb, however. She is patient, loving, giving, generous, devoted. The ultimate nurturer.
If defining her as the querent, you can say that they are currently feeling like a mother hen, worried about their children, new business, new creation, or new romance. Male or female, they want to dote and hover and fret over every little sneeze and problem. They likely also want to talk only about their baby, boasting of its growth and development, sending pictures of it to friends and relatives.
Likewise, the advice a reader might give on getting this card could be similar to that offered to a mother with a young child: either that young things need time to grow, and so require patience and attention, or that while an infant needs a great deal of care, a toddler needs less, and a child even less. A good mother adjusts her care as the child matures and develops, giving them room to crawl and then run and play.
If defining the Empress as someone related to the querent, it is likely the querent's mother or a woman who is very motherly toward them.
Of course, the Empress can also be about the not so nice aspects of a mom. She can smother, not know when to let go, be possessive and jealous of those who would take away her "baby." It is important for the querent to realize that plants can die from over-watering as easily as they can from neglect. Like any good mother or good gardener, the querent must have patience and the ability to adjust and improvise as their "baby" sprouts and grows.
Learn the Empress meaning in reversal in our reversed card meanings.