Every now and then a tarot deck comes along that chooses to illustrate The Empress as a pregnant woman, describing her as a symbol of motherhood. Most people consider The Empress to be the wife of The Emperor, so it would seem to make sense that she be viewed also as a mother - a likely inevitability of her spousal condition. However... from the perspective of The Numerical Tarot, and the All Things Are Numbers approach to tarot, this would be considered a less than accurate portrayal of the numerological essence of the number 3 - the number that is most commonly associated with The Empress card.
It's true, the woman is the womb. And yes, the number 3 is about the creation of life - or creation of anything for that matter. But in point of fact, The Empress does not actually CREATE life all by herself; she is merely a receptacle for life's needs. It is, in fact, the unseen universal forces of nature ("God," for lack of a better term) that CREATE life... using BOTH female egg and male sperm together. The fact that that life then resides within a woman for a period of time, makes her a more appropriate symbol for that particular act of nature than that of a man. But, to be most accurate in our definition of terms, one might consider the real act of "motherhood" to be found in the incubation and gestation of pregnancy, and the nurturing, development and maturation of the life form after its birth. To many, THIS is motherhood and the locus of the "maternal" instinct. Life might be CREATED at the number 3. And, in the case of humans, that life might reside within the womb of a woman. But to illustrate that concept with a figure showing an advanced state of incubation, gestation and maturation is not completely accurate to the nature of progress along a numberline of development. That kind of advanced stage of development should be illustrated much further down the line from that of position 3.
In the All Things Are Numbers world of numerology, incubation, gestation, development, maturation and growing of any kind, are all concepts that belong with the number 6. In The Numerical Tarot, the numbers 4 and 6 both represent the mass of a theoretical model of existence that is built in our mind's eye, when we read the book All Things Are Numbers. When this model of existence is used to describe the stages of an event that takes place over time, the number 6 represents the steady augmentation of events to a point of "critical mass" where the content of that existence reaches a point at which it must express itself back into its surroundings (see Significant Signature of Nature elsewhere on this site). In the book, there are numerous examples of this significant signature of nature. The augmenting, developing, maturing, and growing part is always at the number 6. The idea of a fully matured form reaching a critical point of development where it must eventually come forth is perfectly illustrated with a pregnant woman giving birth. The idea of development and maturation of that form outside the womb is also perfectly illustrated by the idea of motherhood. It is for this reason that associations to incubation, gestation and development of motherhood belong, more accurately, with a 6, and not a 3 (the number most commonly associated with The Empress card).
If we examine the keyword charts elsewhere on this site, we will see that a 3 represents (among many things) an advent pause, as creation and manifestation are realized out of the sea of nothingness that surrounds all forms of manifestation. In The Geometric Progression and The Dimensional Progression presented elsewhere on this site, the number 3 is where the potential of a point moves out as a ray, and then solidifies into a line - the first instance of a conceptual state of manifestation out of potentia. A line represents the first of our three dimensions of reality, so... a 3 is where the three dimensional form of life begins. It is not where life is birthed... it is where life begins, or... where gestation begins. It is not where life matures... it is where maturation begins. So... to be perfectly precise, it would be this fundamental abstract concept of a manifest form's beginning stages that ought to be illustrated in The Empress card, not the advanced stages of gestation and maturation portrayed in decks that show a late term of pregnancy. A late term of pregnancy at the number 3 is way too early.
In traditional tarot, superficial interpretations of Gods and Goddesses are sometimes made, implying, or stating, that The Empress is a representation of the unseen universal forces of nature. That's true, she is. But being a representation of the God-like, or Goddess-like forces of creation is not the same as motherhood. Being a womb, or... a place where life develops and matures, is what motherhood is about. In other words, creation is more an act of God, or Goddess (for lack of a better term) than it is an act of motherhood. Being a womb, however, means, incubation, gestation, nurturing, development, maturation and growth. All of which, are NOT concepts that the study of tarot being presented everywhere on this site would put with a 3. These are concepts that belong with the number 6.
By being a symbol of the advent pause of creation, or "The Hand of God creating," one must consider the duality of a perfect creation vs. a flawed creation. Or a smooth and refined creation vs. a roughhewn and unrefined creation. By focusing on the idea of a perfect creation, we are focusing on the beauty of The Empress icon more than her potential for expressing the idea of motherhood. In the numerology of The Numerical Tarot and the All Things Are Numbers approach, being a "perfect creation" is much more to the point of a 3 than being a mother or a womb. As an iconic symbol, derived from the mind of someone living in an age where Emperors and Empresses stood as examples of refined living, an Empress would seem to be a perfect symbol for that kind of ideal. When we make analogies between the theoretical model of existence being presented everywhere on this site, and a planet in space, the number 3 equates with the surface of the planet. In this way, The Empress equates with skin and the superficial appearance of manifest forms. In this way, she symbolizes beauty, nature, creation of form, and "The Hand of God creating." While the idea of motherly gestation and maturation of form belongs with icons further down the line.
In The Numerical Tarot, The Empress represents BOTH the physical manifestation of tangible beauty as well as the mental manifestation of intangible ideas, like love. One might even say that love is the emotional equivalent to beauty, and like beauty, comes from 'The Hand of God." When we subdivide this Major Arcana card into two numerically equivalent Minor Arcana cards - as we are asked to do in the layout of The Numerical Tarot - we see (in the RWS deck anyway) the physical manifestations of creation in the work of an artist in the 3 of Pentacles, and the mental manifestations of love in the happiness of the 3 of cups. When we look for opposites to these concepts, The Hanged Man comes to represent physical imperfection and mental torture. No beauty or grace here. He is the antithesis of The Empress in every way. But in being the antithesis of the Empress, he is not the antithesis of motherhood. He is the antithesis of beauty and grace, and refined, comfortable living (apparently, being hung upside down is very uncomfortable, making this a good symbol for the opposite of The Empress' life of extreme comfort). When we subdivide The Hanged Man card into two Minor Arcana cards - as we are asked to do in the layout of The Numerical Tarot - we see (in the RWS deck anyway) the mental anguish The Hanged Man is going through in the 3 of Swords. And... in in The Numerical Tarot, we see the physical crudeness of a Vicious Beast in the 3 of Subtraction/Club/Stave, (Wands).
A Paragon of Beauty
Sometimes I think it unfortunate that tarot's inventor(s) chose the Empress/3, Emperor/4 combination, because of how it has lead people to attribute motherhood with a 3, and dilute what is the true essence of a 3 - beauty, creation and the refined Hand of God. But, at the same time, the Empress, Emperor combination makes sense if we consider how important it probably was for most men (and still is for many men) to have a "trophy wife" that is the embodiment of physical perfection and beauty. In a patriarchal society, pregnancy comes and goes, but for an Emperor to have an Empress wife that everyone in the kingdom could look to as a paragon of beauty was surely an important tribute to the Emperor's good taste - a measure of his greatness. In this way, as the embodiment of a manifest form that is perfectly created by The Hand of God The Empress makes sense as a 3.
Even today, women of all kinds see themselves as paragons of beauty. This archetypal imperative to realize the nature of beauty and grace etc. resides in a 3. It has nothing whatsoever to do with motherhood. Motherhood is a completely different archetypal imperative, that resides in a completely different number (a 6). That's why, in The Numerical Tarot, The Lovers card is changed into an icon that can be viewed as the maternal equivalent to the Emperor's paternal influence. As The Numerical Tarot puts forth a more symmetrical design to its underlying structure, putting the archetypal concepts of motherhood and maternal instincts equidistantly across a centerline from the paternal, fatherly concepts described by the icons of an Emperor, makes a lot of sense. In this way this new icon becomes The Emperor's true wife... with The Hierophant marrying the two together at the midpoint of the number line... a holy union.
If we continue to view current symbolism through the eyes of a patriarchal society, the Lovers card is not too far removed from this idea of a 6 being the embodiment of wife-like virtues that would be sought out by a man. If we view the deck as a hero's journey, and assume that in a patriarchal society that hero would be male, then the early depictions of The Lovers as a couple being married seems to fit this idea of a 6 being the equidistant "wife" to the Emperor "husband." In this case the design is not quite as symmetrical as it is in The Numerical Tarot, but the idea of The Emperor, or a hero on a journey, taking a wife at position 6 of a numerical progression makes sense, and at least somewhat correlates with the design of The Numerical Tarot. In fact, in many early decks the lovers of The Lovers card are accompanied by a third person, usually a female, often assumed to be the mother of the younger woman, being given away to the man as his wife. So... with these earlier depictions we not only see the idea of a 6 representing the idea of a wife, but we also see the concept of a mother giving away a child who has matured. Maturation, motherhood and being a wife are all contained in this one card, which... in most decks is associated with the number 6... not 3.
See my RWS vs. Palm analysis for more on this new symmetrical design and how it changes the nature of the Empress' influence.
Evolution of Maturation
Of course, in the abstract world of The Numerical Tarot, the primordial pattern of an advent pause at the moment of creation does not HAVE to be illustrated with a female form. The primordial pattern of creation is the archetype of creation, regardless of what kind of illustration is being used to "symbolize" it. And while some concepts of humanity may seem more female or more male than others, most are not that specific, when considered at the level of primordial root patterns of nature.
In fact the ideas of incubation, gestation, nurturing, development, maturation and growth are not exclusively applicable to motherhood alone. So even within the realm of a 6 (where I believe these concepts belong), these primordial roots don't necessarily need a female form to bring them to light. It just happens that the incubation, gestation, nurturing, development, maturation and growth of a child within a mother's womb is a convenient example to point to - on a human level - to symbolize these fundamental, primordial concepts. But in reality, there are plenty of other things besides children in wombs, that follow a similar path of incubation, gestation, nurturing, development, maturation and growth (see Significant Signature of Nature elsewhere on this site).
The Numerical Tarot, and the book All Things Are Numbers, goes to great lengths to provide a common sense explanation for exactly WHY the pattern of incubation, gestation, nurturing, development, maturation and growth belong with the number 6. This discussion of where to place the concept of motherhood is just one example of how such archetypal analysis can aid in clear speech between people attempting symbolic representations. Many do not care for the hair-splitting accuracy of interpretation that The Numerical Tarot provides, and will prefer to blur the lines of distinction that define any term such as motherhood, in order for concepts to be placed wherever anyone likes. That is a popular path to take. The Numerical Tarot and the All Things Are Numbers approach is an alternative. It doesn't smoosh together disparate belief systems and calculate intended meaning by crossing them at random to achieve a result, and it doesn't just attribute whatever it wants wherever card it wants, it develops an archetypal armature of its own that is rooted in fundamental patterns of nature and tries to suggest a common sense path of etymology from fundamental roots to individual expressions.