III. ’81

The Empress, inspired by the song 81

I found a little plot of land,
in the Garden of Eden.
It was dirt, and dirt is all the same.

Joanna Newsom, “81” (Have One On Me, 2010)

Image Description

A woman sits in a forest by a small waterfall, with her bare feet on a tilled patch of soil. In her right hand, she has a small pile of dirt from which a burning red heart sprouts. With her left hand, she holds a tiller around which a golden snake wraps itself. On her right, a stork sits on the ground, with a drop of blood visible on its breast. To her left, a trout leaps from the stream. Her dress resembles the trout, with a scale-like pattern in green, white, and pink. She wears a crown made of ears of corn. On the other side of the stream, two vines wrap around a tree: one green and leafy and the other red and thorny.


The third trump is traditionally the Empress, counterpart to IV. The Emperor. But this is no appointed Empress – she claims her secluded plot of land by herself, and renews her right to it with the work she puts into it.

The scene reflects the song’s themes of innocence and compassion. The burning heart which grows from the dirt in the palm of her hand is a common symbol of Charity, as is the stork, which is said to feed her children with her own blood in hard times. The snake, while an antagonist in the Garden of Eden, is also a symbol of wisdom, and coils around her tiller to make it into a ruler’s scepter. Behind her, two vines twine around a tree. One is friendly and leafy while the other is barren and thorny, but both are equally supported and nourished.

Specifically in Christian symbolism, both stork and fish have been used to represent Jesus’ sacrifice. The fish is also symbolic of the goddess Venus, through her birth at sea as well as through the origin of the constellation Pisces (see XVI. Kingfisher). Her crown is made of two golden ears of corn, tying her to XIII. Cosmia and XXI. Time, As a Symptom, and the solar symbols on the hems of her dress link her with IV. The Book of Right-On.

Whether an archetypal mother figure or the young founder of a new empire, III provides a gentle atmosphere in which to grow.

Selected Meanings

Labor of love, generosity, support, innocence, ingenuousness, presumptuousness, temptation, adolescence, growth, earth.