This is post of 2 of 4 in which I attempt to find how the first 12 tarot majors fit in with 12 step recovery. Please see post 1 here.
4. Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.
Bill W's Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous explains Step 4 here. (Scroll to page 64 to find where Step 4 begins. It covers pages 64-71, so it's a biggie.) In this step, a lot of soul searching and being honest with oneself takes place. I think that there is a way the Empress relates to this. The Empress 'brings forth'. She 'gives birth to'. We talk about the Magician having the ability to make things manifest, but the Empress actually does it. She brings forth crops. And when we write down in black and white our resentments, fears, angers and our wrongs, we have produced something real, too. There it is.
There's another way that the Empress relates to this step, and that is the surprising degree to which Step 4 has to do with sexuality, in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Much of the resentment, fear, anger and wrongs of Step 4 is inured in what Bill W calls 'sex power' (1939 lingo). The Empress is acknowledged as representing both fecundity and sexuality. She is the queen of these aspects of self, and if anyone can help us make a 'searching and fearless' inventory of ourselves in these areas, I can't think of a tarot major that would be better equipped for it.
Another way of saying Step 5 is to say, 'I take responsibility for my actions.' I take responsibility, I make no excuses for them. I do not blame anyone else for them -- I am not saying that I did this because someone else did that. I admit my wrongs, not because I am being coerced into admitting them, but because I know that I have power over my own life, and this gives me authority to take responsibility for myself.
Who has more power than the Emperor? Who is more in charge of his own life? Who could be more able to centre himself in a place of absolute confidence, who has a better knowledge of his personal responsibility? When the Emperor confesses, he knows who is responsible for what he has done. He is. He alone. His confession is cleansing, and if his repentance is true, he only gains personal power through confessing. He loses nothing, he gains much.
It's interesting that the 'confessional' step doesn't fall here with the Hierophant, or Pope. When we think of authority figures from the Church, we do often think of confession and absolution coming from a priest. But the absolution doesn't actually come from the priest, according to Church tradition. It comes from God. And so...this card makes sense.
This step may rankle with some. All this 'ready to have God remove all these defects of character' talk might make you feel rebellious or angry. But let's just look at it for a moment without getting angry, if possible. How about if itsaid, 'We were entirely ready to be free of all these defects of character.' Would that be better?
This is a step about letting go. Releasing. Nearly all the world religions (I don't claim to know all religions, so I can't say 'all') speak of letting go. Releasing cares, worry, and suffering, whether to a higher power, or the universal mind, or simply 'away' to dissolve and disappear. There is a sense of the transcendent in this, and we naturally associate this feeling of transcendence with holiness, the sacred, and by association, sacred spaces, sacred figures, and sacred rituals. Thus, this most sacred and personal transformative experience, that of releasing one's grip on one's fears (conscious and unconscious), can be related to the Hierophant, or the Pope. Il Papa. We are, then, 'entirely ready' to let go of our learned, automatic character defenses, which are in essence our resistance to reality.
Daniloff Tarot (2012).