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Meaning of the Tarot card The Emperor

The Fool | Chariot | Death | Judgement | Justice | Strength | Temperance | The Devil | The Emperor | The Empress | The Lover | The Hanged Man | The Hermit | The Hierophant | The High Priestess | The Magician | The Moon | The Sun | The Star | The Tower | Wheel of Fortune | The World

Description and symbolism

Some frequent keywords are:

Fathering ----- Stability ----- Authority ----- Power

Control ----- Discipline ----- Command ----- Common sense

Status quo ----- Order ----- Structure ----- Egocentrism

Tradition ----- Rigidness ----- Leadership ----- Experience

Inflexibility ----- Conservadorism ----- Organization

The Emperor sits on his throne, holding a scepter, accompanied by the heraldic Eagle of the Holy Roman Empire. This is usually on his shield though the heraldic eagle is sometimes a free-standing statue or live bird. He symbolizes the top of the secular hierarchy, the ultimate male ego. The Emperor is the absolute ruler of the world.

History

The essential features of the design for The Emperor card have changed very little through the centuries. The Emperor sometimes got caught up in the censorship placed on the Papess (High Priestess) and Pope (Hierophant), as when the Bolognese card makers replaced the Papess (High Priestess), Pope (Hierophant), Empress, and Emperor with four Moors or Turks. In the Minchiate, the Emperor is assigned number III because of the removal of the Papess (High Priestess) from the deck.

Interpretation

The Emperor symbolizes the desire to rule over one's surroundings, and its appearance in a reading often suggests that the subject needs to accept that some things may not be controllable, and others may not benefit from being controlled. As with all tarot cards multiple meanings are possible. Where the Empress is the Feminine principle the Emperor is the Masculine. Most individuals will relate to this card in the same way they relate to their own father. An interesting experiment with the Emperor is to ask the question "how relaxed is this figure?"

Mythopoetic Approach

The Emperor is Key Four of the Major Arcana. Fours are stable numbers; four walls, four seasons, four corners. It takes a massive amount of energy, comparatively, to move them. The strength of The Emperor is the stability he brings. The weakness is the risk of stagnation. Emblematic of the power of The Emperor is the origin of the god Zeus. After Gaea (see also The Empress) created the world, she created a consort, Uranus (sky). Uranus tried to stop further creation by engaging in perpetual copulation with Gaea. She got fed up with having her birth canal all filled up, and gave her son Chronos (time) his archetypal scythe and directions on what to do with it. Chronos castrated his father and took his place as the King of Heaven. Chronos followed in the sins of his father, only he let his children be born, then swallowed them. In the end, his son Zeus (through the good offices of another avatar of The Empress, Rhea) escapes being consumed and engineers a revolution. Instead of eating his children, Zeus eats the Goddess destined to bear the child who will engineer his downfall, Metis. And he becomes the Emperor. The Emperor is connected to Key 13, Death, through its cross sum (the sum of the digits). Emperors maintain their power through death and through their relationship with the other 13 of the tarot; The Queens (who legitimate their rule and bear their heirs). He is also strongly associated with Life; his scepter is an ankh, the symbol of life. But he is in the mountains, separated from the pulse of life. The sign of the Emperor is assoiciated with the sun sign of Aries. Aries is the first sign of the zodiac and is the leader. The Emperor, like Aries, is fiery, powerful, authoritative and very egotistical King Minos is another aspect of this archetypal image. He was, mostly, a good king, (considered so wise he is, according to some, one of the judges of the dead), who increased and protected Crete for many years. But he took his kingdom by means of a trick. He and his brothers disputed who should rule, and he prayed to Poseidon to send a sign from the sea that he was the chosen of the gods, which he promised to immediately sacrifice to the god. Poseidon sent a magnificent bull, and Minos was proclaimed king. But he balked at fulfilling his promise to slay the animal, and substituted a bull from his own herds. In so doing, as Joseph Campbell put it he "converted a public event to personal gain, whereas the whole sense of his investiture as king had been that he was no longer a mere private person. The return of the bull should have symbolized his absolutely selfless submission to the functions of his role." (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces 15 (2nd ed. 1968)). And the consequences were catastrophic; Poseidon afflicted the Cretan queen, Pasiphae, with an unquenchable desire for the bull. Their coupling produced the Minotaur, who was fed on human flesh. The Emperor's power and apparent stability bring great comfort, self worth, power. But the danger, as Minos discovered, is that we may gain a sense of personal entitlement beyond our actual rights. That way leads corruption, material or spiritual. It also, to quote an old television show, makes the people "cr[y] out for a hero." Generally, when the Emperor appears in a spread, he is something to be overcome. Some rigidity of thinking, some inflexibility of approach, some external force keeping us from our destiny. A comforting myth the Querant has outgrown. Sometimes, he represents the exterior forces we must accommodate. Sometimes, he is the superego. The two rams on each sides of his throne represent Aries presenting him as a powerful dictator for his time and showing his potent thirst for conquering in war.


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