The Emperor in the Tarot



There is a tendency among Tarot readers to associate the Emperor with the Empress.  If the Empress is the ultimate Feminine Energy then the the Emperor must be the ultimate Masculine Energy.  It makes sense, both because of the names of the cards and their proximity to each other in the deck. They seem to be two sides of the same coin, yin and yang.

It’s just not so, however.  The Empress is wild, unbridled, sensual, ready for a good roll in the hay at a moments notice.  The Emperor, on the other hand, looks like he’s had a bad case of constipation for twenty years and would probably need a double dose of viagra to even think about a roll in the hay.  And let’s face it: who wants to go to bed with someone who’s dressed in armor?

Another very common misconception is that he’s associated with the astrological sign Aries the Ram.  It makes sense on the face of it because there are ram’s heads all over the card. That’s about the only way it make sense.  Aries is associated with the number one, not the Emperor’s number four. Additionally, Aries is the child of the zodiac, fresh, impulsive, trusting, headstrong.  The Emperor is obviously a very old man and there’s nothing ram like about his demeanor or his posture. The rams, like the barren mountains in the background, are meant to suggest that the Emperor dwells in isolation high above the common folk of the world.

So, yes, the Emperor represents male energy but only a very narrow spectrum of it.  If this archetype is blowing through your life you may be about to encounter someone who is rock solid, a very strong individual who is fully capable of taking charge and does so.  He probably won’t be a barrel of laughs – if fact, he may not have any sense of humor at all – but he will be experienced and totally dependable.

If the card represents the questioner it may show that he or she is in a position to take charge and reach their goals.  They are well suited to the task at hand and there is an emphasis upon using the intellect rather than emotions. There is a warning to not come across as too authoritarian.  “My way or the highway,” is an approach that will cause some people to head for the highway.

Reversed:  This warns that someone you are relying may not be all they’re cracked up to be, that they may be pretending to be more capable than they are and that you are in for a disappointment.  If the card represents the questioner it suggests that there is a lack of focus and concentration.

A Few Extra Thoughts:

When you pull The Emperor in a reading it may be a good time to think about positions of power in general and male power in particular.

We live in a society where the dominant model for power is that it flows from the top down.  Whether you’re talking about the president in our political structure or CEOs in the corporate world there is one person – usually male – who wields the overwhelming majority of power.  He makes the decisions, he gives the orders, he expects those orders to be followed. If they aren’t he crushes anyone who was, “insubordinate.”

Basically that’s a pretty medieval structure.  It’s no mistake that we still use the phrase, “they seized power,” when we’re talking about one political party or the other winning an election.  It goes back to the era when power literally WAS seized at the point of a sword by one tyrant or the other who then got to live in luxury while the rest of the people worked to support his lifestyle.  As Mel Brookes said, “It’s good to be the king.”

Unfortunately, it’s not a very good model for the rest of us.  If you’re a boss or a supervisor and you pull this card try to imagine some different ways of using power rather than just being a my way or the highway person.  How can you share the power? How can you get your employees more involved in the decision making? How can you make your workplace more of a democracy and less of a kingdom?

And any male who gets The Emperor in a reading should take a little time to think about, “male power.”  What does it mean to you to be a powerful male? Is it located in your body? Do you think of it as being able to dominate other people physically and, “kick some ass?”  Is it in your intellect and you seek to dominate other people on that level?

Does it have to involve dominance at all?  

Can you be strong in your ability to nurture, to comfort, to care and show up day after day after day to do the things that need to be done?  I’ve known some men who did home caregiving for sick wives or children who were far, far stronger than the bullies in the workplace thumping their chests.

What does it mean to be, “a powerful male?”  The jury is still out on that one.

Author: Dan Adair

Artist, writer, semi-retired wizard, and the author of, "Just the Tarot," by Dan Adair

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