Tarot Card Meanings: The Emperor

The Light: Authority, structure, father-figure, discipline, status quo.

The Shadows: Inflexibility, tyranny, arrogance, ineptitude for ruling.

Situated on his mighty throne, the Emperor seems to look down on the querent rather than at her. He is armed and ready for battle, even as he holds the sceptre in his hand and wears the crown – both are his, but he is willing to defend them. This represents an old way of viewing power, where rulers were wielders of both power and swords.

Deck used: Original Rider-Waite

While this card is traditionally seen as representing a father-figure, I feel that the emperor represents a surrogate father or mentor rather than a birth father. This is because emperors usually hold their title as a result of conquest or election. Charlemagne, Napoleon, Constantine and Victoria are examples of rulers who reigned as emperors through conquest; the Holy Roman Emperor reigned by election. Thus, I feel that the title is one bestowed upon someone who is not born into the role.

However, this figure is the ruler of the querent’s world, representing the male ego and the traditional path. He represents experience and wisdom, visible in his long white beard. This archetype also inspires loyalty and followers who are willing to help him achieve his vision of international dominion.

He is seated on a throne which appears to be made of stone, with a mountain range behind him signifying his permanence and connection to a long-standing position of power. It also shows us that the way our ideas and goals are best manifested at this time is through the tried and true method – a traditional path free from chaos and deviation. Order must reign. Additionally, the throne itself is set upon a stone slab, reminding us that strong foundations must be laid before power can be assumed with any surety.

The throne is decorated with four rams’ heads, evoking the fiery nature of Aires. The scene is set against an orange background and draped in red cloth, again representing the Emperor’s intensity. His sceptre is the Egyptian symbol of Ankh, which is the symbol of life – he holds his life and destiny in his own hand. In his right hand, he holds the orb, representing the [querent’s] world.

Following your heart and creating your own path are often revered, but when the Emperor shows up in a reading, it can be a sign to avoid tomfoolery and buckle down. Concentrate on goals with singleminded determination to reach them. This is not a time for weakness, but rather a time for leadership and hard work. You will know when it is the right time to listen to your heart, as following the same path for too long will lead to stagnation.

Alternatively, the emperor can be something to overcome, depending on its place in a reading (e.g., in the obstacle position). In this case, it can represent traditional or rigid thoughts that need to be managed, even as they control your life. It may also symbolise a sense of entitlement and a strong ego. Manage these shadowy elements to prevent corruption.

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