The Tarot’s Emperor flags up the spirit of Aries, the Ram, first fiery sign of the Zodiac, and with it the image of the Patriarch, for good or ill. Is is in many ways, the opposite number of Virgo and The Hermit, who walks alone, but who has learned many things, understands many things, and may shine a light so that others may follow and not lose their way in the dark. The difference is, they both must do a lot of their thinking alone, but the Hermit has to be sought out. The Emperor is also alone, but is surrounded by others, and in plain sight.
You could be the Emperor yourself, whether male or female,for example, as a business owner, or in many other roles.
In an abstract sense this is a card of ‘rendering unto Caesar.’ But Emperors themselves owe duty. The regalia of power is in token of service. There is no loyalty without reciprocity.
In a reading, it is likely to be turning the conversation to a senior male figure in your life; a father or grandfather, a husband, and often he is older than you, maybe an employer. Occupationally, The Emperor may be a police officer, a military man or woman, or a worker in the Civil Service or judiciary.
The appearance of this card has several times alerted me to the fact I am sitting with an off-duty police officer, whether male or female. Once it was a judge.
Impersonally, the card signifies government and large corporations organisations, the Armed Forces, the Law, and global or government organisations. If you are job-hunting and this card comes up, you are likely to find work before long, no matter who the prospective employer may be, while if you have specifically applied to an organisation of this kind, your application looks likely to succeed.
The Emperor at his best is a chevalier, a sheltering tree, Rule with compassion, defender of the small and weak. Children and animals are drawn to him. Birds nesting in his branches, will feel themselves secure. He represents the path of reason and fair play and is ready to uphold it by word and deed.
He is active in order, and practices self discipline and damage limitation, reining in his strength at times, exercising it at others so that sanity prevails, and not everyone gets splattered with the filth of chaos.
Negatively aspected, that is to say. appearing in a spread with other cards such as The Tower or The Devil, there may be great tragedies and evils. The Emperor may be a tyrant or a coward. War is a Horseman of the Apocalypse. The Law may be an ass while historically, Emperors have over and over again been catastrophic for the peace and happiness of their fellow humans.
And Caesar’s spirit, raging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 1, 270-275
Julius was a ruler, a killer, and a father who was on campaign when he received news of the death in childbirth of his only child, Julia, and mourned alone in his tent.
In all the light and shade of his complexity, The Emperor represents ‘our’ own menfolk, the ones we honour and love and sometimes fight. My beloved father, gone now. A step-father, also beloved. A baby son, gone from us before he even lived a day, but still, I knew him on sight. My husband, my brother. The truth of the masculine as distinct from the feminine. Each person has both. More joins us than divides us, male and female, but certain biological truths do distinguish the nature of physical experience.
Red earth of Adam.
Fathers or not, all men are sons of ‘red earth’, born to strive, to quest, to come home and rest, to see and not to say all that he sees, and on account of this to suffer deep loneliness at times; un-throned Emperors, every one.
The winners as they say, write the history. But the losers also made that same history.
Betrayed by his brother
Begged wait by his mother
Echoes shrined in thread
A king still speaks
Of ships on shingle