Updated: Dec 28, 2022
“Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.”
Welcome to the new year on the Wheel of the Year!
We are now in Aries season, whose card is The Emperor. In my personal evolution with the Tarot, my relationship with The Emperor has been more intense than any other single card.
It began soon after I first became dedicated to studying the Tarot. While spending a weekend in the country house-sitting with a dear friend, I explained to him the meaning of each card. He told me which cards he thought represented his current state of mind, but I explained that it’s actually when we pull a spread and view the cards together, that we can really draw insight.
When I gave him his reading, he stood up from the table and walked into the other room. He didn’t like what I was saying. I don’t remember which cards came up, or what the message was, but it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. It wasn’t anything negative, it was a confronting truth that made possible an evolution.
If we hadn’t been such good friends, I wouldn’t have pushed him to see the message. Did I mention he’s an Aries?
Then, it was his turn to read for me. He’s not a Tarot practitioner, but he’s a shaman in his own right. We challenge each other for the better, and this reading was no different. I forget the entirety of the spread, but when The Emperor showed up for me, I too was ready to stand up and walk away.
I said, “No, that can’t be right.” Intensely, I tried to refuse this card. He made me sit with it, and because he knows me so well, and because he understood what it meant to embrace this card with love, he got me to see how I embody The Emperor.
You can probably see why anyone might feel resistance towards this card at first sight.
Seated on a ram-adorned stone throne, The Emperor’s legs and feet are clad in pointed armor. Another ram, the symbol of Aries, is seen on his red robes, which flow beneath his long white beard.
Behind him, giant barren mountains stand tall. His crown is regal, his expression is humorless. He grips his ankh-shaped scepter in one hand and he seems to withhold the golden globe in his other hand.
He does not look like a fun guy.
Of course, the Rider-Waite deck was published over 100 years ago. This image drips with patriarchy, and yet, it is still actually able to convey the real truth of what The Emperor brings- structure.
Modern deck creators have offered some beautiful upgrades that I’ve found helpful in understanding and embracing The Emperor.
In The Light Seer’s deck, we see a handsome man seated on the throne of Mars, the ruling planet of Aries and The Emperor.
The Ram’s horns are hanging on the wall behind him, a reminder that force need not be mistaken for power. The ankh symbol, representing life, becomes a tattoo, and the globe is replaced by a chess piece. His expression is intelligent and wise, contemplative and assured.
In The Wild Unknown, The Emperor becomes an enormous sequoia tree. I think the absence of a human figure in this deck provides the widest doorway through which to pass into an understanding of the true loving nature of The Emperor.
The Emperor follows and is paired with The Empress. Together, they compose the matriarch and patriarch of the deck.
As a collective, we are currently in a time of evolution away from patriarchal systems that no longer serve. But, the patriarch, the divine father, is not essentially dominating or punitive. He offers structure, boundaries, order, and discipline.
Remember that discipline is not the same as punishment. As all artists know, it requires discipline to create, learn and grow.
In all the fours of the tarot, we are moving energy from an abstract state and giving it order and stability so that it can become productive and enlivening. As the four of the Major Arcana, that is the ultimate mission of The Emperor.
Because The Emperor is the bedrock for all that will follow, I want to take a moment to revisit the cards that precede it.
If we were to plot the Major Arcana cards 0-IV alongside the earliest stages of human development, we would note that they all take place while we are pre-verbal.
In The Fool, numbered 0, our spirit takes the leap of faith and signs up to enter a body. The spirit does so because it recognizes some unmanifested potential that will require a body to bring into being.
Next is The Magician, who is the divine yang energy of manifestation and creation. This is followed by card II, the High Priestess. She represents the divine yin energy of intuition and connectivity to the divine. Cards I and II are elemental to our first breaths.
Next, as babies in The Empress, we learn how to receive. We are completely deserving and dependent on others, both for survival and adoration.
It is not until we reach IV, The Emperor, that we become verbal. We gain the structure of language.
Remember that the first line of the Major Arcana is in service of helping us understand and articulate that shortest of complete sentences, “I am.”
When we are spirits without bodies, we are boundary-less. We individuate into human form so that we can experience what a boundary even means. To have this experience of differentiation, we use labels. You, me. Black, white. Table, chair. Large, Small.
As soon as a child learn “yes” and “no”, “me” and “you,” their favorite words quickly become, “mine,” “no,” and, “gimme.” Toddlers are labeled the “terrible twos” before they even get there!
Of course, saying “no” to the endless demands of, “Gimme a cookie” is an exhausting role for a parent. But there is nothing wrong with the child, the want, or the no.
Language is really a structure of labels. Labels are not judgments, but judgments require labels.
Perhaps you observed how readily the mind applies judgment once it gets a hold of those labels?
The Emperor is here to say, “Hold on. Discernment, differentiation, boundaries, none of those are inherently good or bad. They simply are.”
The truth is, The Emperor knows that authentically occupying his own sacred being, is actually an act of expanse for all creation.
The very fabric of the universe is expanding. Like this fabric of existence, The Emperor is devoted to the expansion of the soul.
The sequoia does not apologize for growing tall. It offers no comparison of itself to a bird or the mountain. It has no judgment or opinion of a fern or the fog. It is simply taking up its own sacred space.
So too, does The Emperor. He is unaware and unconcerned about the good or bad opinions of others because he logically understands that while labels can be beneficial in providing structure and exploring boundaries, judgments cannot.
When The Emperor showed up for me in that early reading, I felt confronted with an internalized judgment that I was too much.
I am certain that each of us has been told at one time that our presence, our very existence, was too big. And so? We try to make ourselves smaller so we can “fit in.”
The Emperor neither “fits in” nor does he crowd out. The Emperor and this Aries season are here to remind you that you are here on earth so that you can unapologetically explore the boundaries of your identity, individuality, boundaries, and the exceptionalism of your own sacred space.
Given my complex personal relationship with this card, it is not a surprise to me that I put off writing about it until now. I want to give some credit for that to the fact that we are in a Lovers year (2+0+2+2=6 and The Lovers is VI in the Major Arcana).
As I have said before, The Lovers is not primarily about eros (romance, passion, love of body), but rather about philautia - self-love. The Lovers comes for us whenever there is some part of our being that we would rather not acknowledge. The Lovers recognize that we are already whole and that all the aspects of ourselves are worthy of being honored and cherished.
To be certain, there are lots of examples, both societal and individual, of patriarchal rigidity running riot and toxic; however, if you are reading this sweet soul, I can promise you that it is vastly more likely that your inner Emperor is singing a song that world wants desperately to hear.
Whatever you can do to harness the support of The Lovers to inform the structure that The Emperor wants to provide you with, you are permissioned and encouraged to do it, especially this Aries season.