The Emperor represents society, structure, rules, fatherhood, and protection. The number of this card (four) further strengthens the message of structure and stability. For me, the Emperor’s shadows are most apparent: rigidity, constraint, or the harms of patriarchal rule. So I’m excited to learn more about this card to appreciate and understand its light side as well.
The Emperor can represent setting appropriate boundaries and creating order out of chaos. Boundaries allow us to say “no” when we need to and prevent others from taking advantage of us. Structure can create beauty and sustenance: choreography, agriculture, carpentry, recipes. Structure can protects us, feed us, and awe us. Tarot reminds us that rules and structure are complementary to passion and compassion. He does not shirk responsibility and owns and learns from his missteps.
The Emperor can represent outer societal forces, structures, and expectations that influence our lives, for good or bad. He represents our process of learning to function within society as well as our process of creating our own life’s structure and rules.
The raven on the Efflorescent Tarot Emperor’s shield is a symbol of intelligence and rationality. The sword the Emperor holds also reflects these air qualities. The orb he holds in his hand represents wholeness and his responsibility to the whole. The rams heads on his cloak represent a shadow aspect of being “stubborn” or “hard headed,” and the mountains behind him indicate strength and unwavering resolve. It is interesting to note that the Animal Wisdom Tarot’s Emperor is indeed the ram.
Additional shadows of the Emperor include blind loyalty to rules for their own sake rather than examining or questioning their purpose and giving over complete control of one’s life to others, whether it be a father-like figure or a larger social structure. The opposite / reversal can be an unwillingness to set boundaries or follow rules.
If I were to assign an element to the Emperor, it would be air. He uses his intellect to carve order and beauty from chaos and to protect himself and this loved ones. His strength flows from his wisdom.
I actually really enjoyed getting to know the light side of this card. At first, I wasn’t sure how I could view it as anything but oppressive structural constraints. But a huge piece of positivity the Emperor can share with me is creating boundaries. I used to have no real personal boundaries. My whole emotional self belonged to others. It wasn’t until I read Kimberlee Roth’s Surviving a Borderline Parent: How to Heal Your Childhood Wounds and Build Trust, Boundaries, and Self-Esteem that I realized I was not capable of separating my own emotions from the emotions of those around me. It took a lot of practice, including finally letting go of some very harmful relationships, for me to actually believe it was (and is!) okay for me to set personal boundaries. That doesn’t make me selfish or mean or spiteful. It means I am a valuable person who deserves to be safe. And the Emperor agrees with me!
When the current structure in place sucks, buck the system, be your own Emperor, and build something that works and keeps you and your loved ones safe.