Introduction To The Major Arcana, Part 10: The Emperor

I like to connect Tarot with Jung, and the Emperor is a perfect opportunity to do so. The old wise man, the monarch on his high throne, is a Jungian archetypal father figure. He is lofty, powerful, and full of authority. He represents the paternal and masculine aspects of things. Structure, tradition, and unquestioned authority underlie this arcanum. The Emperor is consciousness, a Freudian super-ego, moral rules, the ability to make tough decisions, and also the role of provider and creator. There is a virile, generative aspect to the Emperor. One considers a man who has many, many children of his own.

The Emperor wears a red robe to show his position, but also wears armor, suggesting his toughness. He has a hard, impenetrable shell, and shows no emotion at all. The Emperor’s beard is long and gray, emphasizing his wisdom. He has a high, rocky mountain range behind him, and in his hands, he holds two symbols of authority: the Egyptian ankh of life, and the orb of the world, much like that held in the claws of the Roman eagle. There is a small stream pouring through the mountain range, suggesting both a hidden inner softness and a virile, generative, expulsive quality typical of the archetype of the masculine.

The Upright Emperor represents paternal roles, even if you are female. I’ll say that again: if you’re a man or a woman, then you can still take a paternal role. The paternal role is that of the provider, protector, and punisher. You can provide for those under your car, protect them from threats, and enforce rules and structure on them. The Upright Emperor, however, also represents fairness, not just blatant authoritarianism. The Upright Emperor is strict, but he is also even-handed, objective, and fair in his judgments.

The Reversed Emperor represents the corrosive version of paternal roles. Think of a tyrannical father, overbearing supervisor, or evil king. Think also of an irresponsible authority figure, such as Nero or Caligula. The Reversed Emperor suggests that you may be a little too strict with those under your care. Alternately, the Reversed Emperor can mean that you are groaning under the heel of a bad authority figure. Are you unhappy at work? In your relationships? Are you taking a lot of guff from older family members at this point? Ask yourself these questions when you see the Reversed Emperor.

In a past-present-future spread, the Emperor represents the following:

  1. As past, the Emperor represents the family and school environments you grew up in. This especially is related to parents, teachers, and older siblings. He can also represent your role as a parent or older sibling in the past.
  2. As present, the Emperor represents you in the capacity of an authority figure. Alternately, he can also mean that you are under authority right now. Someone who just got out of boot camp and is ready for a military tour of duty might just find the Emperor in this position!
  3. As future, the Emperor represents your potential to rise to the status of a leader.

That’s all for today. Next time, we’ll take a look at the “mother” of the major arcana: The Empress!

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