Card IV of the tarot’s major arcana, The Emperor is the very picture of stability. Like the four legs of a table, the four walls of a fortress, or the four cardinal directions, The Emperor has his bases covered. His boundaries are clearly defined and enforced. His tools are the four of each suit—the 4 of Disks (power), the 4 of Cups (luxury), the 4 of Wands (manifestation), and the 4 of Swords (negotiation).
The Emperor, Crowley-Harris Thoth deck
The Emperor doesn’t just ask for his boundaries to be honored, he demands and expects it. In so doing, he provides for himself and those in his care. He is power and authority, sacred masculinity, leadership and dominion. He is the representation of society, commerce, and government during safe and prosperous times. He is also the bearer of tradition and the representation of the father.
The Emperor card often brings up thorny issues for people. How many of us struggle with making and enforcing personal boundaries? How many of us are afraid or distrusting of authority? How many of us have unresolved issues with our fathers?
How many of us thwart our own success and prosperity, because we are afraid of it? I can speak from years of experience: lots, and lots, and lots of us. In spite of all the wonderful things The Emperor has created, the bounty is not without its dark side.
Sometimes The Emperor takes his power too far. He becomes domineering, egotistical, abusive, or tyrannical. Then the question becomes, who’s going to stand up to him? Who will be the first to point out that he is, after all, only human? How do we stop the despot we installed? Remember the story of The Emperor who was wearing no clothes? The persons and institutions that have power, only have that power because “we the people” imbue them with it.
The Emperor teaches us that we are each and every one of us a ruler. We decide our fates, by choosing to be active creators or passive consumers. As we come into our own, we must first learn society’s rules, so that we can go on to develop our own standards of conduct and become our own agents. If we ever hope to lead, we must develop our own vision, sense of efficacy, and code of ethics.
Traditional Rider-Waite Emperor card
The strength of The Emperor is flowing through us when we finally set boundaries with those who tread on us. We channel him when we approach problem-solving with a rational and logical mind. He is present when we follow our own instincts to decision and action. We are working through his archetype when we know just what to do and we move forward with surety and confidence. Ultimately, The Emperor teaches us to maximize our potential, to seize the day, to maintain our integrity, and to lead by putting the good of all above the advantage of the self.