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Tarot Beginners

The Major Arcana In-Depth: IV The Emperor

This is an article in a series in blog posts…. the “The Major Arcana In-Depth” series! Every few weeks I will be featuring one card of the Major Arcana, from the Fool to the World. Come take a tarot journey with me!

To learn about the Major Arcana overall and the first card in the Major Arcana, The Fool, go here.

To learn about the Magician, go here.

To learn about the High Priestess, go here.

To learn about the Empress, go here.

The Emperor in Control

The Emperor is the ruler, the father figure, the head honcho of the tarot. He is the one that ultimately decides things and sees fit on how to rule. He may be a figurehead, or he may be someone with all the power. The Emperor, on a good day, realizes that he is nothing without loyal subjects, and that it is often the will of the people that keeps him on his throne (dictatorship or not… majority rule is a big factor). He also knows, if he is wise, that though the power may seem to come from him as well as the decisions, he chooses to surround himself with a great staff, cabinet, conglomerate, or round table of associates to bounce his ideas off of. If you are looking for an Emperor figure in mythology and legends, look no further than Arthur of Camelot or other mythical kings. Depending on the deck you use, you may find that those very same kings ARE depicted as the Emperor card for that deck, such as Bran the Blessed in the Llewellyn Tarot based on Welsh mythology.

Traditional depiction in RWS: Man on a throne, facing front, crown, scepter, and orb, sometimes Ram symbolism (showing its association with the astrological sign of Aries the Ram)

Keywords: the ruler, the king, leadership, the deciding factor

Applicable Quotes:

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand

“Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”—Lao Tzu

“Leadership requires the courage to make decisions that will benefit the next generation.” — Alan Autry

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”—Gandhi

Lewis Rothschild: People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.

President Andrew Shepherd: […] People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.—The American President (1995)

Personal Meanings

What I think of when I see the Emperor: This depends on the client, the reading, and the other cards in the reading. But overall, I tell the client that now is the time to lead, to be in the spotlight, and to show what true leadership is. I also talk a bit about the concept of sovereignty and self-rule.

sovereignty (definition courtesy of

noun sov·er·eign·ty \ˈsä-v(ə-)rən-tē, -vərn-tē also ˈsə-\

: unlimited power over a country

: a country’s independent authority and the right to govern itself

1 obsolete :  supreme excellence or an example of it


a :  supreme power especially over a body politic

b :  freedom from external control :  autonomy

c :  controlling influence


:  one that is sovereign; especially :  an autonomous state

When the Emperor is reversed (upside down) in a reading, I often ask if someone in the client’s life is playing dictator or is on a tyrannical tirade… or I gently ask if they themselves are too controlling to the detriment of their situation and others playing a role in their particular life question.


When The Emperor Shows Up in a Reading

Upright: leadership, strength, the masculine principle, awareness of what is best in the long run for a group of people

Reversed: false leadership, someone is listening to bad advice and trusting in the wrong person to guide them, a show of strength is hollow


Ultimately, if/when you read for yourself, please keep the things I listed above in mind… and if you disagree, PLEASE use your own meanings for this card. Your thoughts on each individual card are invaluable, and lead you to a multi-layered understanding of the tarot that no one individual book/Little White Book/teacher can give you. Your experience with the cards counts, too!

Tarot class dismissed!



Image courtesy of digitalart at

How do you relate to The Emperor? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.

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