Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.
This week that will be concluded with the Full Aries Moon of October, for only the fourth time since I began this blog in 2003, we are visited by The Emperor. Yes, it’s another Major Arcana, in this recent period that has been unusually busy with them — now four in a row, and nine since June.
First, let’s be honest. A lot of people don’t much like this stiff-necked looking authority figure that appears in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.
In Pamela Colman Smith’s rendering of The Emperor, the landscape is rocky, austere, and unforgiving. The generous waterfall and river depicted in the Empress card has diminished to but a small rivulet in his background. Note that the rams’ heads of Aries are carved on his stone throne and woven onto the shoulder of his robe.
In his right hand, he holds an Ankh-shaped scepter. As Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone explain in their essential reference, The Secret Language of the Tarot:
An Ankh is a Tau cross with a circle or loop above it. This is a very old and much venerated Egyptian symbol and actually comes long before the cross.
It is a hieroglyphic picture of the masculine vertical line rising through the feminine horizon and being transformed into the immortal rising sun.
The Ankh has always been an amulet of pharaohs and kings that brings life, health, happiness, and fortune to those who possess it.
In his left hand, is a golden orb – a traditional object of sovereignty. The Rider-Waite-Smith’s orb is notably different from the one depicted in the Thoth Tarot, as well as the British “Sovereign’s Orb,” representing the monarch’s divinely given power.
Unlike them, there is no cross above the globe, which “represents ‘Christ’s dominion over the world,’ as the Monarch is God’s representative on Earth,” according to the Crown Chronicles’ explanation of this essential component of the British Crown Jewels.
The R-W-S Emperor’s red cloak is further evidence of his Aries/Mars association. It only barely hides the fact that he is wearing his full battle armor, ever vigilant.
I have found almost no commentary regarding the odd-looking sky behind this powerful figure. It is the only sky in the R-W-S deck that looks anything like this. Much has been written about its Aries/Mars vibrant orange glow, but look more closely and you will see that it is not actually orange, but a series of vertical red and yellow lines.
Pamela Colman Smith was certainly able to create the color orange without such lines — the mountains to his left prove this.
Are we seeing all of the components of Sun Tzu’s advice quoted above, except the wind, which could come blasting at any moment? For The Emperor is draped in fiery reds, sits on the Aries throne, is surrounded by the stillness of the mountains, and, to my eye, a sky that looks very much like closely grained wood.
Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown
One thing we can all agree on is that The Emperor does not look particularly happy, does he? After all, emperors only get to be (and remain) emperors by subjugating entire kingdoms. This rarely happens with cheerful compliance from the vanquished.
Indeed, one could argue that the exceptional achievements of emperors are often driven by their inner struggles around their own mortality. The Tarot would agree, since The Emperor’s complementary card of the Major Arcana is Death (13, which is the Death card = 1+3, which equals 4 – The Emperor). Interesting that last week’s card was Death.
Like all of the Tarot cards, The Emperor embodies both positive and negative potentials. And for this larger-than-life persona, his shadow side is hard to miss.
When distorted, his Big Daddy ego can be overblown and disrespectful of others. He can become too fond of his power, and treat others as unimportant pawns in his (or her) grand scheme of conquest.
I bet we all have met a few Emperor people who behave as if they are royalty, entitled to deferential treatment no matter what, and who enjoy bossing everything and everybody.
But The Emperor is not always a tyrant. He need not always be an Alexander, Caesar, Sun Tzu, Mussolini, or another modern-day overlord who climbs to the top through war, scheming, conflict, and domination.
He may also be the visionary leader who wants to unite petty kings and warring factions in order to protect the peace and build prosperity for all. In other words, despite the severity of his countenance in the R-W-S deck, I think that at heart, The Emperor can be an idealist.
But he is no beautiful dreamer like The Fool, who, like the Death card, he is connected to through the numerology of the Major Arcana. (The Fool is usually the number 0, but can also be considered Major number 22, which, like the 13, reduces to 4).
The Emperor not only envisions the Fool’s castles in the air, he has the discipline, pragmatism, and drive to build the foundations beneath them.
He is the ideal of the good father, setting boundaries, insisting on consequences, and teaching his children how to succeed in the “real world.” At his best, he takes to heart all the weighty responsibility and worldly care that such a role brings.
And like T. H. White’s Arthur in Once and Future King, he believes in “might for right.” He understands the inner workings of power and politics, and knows how to use (or flaunt) that system to bring about the greater good.
The Emperor represents establishing, building, and doing. He uses force if necessary to protect the rule of law. He makes and guides the forms, structure, and institutions of Earthly power. And he insists on excellence, starting with himself.
The Timing of the Emperor’s Visit
His rare visitation is in perfect timing with the Libra-Aries polarity of this Full Moon week (by tropical astrology reckoning). In other words, when the Sun is in the sign of Libra, the Full Moon is in the opposite side of the sky, in Aries.
Our faithful expert, Annie Heese at Cafe Astrology, describes this polarity:
The Aries-Libra polarity is a relationship axis, where Aries represents “self” and Libra represents “other.” Where Aries is about self-assertion, Libra is about compromise.
The energy of the Libra Sun is the awareness of the need for relationships and all that comes with maintaining them–compromising, negotiating, graciousness, and balancing.
The Aries Moon, on the other hand, is self-assertive, leading, and personally courageous.
This Full Moon urges us to strike a balance between meeting our personal needs and attending to the needs of a significant other, and between independence or autonomy and dependence or companionability.
The Libra Sun is diplomatic, equality-minded, and fair-minded. The Aries Moon, however, values authenticity over tact and is energized by independent efforts.
The Full Moon illuminates this conflict. Neglecting either end of the Aries-Libra axis will surely backfire on us. Ideally, a balance should be found between the two energies, and this is what the Full Moon invites us to do.
When he combines diplomacy and respect for the people that his influence will affect, The Emperor can be a savvy and powerful ally. He knows how to focus, to structure time and resources, and in this season of the final harvest, we’d do well to engage with his power.
And as ace astrologer, Elisabeth Grace, points out, “[Monday’s] Aquarius Moon squares Mercury and Uranus at 10:32 AM and 11: 36 ET. Meanwhile, the Libra Sun (patriarchs, CEOs, authority figures, heads of state) is squared by a high-functioning Saturn at 3:07 PM ET.” In a previous article she explains Sun-Saturn squares: “In the language of astrology, Saturn refers to necessary control, ambition and discipline. The Sun refers to ego, leaders, vitality.”
So it makes sense that the Emperor wants to dominate this week’s events. Even though the exact aspect has already shifted (I was delayed getting this written), the effects are still reverberating through this fraught Major Arcana week that will climax with the Full Moon.
Whose Empire Is It, Anyway?
The Emperor has a strong masculine energy, but can definitely apply for all genders, especially for entrepreneurs and independent-minded people of vision and initiative.
He hates being bossed, but is never passive-aggressive. He is that part of ourselves that is forthright, and knows how to communicate frankly. He demands a lot from himself, and so he has the full expectation that he knows what he’s doing.
Our Emperor self will collaborate and cooperate with those who have earned our respect as equals. But he will not be ruled.
Much as I am tempted, I will spare you a lengthy discussion about a certain, very public Emperor who is currently parading around with no clothes.
Remember, please — The Emperor is not a court card. In the Tarot, the Majors do not usually represent specific people. Instead, they illuminate a situation, or some aspect of a person’s nature.
So my tongue-in-cheek referral to the current resident of the White House as an Emperor is because this is, in fact, his soul AND personality card. He could surely be the poster child for the worst aspects of this card. It will be interesting to see what happens to him this week, as he seems to be faltering in his ability to wield total command.
This week, you may find yourself reflecting on gifts, lessons, challenges, and embedded behaviors linked to your father (whether he is still living or not, or even someone you never knew).
Or issues may come up around how you interact with people in some kind of authority. Perhaps you will have to navigate your way through some bureaucratic chain of command, including the people you report to at work or school.
You may find that it is increasingly difficult to take orders, especially if you have questions about their competence or the validity of their superior role.
On the other hand, have you ever thought about your own leadership style? Do you find it easy to take charge? Do you willingly delegate? Or do you instead tend to micro-manage, or even find yourself taking back a task because only you know how to do it “right?”
What boundary issues do you need to resolve once and for all? And in what ways is it time to get better organized? With the Mercury retrograde that awaits at the end of this month, and as we come to the end of the magickal year, this would be an auspicious time for putting your work, your priorities, and your house in order.
You may find it is time to step into your authority, and assume the duties and responsibilities that only you can carry out.
May this card’s royal perspective inspire you to be the sovereign of your own life, and may your powers be used in sacred harmony with what is for the highest good of all.