Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish.
Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.
President and General Dwight D. Eisenhower
At long last, I have been able to carve out the time and serenity (knocking wood!) to put together my analysis of how the year 2020 lands us on the doorstep of The Emperor of the Tarot. Thanks for your patience.
How Tarot Years Work
As you probably know, one of my favorite areas of the Tarot is how the numerology of a birthday, date, or a particular year corresponds to the cards. It is of particular importance how these numbers correspond to the Major Arcana (the trumps).
Using this system, we can learn a great deal about ourselves, particularly our soul’s mission as well as the general traits and patterns that can be anticipated in a given year.
This year, being 2020, reduces to 4 (by way of 2+0+2+0=4). This, therefore, is card number Four of the Major Arcana, making this the Year of The Emperor.
(I have seen some discussion about how 2020 is the number 22, and so corresponds to The Fool card. But in the way I work with this little niche of the Tarot, a year of The Fool is impossible, since nothing reduces to zero; just like, after the last one in 1,000 C.E., there cannot be another year of The Magician until the year 10,000).
We last experienced an Emperor Year in 2011, and this is the last one until 2101. (I admit numbers are not my strongest skill, so if I have figured this wrong, I hope someone will tell me!).
Who Is The Emperor?
A lot of people don’t much like the stiff-necked looking authority figure that appears in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Of course, we are living in a mind-boggling flowering of interest in the Tarot and there are now countless interpretations.
But in Pamela Colman Smith’s rendering of The Emperor, the landscape is rocky, austere, and unforgiving. 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.
Note that the rams’ heads of Aries are carved on The Emperor’s stone throne and woven onto the shoulder of his robe. Aries is the God of War, and is the first sign of the zodiac, coming at the Vernal Equinox, initiating the astrological new year.
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. After all, emperors only get to be (and remain) emperors by subjugating kingdoms.
So The Emperor represents force, aggression, and the awakening of the life force in the Spring.
It is also impossible to ignore that, in many ways, he could be the poster boy for the patriarchy.
But Wait! There’s More to Him
However, the longer I have known him, the more I cannot see him as a cartoonish stereotype. Instead, I would invite you to join me in seeing him as a rich, complex and multidimensional figure.
He is not simply an Alexander, Caesar, Sun Tzu, or narcissistic orange twit who has climbed to the top through ambition, scheming, conflict, and domination.
Yes, this may be a shadow side to him, but I also see The Emperor as an Arthurian archetype – the visionary leader who would unite the petty kings and warring factions in order to hold the peace and build prosperity for all.
His aspirations are noble, and he believes in using his “might for right” – with all the weighty responsibility and worldly care that such a role brings. He understands how the real world of power and politics works, and so decides to use that system to bring about the greater good.
In addition, The Emperor represents fathering energy. This applies to both how we experienced our fathers, and how we share the qualities of fathering as we generally understand them – the protector, provider and disciplinarian for our families and for ourselves.
At his best, his fatherly leadership is a service of love. Like the Good Father, when he teaches us, or lays down the law, he never asks for what he would not do himself. He expects us to be our best. And he knows that structures and boundaries are the loving tools that build ultimate success.
Large and In Charge
One of my favorite interpretations of The Emperor is in the Osho Zen Tarot© deck. He is much more dashing and dynamic, and he is named The Rebel. Yet he is not like our stereotype of the alienated teenage rebel, nor is he recalcitrant for its own sake.
He is simply so sure of his authority that he is incapable of mere obedience, especially if orders come from a hierarchical “chain of command.” While he can be fundamentally conservative, he will not hesitate to break the laws of convention if they seem arbitrary or a hindrance to his goals.
He lives by his own rules and if he sees himself as superior, it’s because most of the time, it is the simple truth.
However, regardless of which deck you are using, The Emperor can be challenging in a partnership. He can tend to be bossy and imperious. He likes to call the shots, he has big plans, then leaves it to you to see to the details. And he is not always generous about who gets the credit.
If the Emperor is not in the limelight of leadership that he craves (and usually fully deserves), he can become sour and nit-picky. But he is not selfish or mean; quite the contrary.
As Emperor, he is vast, expansive and tireless. He knows what he likes, what he wants, and he goes for it. His motto is, “It is easier to apologize after the fact, than to ask permission.”
Next, I will examine the global climate for this Emperor Year, which is so different (and yet similar) to his last appearances in 2011 and 2002.
To read Part Two: The Emperor’s Global Influence, click here.
To read Part Three: The Emperor’s Personal Influence on You, click here.