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The Emperor – by Helen Howell

The Magician by Helen Howell

The esoteric title for this card is Son of the Morning, Chief among the Mighty. I wonder if the title Son of the Morning is connecting the Emperor to that outgoing energy – the ability to rejuvenate and reinvent oneself – like a new day dawning. Chief Among the Mighty speaks for itself really…he is the male principle archetype – the one you look to for leadership.

Astrological attribution: Aries

Aries, the first sign of the Zodiac, is a fire or cardinal or initiator sign. This sign is ruled by Mars, a planet that is known as the ‘god of war’ and represents courage and forthrightness. I always think of Aries as a sign that says “me first” *lol* and can be a sign that symbolises those with leadership qualities, initiative, energy and new ideas.

Elemental attribution: Fire – elemental fire is hot and dry and its nature is energy.

Kabbalistic path 15: 2 Chokmah to 6 Tipareth. Chokmah is position two on the Tree of Life and its keyword is wisdom. It relates to the masculine energy within and the ability to use logic and reason in order to make choices and decisions.

Tiphareth is position six on the Tree of Life and its keyword is beauty and relates to our higher self. This sephira talks about the higher meaning in our lives and points us towards defining our purpose, principles and objectives. It sits in the middle of the Tree of Life and may be related to the centre of being.

I think these two may be saying that the Emperor shows us that he is able to combine his leadership skill with compassion and reason, and that his overall objective is the search for truth.

Waite says of his Emperor, “He is a crowned monarch-commanding, stately, seated on a throne, the arms of which are fronted by rams’ heads. He is executive and realisation, the power of this world”. He also says “it should be understood that this card and that of the Empress do not precisely represent the condition of married life, though this state is implied.”

In this latter statement, I think Waite is saying that the Emperor and the Empress complement each other. It is the Empress who gives birth, but it is the Emperor who provides the structure and security in which she can give birth – if you know what I mean.

Let’s look at the symbolism in the Rider-Waite-Smith Emperor:

  • Grey throne: ability to combine opposites so they harmonise.
  • Rams’ heads on throne: connect him to Aries, first sign of the zodiac.
  • Sceptre is ankh + orb: The orb is the symbol of the female quality and the ankh is a symbol for the breath of eternal life, as well as the male quality.
  • Armour under robes: symbol of responsibility, protection and defence – willing to defend one’s principles.
  • Red robes: self-confidence, action, energy, power – also the colour of the fiery planet Mars – so connects him again to Mars and Aries.
  • Fiery coloured mountains in the background: mountains are part of the natural world, and these are hot and fiery, so perhaps they indicate his awareness of how hard some aspects in the world are to overcome…just a thought.
  • Red and white stones in crown: from Pictures of the Heart I found this bit interesting – “there is the merest hint from the red and white stones in the Emperor’s crown that Waite may have identified the Emperor with an alchemical king (red and white being the fundamental antithetical ingredients of alchemy).”

The Emperor represents the power that can be achieved through self-control. He is rationality, order and structure. This is a card that speaks about translating ideas and dreams into actuality. He is the stability from which the Empress’s ideas can take form – at least that’s what I think Waite was saying.


Published in the Journal of the Tarot Guild of Australia Inc. The Magician, #30, Autumn/Winter 2009
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Magician Issue 30