The Emperor- Symbolic Analysis

Posted on June 8, 2011


“…each mind/body/spirit complex shall and should and, indeed, must perceive each archetype, if you use this convenient term, in its own way. Therefore, you may see that precision is not the goal; rather the quality of general concept complex perception is the goal.”- Ra, Session 77

The Emperor


Arcanum 4

Key Observations

  • Male figures depict the creative conscious energy. The role of emperor represents the conscious mind ennobled by the use of the vast resources of the unconscious mind.
  • The sphere of spiritual power is an indication indeed that each opportunity is pregnant with the most extravagant magical possibilities for the far-seeing adept.
  • The box he stands before represents the 3rd density illusion or our current reality. The black and white represent polarity. 
  • The cat: “the great cat which guard (a cultural reference). What, O student, does it guard? And with what oriflamme does it lighten that darkness of manifestation? The polarities are, indeed, present; the separation nonexistent except through the sifting which is the result of cumulative experience. Other impressions were intended by this configuration of the seated image with its milk-white leg and its pointed foot.Ra, Session 94.

*      We may note that the great cat guards in direct proportion to the purity of the manifestations of intention and the purity of inner work done along this path.” Ra, Session 95.23

  • The figure is expressing the nature of experience by having its attention caught by what may be termed the left-hand catalyst. Meanwhile, the power, the magic, is available upon the right-hand path. Note: Like the Faith card, we see a pointed foot as the foundation only this time we see it head on, instead of from the side as in Faith.
  • The skirt of the entity representing the archetype of the Experience of the Mind is extended to the left to indicate that other-selves would not be able to get close to this entity if it had chosen the left-hand path. There would be a greater separation between it and other-selves, whereas if it had chosen the right-hand path there would be much less of a separation.
  • The cross formed by the living limbs of the image signifies that which is the nature of mind/body/spirit complexes in manifestation within your illusion. There is no experience which is not purchased by effort of some kind, no act of service-to-self or others which does not bear a price, to the entity manifesting, commensurate with its purity. All things in manifestation may be seen in one way or another to be offering themselves in order that transformations may take place upon the level appropriate to the action.
  • The nature of experience is such that the attention shall be constantly given varieties of experience. Those that are presumed to be negative, or interpreted as negative, may seem in abundance. It is a great challenge to take catalyst and devise the magical, positive experience. That which is magical in the negative experience is much longer coming, shall we say, in the third density.
  • Experience has the nature of more effectively and poignantly expressing the architecture of experience, both the fragility of structure and the surety of structure.


The Emperor is Key Four of the Major Arcana. Fours are stable numbers; four walls, four seasons, four corners. It takes a massive amount of energy, comparatively, to move them. The strength of The Emperor is the stability he brings. The weakness is the risk of stagnation.

Emblematic of the power of The Emperor is the origin of the god Zeus. After Gaea (see also The Empress) created the world, she created a consort, Uranus (sky). Uranus imprisoned Gaia’s youngest children in Tartarus, deep within Earth, where they caused pain to Gaia. She created the archetypal scythe and gave it to Kronos, who ambushed his father and castrated him.

Kronos followed in the sins of his father, only he let his children be born, then swallowed them. In the end, his son Zeus (through the good offices of another avatar of The Empress, Rhea) escapes being consumed and engineers a revolution.

Instead of eating his children, Zeus eats the Goddess destined to bear the child who will engineer his downfall, Metis. And he becomes the Emperor.

The Emperor is connected to Key 13, Death, through its cross sum (the sum of the digits). Emperors maintain their power through death and through their relationship with the other 13 of the tarot; The Queens (who legitimate their rule and bear their heirs). He is also strongly associated with Life; his scepter is an ankh, the symbol of life. But he is in the mountains, separated from the pulse of life. The sign of the Emperor is associated with the sun sign of Aries. Aries is the first sign of the zodiac and is the leader. The Emperor, like Aries, is fiery, powerful, authoritative and very egotistical.

King Minos is another aspect of this archetypal image. He was, mostly, a good king who increased and protected Crete for many years. But he took his kingdom by means of a trick. He and his brothers disputed who should rule, and he prayed to Poseidon to send a sign from the sea that he was the chosen of the gods, which he promised to immediately sacrifice to the god. Poseidon sent a magnificent bull, and Minos was proclaimed king. But he balked at fulfilling his promise to slay the animal, and substituted a bull from his own herds. In so doing, as Joseph Campbell put it he “converted a public event to personal gain, whereas the whole sense of his investiture as king had been that he was no longer a mere private person. The return of the bull should have symbolized his absolutely selfless submission to the functions of his role.”[1] And the consequences were catastrophic; Poseidon afflicted the Cretan queen,Pasiphae, with an unquenchable desire for the bull. Their coupling produced the Minotaur, who was fed on human flesh.

The Emperor’s power and apparent stability bring great comfort, self worth, power. But the danger, as Minos discovered, is that we may gain a sense of personal entitlement beyond our actual rights. That way leads to corruption, material or spiritual.

Generally, when the Emperor appears in a spread, he is something to be overcome. Some rigidity of thinking, some inflexibility of approach, some external force keeping us from our destiny. A comforting myth the Querent has outgrown.

Sometimes, he represents the exterior forces we must accommodate. Sometimes, he is the superego.

The two rams on each sides of his throne represent Aries presenting him as a powerful dictator for his time and showing his potential thirst for conquering in war.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        –


Modern key words for the emperor:

Fathering —– Stability —– Authority —– Power

Control —– Discipline —– Command —– Common sense

Status quo —– Order —– Structure —– Egocentrism

Tradition —– Rigidity —– Leadership —– Experience

Inflexibility —– Conservative ways —– Organization