Exploring the symbols, metaphors and archetypal patterns found in myth, pop culture, literature, astrology, religion, psychology, Tarot, art and history--and why they matter.
Symbols in the Emperor Tarot Card
“He has a form of the Crux ansata for his scepter and a globe in his left hand. He is a crowned monarch—commanding, stately, seated on a throne, the arms of which are fronted by rams’ heads. He is executive and realization, the power of this world, here clothed with the highest of natural attributes… Hereof is the lordship of thought rather than of the animal world.” – Arthur Edward Waite from The Pictorial Key to the Tarot
Hello Symbol lovers! Let's explore the symbols within Tarot's Emperor card:
4 – Four is a number of stability, organization, partitioning and foundations.
Throne – A throne is a seat of authority and power. It usually sits in the center of a palace, symbolizing the central importance of rulership.
Ram – The symbol of Aries, the Ram symbolizes leadership, courage and aggression. Aries is ruled by Mars, the planet of war.
Armor – Iron and steel further connect to The Emperor to Mars, the planet that governs such metals. Armor protects and shields.
Scepter – Scepters are phallic, masculine symbols of authority and sovereign power. The Emperor’s scepter is unusual in that it looks like an ankh. In the book The Secret Language of Tarot, the authors state, “The Ankh has always been an amulet of pharaohs and kings that brings life, health, happiness, and fortune to those who possess it. The less of the Ankh is that simple.” In the book The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, Paul Foster Case notes that the ankh is a modified Venus symbol referring to the exaltation of the Sun in Aries.
Orb – A feminine symbol. The Emperor has ultimate balance with his consort, The Empress. In this case, the sphere can symbolize Heaven or the spiritual universe made manifest in the form of a ruler—in this case, The Emperor. In ancient Rome, an orb represented the cosmos.
Crown –Crowns signify rulership and authority, a “marriage ring” between heaven and earth. The Emperor’s crown looks a lot like the Holy Roman Emperor’s Crown, which was heavy with Christian iconography. The arches hint at the “vaults of Heaven”.
Heart Shawl – If you look at the Emperors left shoulder, the shawl looks like it’s sporting a red heart. Could this mean that, despite his steeling armor, he wears his “heart on his sleeve”? Or perhaps it suggests that his fierceness is tempered by compassion. When power goes to the head, though, some rulers become intoxicated with control. Could the heart shawl indicate romantic conquests? I like to think that, with the just use of power, the Emperor wins the heart of his subjects.
Red, Orange and Yellow – Red connects 1st/Root Chakra of tribal identity and survival issues. It also signifies desire, passion, aggression and romance. Orange connects to the 2nd/Sacral Chakra of relationships, control, money and creativity. It signifies optimism and enthusiasm. Yellow connects to the 3rd/Solar Plexus Chakra of self-esteem, confidence and personal power. It also connects with the sun, gold and fire. In China and Southeast Asia, yellow symbolizes royalty. In fact, in 6th century China, only an Emperor was allowed to wear yellow. (For more information, please see my eBook The Chakras).
Rightward Gaze – In handwriting analysis, rightward connects to the future and forward thinking.
White Hair – Hair often symbolizes inner strength and power (remember the story of Samson)? White hair symbolizes age and experience.
Long White Beard – White beards often signify elder wisdom and dignity. According to The Book of Symbols, artistic portrayals of many gods contain beards symbolizing masculine authority and virility. Even clean-shaven Egyptian rulers wore false beards to symbolize sovereignty. Because beards cover the mouth and jaw, it’s “been associated with the potency of word or logos. This is further reinforced by the habit of stroking or tugging at the beard when pondering a problem. Thus, the Green word pogonotrophos, ‘man with a beard’, was once a synonym for philosopher”. When the beard grows wild, however, it then connects to animality, wild primalism, sadism, rage, dehumanization or destructiveness.
Mountains – Mountains have often been connected to prophetic revelations (Moses) and godhood (MountOlympus). It’s pointed peaks are phallic, reaching up to the feminine sky. From “high up”, the Emperor gets a broader perspective and accesses Divine wisdom. Because these mountains are red (instead of cool gray or white), it may symbolize getting a “higher perspective” for strategy or engaging in combat.
Narrow Stream – There’s a thin stream of water right behind The Emperor. Water connects with the feminine, as well as dreams, intuition, emotions and the subconscious. While The Emperor may access and utilize such approaches, he has a “narrow” view of them since they aren’t his forte. The Emperor, instead, connects to the Yang of consciousness, logic, analysis and reason.
If you want to go deeper within The Emperor card, please see my eBook The Emperor, part of my Tarot Explorations Card-by-Card series.
Amberstone, Ruth Ann and Wald. The Secret Language of Tarot. San Francisco, CA: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2008.
Case, Paul Foster. The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages. New York, New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006.
Ronnberg, Ami and Kathleen Martin, eds. The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2010.
Waite, Arthur Edward. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. (Public Domain)
Wilkinson, Kathryn, ed. Signs & Symbols. London, England: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2008.
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