The Emperor




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In the tarot, the Emperor card is typically associated with rulership, power, control, authority, and the imposition of law and structure. It tends to be viewed in a skeptical or negative light by many modern Pagans, being a symbol of patriarchy and its rigidity.

As an archetype, the Emperor is a father figure. Real-life fathers, of course, come in all the great variety that humanity exhibits. The father archetype, however, speaks to our earliest interactions with adult authority and the boundaries imposed on our imaginations and impulses.

I see the tarot Emperor as a symbol of the connection between Younger Self and Thinking Self. By "Younger Self", I mean our pure, in-the-moment, imaginative faculty, the mode of consciousness we experience when at play or daydreaming. "Thinking Self", in contrast, is our verbal, analytical faculty, the mode of consciousness we experience when solving problems or organizing our experience. Both modes of being are essential ingredients of a full life, and working with the Emperor card can help us explore and heal the relationship between the two.

For many of us, that relationship is one of censorship, with Thinking Self restricting what Younger Self is allowed to experience and imagine. This is, in part, an internalization of being "corrected" by adult authorities in the early years of life. The Emperor is a particular type of authority - an authority who operates through rules and their strict, impartial application. For the Emperor, life is something like doing long division: follow the rules, one step at a time, and if you make no mistakes, you get the unique correct answer. There is little concern for people's feelings in the Emperor's world; it's all about logic, impartiality, and structure.

For Pagans (and indeed most everyone who practices any kind of alternative spirituality), the limitations of rule-based thinking are obvious. So obvious, in fact, that we may be inclined to a rebellious rejection of the use of rules in any context. But, of course, rule-based thinking has great merit for many situations - not just long division! The problem is that the internal censorship is so deeply ingrained that it can turn on automatically, whether or not it's really what we need at the moment.

By using the Emperor card of the tarot as a focus for meditation or contemplation, you can make your internal censor into an external, tangible image, and change your perspective on him. If you identify strongly with Younger Self, you are like to "encounter" the Emperor in other people, and find yourself often running up against authority figures and others seeking to limit your self-expression or channel your behavior. If you identify strongly with Thinking Self, you may act the part of the Emperor yourself, laying down rules and imposing your expectations on others. Working with the card image can be a way of "trying on" the way of experiencing the Emperor that is less familiar to you, and of making adjustments to the relationship between Younger Self and Thinking Self in your own life.

That relationship does not have to be one of censorship and control (or its shadow, which is unfocused rebellion). The World's greatest thinkers are not those who constantly self-censor, any more than they are those who disregard logic and structure. Great thinkers see imagination and logic as partners in a dance; imagination provides the inspiration, the new ideas, the sense of wonder and engagement. Logic reveals the interconnections and implications of things, which can then stir the imagination again. Both Thinking Self and Younger Self are then liberated to do what each does best.

The Emperor need not be a tyrannical patriarch; he can be a patron of the arts, a fair and light-handed creator of order and structure, whose laws are not absolutes, but rather tools that allow our creativity to become more focused and effective.

Tarot Wisdom is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2007 Tom Waters