Tarot Tales: The Emperor

The Emperor demonstrates authority, stability, and control. This card is all about order, structure, and leadership. 

He’s the embodiment of governance, and brings qualities like strength, stability, and discipline. The Emperor can represent the father figure or patriarch in your life – while strong and sincere, he’s also loving and protective. 

The Emperor’s the divine masculine counterpart to the Empress’s divine feminine energy. Basically, she’s the mum and he’s the dad!

In the Rider Waite Smith deck, the Emperor sits on a stone throne, holding an orb (symbolising the world he rules) and a sceptre (the ankh is the ancient Egyptian symbol of life). His association with Mars and Aries is shown by the four ram heads around him. 

This Mars-Aries relationship is also shown by his suit of armour – this is a figure who’s ready for battle at a moment’s notice, but also guarded against the external world. Because he represents control, sometimes the suit of armour we put around ourselves is how we ‘control’ who or what we let in. But his red cloak – the colour of passion, lust and life – balances this, and brings an element of humanity to his coolness. He can be tough on the outside, soft on the inside, and vice versa.

If you’ve drawn the Emperor, you may need to establish boundaries, set rules, or take a more structured approach to a problem. Qualities like leadership, responsibility, and decisiveness are needed – maybe you need to show these, or maybe you need to seek them in someone else. 

On a deeper level, the Emperor can urge us to take charge of our life and to act with confidence. We have the ability to shape our destiny and to create a sound future through our actions and decisions.

The Thoth Emperor is a mature man with strong features, wearing a crown and holding a sceptre. He also has two ram heads around him, and he’s facing left. This ties him to the Empress, who faces right. When placed side by side, they’re looking at each other – the divine feminine and masculine in perfect balance.

The Emperor’s colours compliment the Empress’s. She has cool blues and greens showing growth, fertility, and love, while he has vibrant reds and outlines, showing passion, strength, and progress. He shares the shield and eagles, and has the stars to her moons. His chiselled angles balance her softer curves.

In the Thoth tarot, the Emperor is the ‘inner father’, rather than symbolising a father figure elsewhere. He’s the concept of fatherhood, and encourages resolution and development. Where the Thoth Empress is the cycle of creation, this Emperor is the integrity of life.

The Emperor Reversed

There’s likely a lack of structure or discipline. Perhaps there’s a sense of chaos? Instability? 

Because he represents power and authority, when reversed he can mean there’s an imbalance. There’s an abuse of power, or over-domination occuring. Someone’s in charge for the wrong reasons, or is holding onto something they need to release. Alternatively, maybe it’s time for you to step into this power – this position of leadership – but you’re avoiding the opportunity?

The Emperor always wants you to step up, and stand true in yourself.

He’s the tarot ‘dad’, after all!

Polly is a practicing witch who primarily works with Persephone, Brigid and the Cailleach. She's the High Priestess expert on seasonal Australian practice and archetypal symbolism, and is a teacher at Witch School.