The Emperor & The Father King
The Emperor is one of those tarot cards that often gets neglected in favor of more comforting cards. In the Rider-Waite Smith deck, The Emperor looks stern, demanding, and far too authoritarian. It’s not surprising then, that many women have difficulty connecting to The Emperor card. What many women would be surprised to learn however, is that men likewise have a difficulty with The Emperor. For many men and women, the embodiment of a harsh authority is not always wanted or freely embraced. Let’s be honest here, rules and structure are not something many of us grow up to think of as an important value. Getting to know and understand The Emperor isn’t easy, but let’s try anyway. This is an in-depth tarot study after all.
At first glance, The Emperor stands for nothing more than a preserver of authority. The armor under The Emperor’s robes, brings to mind abusive systems of power first and foremost. But, this isn’t necessarily what was intended. A second glance at The Emperor, and you’ll notice that he holds an artistic representation of the orb and scepter. These, along with the crown, imply a crowned monarch, or King. The Emperor is actually an embodiment of the King Father archetype. Many of us, male or female, would understand the symbolism being depicted as much more then. The King archetype, and thus The Emperor, is complex because each of us perceives of authority and structure differently, and much of that depends on personal experiences.
Many people seem to connect to the shadow side of The Emperor, and who could blame them? The harsh reds of the Rider-Waite Smith tarot make this an almost involuntary response. However, The Emperor, at his best, provides us a sense of stability, creativity, and protection. Our understanding of these values are often linked to the past more than the present. A King who governed his people was responsible for preserving order, defending a kingdom’s borders, and inspiring others to create. In today’s society, this concept may be more difficult to see in our political leaders. The United States, for example, has divided a “King’s” power or duties among three branches of government. Interestingly, out of the possibilities, the United States decided a King would best be defined by the protector aspect of a ruler.
The protective aspect of the King is quite strong today. As a society, we are often caught debating just how far this protection should extend. That’s one of the immense complications of The Emperor, protection looks different person to person. As someone who grew up with a strong fatherly presence in the home, I often see the protective aspect of The Emperor in a healthy almost nurturing way. Others however, have quite the opposite experience, seeing no father at all, and thus no protection. Worse yet, some may even have abusive experience with a perverse sense of protection. Connecting to the protective energy of The Emperor requires us to navigate our own bias or unpleasant experiences. In many ways, this means leaving The Empress and The Emperor.
To some, there is a natural link of marriage between The Empress and The Emperor. This is quite easy to assume, especially with the archetypes of father and mother being represented. Many take this a step further, seeing The Empress and The Emperor as a couple, and therefore, symbolic of marriage itself. Considering the number of tarot readers who interpret this dynamic between The Empress and The Emperor, it can hardly be considered wrong. However, there is also a deeper connection between these two archetypes that’s meant to come across. According to The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, The Emperor embodies the virile power often associated with masculinity. This then, is the energy The Empress responds to. The two pursue each other, creating a delicate and intimate interplay between them.
In discerning this playful side to The Emperor, we open ourselves up to understanding other aspects of this card that seem different or unusual. If we strip The Emperor of his battle armor, we are faced with The Emperor as a man like any other. What makes The Emperor unique is not his physical appearance or even temperament. Keep in mind, The Emperor has a shadow side. To us then, what makes The Emperor unique is actually his position as monarch. And, while this is a sensitive topic, we must not overlook its importance. The Emperor is first and foremost, the King of his realm. In today’s society, this realm is often interpreted as the home. This is an interesting concept, one that almost seems counter-intuitive. The woman is, after all, said to be stereotyped into remaining in the home. Shouldn’t the home be the woman’s domain?
A quick look at The Emperor card itself in the Rider-Waite Smith deck, and you’ll notice how desolate it is. The harsh environment of this card doesn’t inspire any thoughts of a warm and comfortable home. When we look at The Empress however, we see beauty and comfort. These two cards, The Emperor and The Empress seem then, to go together in this way. The Emperor provides the structure and authority for The Empress to work within. Without The Emperor’s protection and imposed limits, The Empress would be unable to create her beautiful environment. Likewise, without The Empress’s sustaining touch and nourishment, The Emperor would rule only a barren kingdom. In this way, The Empress and The Emperor are very much a marriage, though not necessarily one as we understand, having love at the center.
The Emperor is a complex card, as an embodiment of authority, structure, protection, and inspiring creativity. Within the Father King is a legacy, something to preserve in all future generations. But behind The Emperor, we still see the richness of The Empress. One cannot exist without the other, and therefore, one is not better than another. This is so important to understand within tarot. As the keeper of order and maintainer of the kingdom itself, The Emperor is often a neglected contributor to our sense of individuality and our sense of peace within the world. Whether on a small household scale or a larger country wide scale, The Emperor is an important concept to grasp. Without structure nothing can last, and without authority even the structure falters. The Emperor is strength, and in his strength, is the freedom to pursue our deepest dreams.