The Emperor – Discipline

The Emperor - Discipline

The Emperor shows up for me today, at a time when I have decided to start being a bit more disciplined about my diet and started using my alarm to get myself out of bed a bit earlier every morning to have time for more studies, so I’m vibing pretty hard with this card at the moment.

The Emperor is partner to The Empress and the two of them are said to represent married life. On a less mundane level of reading these cards, the Empress is an embodiment of Nature and The Emperor of Civilization.

In the Pictorial Key to the Tarot A.E. Waite has this to say about The Emperor:

He has a form of the Crux ansata for his sceptre and a globe in his left hand. He is a crowned monarch–commanding, stately, seated on a throne, the arms of which axe fronted by rams’ heads. He is executive and realization, the power of this world, here clothed with the highest of its natural attributes. He is occasionally represented as seated on a cubic stone, which, however, confuses some of the issues. He is the virile power, to which the Empress responds, and in this sense is he who seeks to remove the Veil of Isis; yet she remains virgo intacta.

It should be understood that this card and that of the Empress do not precisely represent the condition of married life, though this state is implied. On the surface, as I have indicated, they stand for mundane royalty, uplifted on the seats of the mighty; but above this there is the suggestion of another presence. They signify also–and the male figure especially–the higher kingship, occupying the intellectual throne. Hereof is the lordship of thought rather than of the animal world. Both personalities, after their own manner, are “full of strange experience,” but theirs is not consciously the wisdom which draws from a higher world. The Emperor has been described as (a) will in its embodied form, but this is only one of its applications, and (b) as an expression of virtualities contained in the Absolute Being–but this is fantasy.

I have no idea who made the claim that The Emperor is “an expression of virtualities contained in the Absolute Being” but giggle at how Waite dismisses it with “but this is fantasy” without justifying his statement. If he had delved a bit deeper, future generations might be able to decide for themselves whether there is merit to this statement or whether we should side with Waite that there is none. Magicians can be quite arrogant, can’t they?

In the Frideborg Tarot, we have a male gorilla representing The Emperor. I chose this spirit animal embodiment of The Emperor because it signifies male dominance, order, structure and strong will. The society of the gorilla adheres to strict rules and the silverback is in charge:

The silverback is the center of the troop’s attention, making all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the group, leading the others to feeding sites, and taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of the troop.  Wikipedia

It is not only humans who tend toward patriarchy and in the example above, we see what the natural advantages of such a societal structures can be. However, as (hopefully) more evolved beings, we are now safe to move away from needing male dominance and patriarchal leadership.

The will element of the Emperor archetype begins with the first male card, The Magician, develops in The Emperor and is explored further in The Chariot. In the Magician, we have the initial impulse that springs from recognising oneself as a separate entity. In The Emperor, one recognises a structure of dominance and will is adjusted to other submit or dominate the will of others. In The Chariot, self-mastery becomes the pre-eminent concern.

I see The Emperor as representing the inner voice of the Father. Internalised but not properly understood and integrated, this voice sometimes hinders self-mastery by being too stern, aloof or even abusive. This is why, we all need to work through our father issues.

In Benebell Wen’s Spirit Keeper’s Tarot , The Emperor is either a hawk or an eagle, depending on which mythos you prefer to adhere to. Wen states, “Key 4 is the fiery masculine power that the Initiate must master.” There is a nudge to The Empress in the dragonfly and another to The Hierophant in the feather headdress, with some of the feathers forming the sign of blessing shown in the following card.

Wen suggests rivalry between The Hierophant and The Emperor – Church and State. I reckon the former wishes to dominate our souls as well as our bodies by providing us with dogma in place of values formed through a genuine, personal connection with the Divine… but that’s just my personal opinion.

Anyway, I’m off on a tangent… Let’s return to The Emperor! Whether we like it or not, we need a good dose of his medicine in our day-to-day lives. Without it, not much would get done and we might as well not have incarnated at all. The Emperor doesn’t hope for things to work out. He doesn’t ask for permission, wait for a sign or justify his actions. He is as he does and makes no excuses for it.

When The Emperor operates at the benevolent end of the spectrum, he is a good provider and protective of those in his care. When he is at the darker end of the spectrum, he often has anger issues, cares more about dominating than looking after his people and imposes discipline that is often both too harsh and utterly pointless.

The quote below illustrates the perfect marriage of the discipline and organisation of The Emperor to the creativity and desire of The Empress.

Discipline imposed from the outside eventually defeats when it is not matched by desire from within. ~ Dawson Trotman Click To Tweet



Lisa Frideborg

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