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The Meaning of
"The Emperor" Tarot Card

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What is the inverted meaning of
"The Emperor"?

The Meaning of "The Emperor"
Tarot Card

The Symbolism of The Emperor

On the Emperor tarot card, we see an old man wearing royal robes over his armor — indicating that while he is a man of great nobility, he has achieved this great station after experiencing a lifetime of conflict himself. The laws and peace we have now, are the product of past battles he has fought and won.

His stark throne is adorned with rams' heads, indicating his connection to the zodiac sign of Aries and its associated planet, Mars.

His stark throne is adorned with rams' heads, indicating his connection to the zodiac sign of Aries and its associated planet, Mars.

In his right hand he holds a scepter, shaped like an Egyptian Ankh, symbolizing eternal life. In his left hand he holds a golden disc or an orb.

He wears a red robe, symbolizing energy and passions — but his long white beard indicates a man of deep experience and wisdom.

His crown is more opulent than all of the Kings in the Minor Arcana, and is topped with the zodiac symbol for Aries.

Behind the Emperor, firey peaks rise under a red sky, suggesting war, but also reminding us of the Emperor's association with the planet Mars. Although the landscape is parched and rocky, a narrow stream runs through it, indicating that the Emperor is not purely a creature of conflict, but is a complex man of philosophy, emotion and thought.

How to Interpret The Emperor

The Emperor sitting on his austere throne holds the highest position of authority in the Tarot. He is the ultimate expression of the paternal figure, or the All-Father from where law, stability and order flow.

The Emperor commands respect for rules, regulations and order. Fairness and egalitarianism are the products of his authority, wisdom and experience.

... both wise teacher, and strict authoritarian. He is benevolent and kind, and yet capable of stern judgement ...

He is both wise teacher, and strict authoritarian. He is benevolent and kind, and yet capable of stern judgement and discipline.

When The Emperor makes an appearance in a tarot reading, it may reference someone with the qualities of the Emperor, or it may suggest that law and structure are at issue. The card represents a powerful masculine energy and an intense personal disclipline.

It may reference a firm and uncompromising decision — One that is made without malice or anger, but made instead with a calm authority that comes from a lifetime of experience and achievement.

The card may also suggest playing it strictly by the book and adhering to wisdom of the ages.

If someone is being tempted to stray from a path of responsibility or honor, the appearance of The Emperor is a reminder of the importance of order and structure. Without order, there is chaos; Without structure there is oblivion.

The appearance of The Emperor may also be a reminder for each of us to be like the Emperor. It is important for all of us to be mentors and teachers, and most of all to be firm in our principles.

The Emperor Inverted

The reveresed Emperor tarot card has a few basic meanings. All of them center around authority, responsibility and structure.

The first, and simplest meaning is that the card represents a person who has shirked his or her leadership responsibility or abused his or her power in some way.

... someone who needs to be more of a leader, but has yet to step up to the role completely.

The qualities of authority and wisdom have been subverted, and someone has failed in the expectations of their position.

In a less negative sense, the card may represent someone who needs to be more of a leader, but has yet to step up to the role completely.

In other cases, the inverted Emperor card may herald a dangerous departure from important regulations. Maybe someone is flagrantly ignoring the rules, or perhaps an important line is being crossed inadvertently.

It's also possible that the reversed Emperor card represents "less structure" in some way. Perhaps that means working from home; Perhaps it means a less restrictive relationship; Perhaps it references the repeal of a regulation of some kind.

Generally speaking, the inverted Emperor represents some kind of reduction in authority and responsibility — usually in a negative sense but not always.

Common Symbols Found On the Emperor Card

Tarot cards often use a a symbolic language to illustrate additional information about how the card should be interpreted. The Emperor makes use of at least three well-known, repeating Tarot symbols. Each of these symbols can add additional levels of interpretation to the card.

The symbols which appear on the Emperor card are:

  • Water

    Water symbolism appears on the Emperor card:

    In Tarot imagery, water appears in multiple forms — ranging from rain, to secluded pools, to bubbling rivers and streams, to wide oceans and seas. While each of these representations of water may carry a more specified meaning, water in broad strokes references emotion, nourishment and our intuitive nature. Water is more prominent in the Minor Arcana cards, and is very often (but not always) found in Cups cards.

    Read more about the symbolism of "Water" in Tarot  

  • Rivers and Streams

    Rivers and streams symbolism appears on the Emperor card:

    Water in a general sense, indicates emotion. A stream or brook crossing the land frequently adds a dimension of emotional overtones or spirituality to the card. A river may also indicate that emotions are a major part of the scene or issue at hand.

    Read more about the symbolism of "Rivers and Streams" in Tarot  

  • Mountains

    Mountains symbolism appears on the Emperor card:

    Mountains are some of the most common symbols which appear in the classic Rider Waite Tarot. On most cards where they appear, mountains mean challenges which must be passed, and hardships which must be overcome. Depending on the specific Tarot card, these challenges may either reference future issues which wait along the current path, or they may remind us of past trials and contests which have already been encountered prior to arriving at the current state of things.

    NOTE: The soaring red mountains and blazing red sky of The Emperor card evoke images of mountains on Mars. This subtle reference to the ancient god of war, implies that the trials and conflicts represented by these particular mountains are physical more than mental.

    Read more about the symbolism of "Mountains" in Tarot  

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