4 - The Emperor

The Emperor dominates the material world. Card from Rider Waite Tarot by US Game Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

The Emperor is majestic and has a commanding presence. We know he is a man not to be trifled with, because he has twin rams' heads -- symbols of Mars -- upon his mighty throne. In one hand he holds the ankh, the sign of eternal life, and in the other a globe. He is the fourth card in the Major Arcana, and in numerology four is a number of foundation and stability. The Emperor is domination of the material world, and he is authority and law.

When the Emperor appears in a Tarot spread, he shows not only authority and law but also paternity and power. The Emperor is a war-maker, a leader, and represents the results of taking action. In some cases, he may represent a highly controlled sexual drive. Some people see the Emperor as a father figure - not necessarily a biological parent, but a strong and assertive individual who offers guidance and wisdom when needed, although not always when wanted.

Are you someone who really feels a need for control in all aspects of your life? This doesn't necessarily mean being aggressively controlling of others, but if you're someone who doesn't like to leave things to chance, and you tend towards a need for order and organization, the Emperor may well appear in your layout. People who are compulsive tidiers, planners and list-makers often see the Emperor as a card with which they can identify.

The important thing to note about the Emperor is that in traditional Tarot artwork, he often appears as an older man, with a long beard.

This symbolizes that his wisdom has been gained through life lessons and experience. He's not just spouting off commands, he's got the history to give him some authority on important matters. Use your own experience and background to put you in a position of leadership, and you may well be able to bring order to a chaotic situation.

If the Emperor appears reversed in your reading, look out. He indicates emotional immaturity and an inability to "leave the nest" and separate from parents. This reversal is also connected to a loss of control, and symbolizes things that happen when one doesn’t take action at all but sits passively on the sidelines. Think of the reversed card as the upright Emperor's spoiled, nasty twin brother. Control and order becomes domination and abuse. Authority and leadership turns into petty maliciousness.

Sometimes the reversed card can indicate an absolute disregard for authority. If you want to stand up for what you believe in, great - but don't be a rebel just because you think you're supposed to be. Quit showing contempt just for contempt's sake, and channel your individuality into something useful. Have a purpose and goal to guide you.

When the reversed Emperor appears in a spread concerning relationship questions, it can indicate that the partnership is not an equal one. Is one party controlling and abusive and needy? Is it you, or the other person? Figure out where the disparity is and do what you can to fix it.

Previous: 3 - The Empress

Next: 5 - The Hierophant

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "4 - The Emperor." ThoughtCo, Oct. 29, 2016, thoughtco.com/major-arcana-the-emperor-2561595. Wigington, Patti. (2016, October 29). 4 - The Emperor. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/major-arcana-the-emperor-2561595 Wigington, Patti. "4 - The Emperor." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/major-arcana-the-emperor-2561595 (accessed November 22, 2017).