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The Emperor - Structure, Stability, and Patriarchy in the Tarot

Updated: Feb 19, 2023

The Emperor is a card that prompts you to examine your relationship to structure - where to embrace it and where to reject it.

Hit play below to listen to the audio lesson, or scroll down to read the text version.

To give you a bit of context whilst you reflect on your own relationship to the card, here are a few key things to know about the Emperor:

The Emperor is the fifth card in the Major Arcana sequence. Because the Fool opens the Major Arcana at zero, the Emperor is assigned the number four. And that four suits the card well, because in the tarot, four represents stability and structure - think the solid foundation of four corners, the protection of four walls - and stability and structure are the primary currency that the Emperor trades in. Looking at the Rider Waite Smith version, you can see it: the strong, solidity of the card. The Emperor, seated in a blocky stone throne takes center stage. The posture itself feels like four corners, four walls. The way the hands and feet find surety - either supported by the armrests of the throne, or planted firmly on the ground. The Emperor’s shoulders are squared, and they face the viewer of the card head-on. A steady, endless gaze.

Given the card’s focus on structure, the masculine figure that dominates the illustration, and its name “Emperor,” you won’t be surprised to learn that the card is often a symbol representing father-figures and patriarchal systems. The card can sometimes bring up discomfort, because taking it at face value often means confronting your relationship with patriarchy - lower and capital P. The card can be an invitation to reflect on your relationship with your own father, or father figures in your life, or the idea of fatherhood writ large, as well as your experience with big P patriarchy. In this context, you might focus your reflection on the structures that don’t fully work for you, the structures that may have controlled you or defined your relationship with the systems you exist in and/or the father figures you interact with for better and worse, and how those relationships affect you now.

But the card can also be a wider invitation to reflect on what does work for you. What structures and systems give you a sense of stability? How have you built those, and how have you taken responsibility and ownership over those structures and system? How are you, as the Emperor of your own life, granting yourself stability - how are you holding your own steady gaze?

Another symbol worth taking note of in the Emperor (though note there are MANY and this is a card I highly recommend further reading into) are the ram heads that decorate each corner of the Emperor’s throne. The ram represents the zodiac sign Aries. Every Major Arcana is assigned an astrological sign which can help us read more deeply into the card. In this case, the Aries ram could be read positively or negatively, depending on how you’re working with the card more broadly. It might bring to mind Aries’ fiery passion and desire to make, do, and achieve - the kind of energy we all need to light a fire under our feet and help us achieve our lofty ambitions of taking power over our lives. Or, it could represent a less admirable Aries quality - lack of follow-through. Whatever resonates with you and prompts deeper reflection on the card is the right way to think about it.

In your tarot journal, you’re asked to reflect on what this card means to you, now, in this moment, and what actions and thoughts it inspires in you. As you journal, pay attention to what you’re personally picking up in the card, but also consider what the key symbols and themes in the card might be telling you. What systems and people in your life does this card remind you of? What do you respect about them, and what do you wish they’d do differently? What can you do to claim dominion over your own life, becoming an Emperor figure to yourself?

This mini-tarot lesson was brought to you by me, Chelsey Pippin Mizzi, founder of Pip Cards Tarot. I hope you gained a little context to help you continue reflecting on the card in your own way, and I’ll see you tomorrow for another mini-lesson.


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