Tarot Deep Dive: The Emperor

The Emperor from the Smith-Rider-Waite deck

The Emperor card in the Tarot corresponds to Aries. In the Smith-Rider-Waite Tarot deck, the Emperor shows a man with a white beard and hair with a crown on his head. He is dressed in a red robe and seated on a concrete throne. The throne is adorned with ram’s heads at the top and the ends of the armrests. In his right hand he holds an ankh, a symbol of life. His feet and legs are adorned with armor. Behind the throne, mountains rise up in the distance and a river flows beneath them. In the deck I have been using lately, the This Might Hurt Tarot deck by Isabella Rotman, the Emperor is shown as a man with white hair and a white beard in a blue suit with a red tie. His left hand rests on a globe and his right hand grips an ankh. At his feet lays a ram. Two pillars with a wall between them separate the man from the mountains in the background. There are trees and a river at the foot of the mountains.

Traditional interpretations of the Emperor card talk about him as a father figure, an authoritative figure, someone who is in charge or a leader. I don’t necessarily disagree with the equating of this card with leadership; however, because of the patriarchal implications I do not subscribe to the Emperor being a father figure or an authoritative figure. My teacher Lindsay Mack said, and I love this so much, that if tarot is not for everyone, then it is not for anyone. Some people may not have that father figure in their lives. Some may have had really bad or traumatic experiences with authority figures in their lives. So that interpretation of the Emperor does not really resonate with me. Tarot as I interpret it is a healing modality, so I interpret the Emperor in a way that can heal past trauma rather than ask someone to relive it.

The Emperor is a huge archetypal card that is really about foundations and what we are building the foundation of our lives on. If we look back at the Empress – and I am referencing the Empress in the This Might Hurt deck – we see a woman in nature with vegetation growing all around her. Stars adorn her head, and her pose suggests someone who is completely in touch with her sexuality. The Empress is in touch with the cyclical patterns of nature: the cycle of night and day, the seasons of the year, even the cyclical movement of the planets through the zodiac, which is what her crown stands for.

When we look at the Emperor card, we can see that he has separated himself from nature and those cycles. He doesn’t stand on grass, but on a flat surface that could be concrete. Even in cards where he is pictured on grass, such as in the Witches Tarot by Ellen Dugan, he is separated by the armor that her wears and the throne upon which he sits. He has created a new foundation for his beliefs and being, one that is not rooted in the cyclical patterns of nature, but in the linear patterns of societal structures. Even the ram laying in the foreground of the This Might Hurt Tarot card signifies a domestication, a moving away from our wild animal nature and the drives that are included in that, and toward a tamer, calmer existence.

The Emperor card is about the structures that have been put into place that make up the culture of a society. They can be huge structures such as capitalism or socialism. They can be smaller structures such as the education system. They can be structures that define the “shoulds” of society, such as diet and workout culture defining what form the body “should” take to be beautiful, or that you “should” get a credit card in order to build credit to buy things. They can be political systems and the laws that govern society. The Emperor stands for all of them. These are the new foundation that the Emperor has laid down as the basis of his belief and belonging.

We can see the archetype of this card playing out in recent events. 2020 was an Emperor year, and definitely shined a light on different social systems. Oppressive systems like systemic racism were highlighted during the riots that year, and continue to be highlighted as more light is shined on the abuses experienced by people of color every day. Our economic system has also been highlighted as we feel the effects of disruptions due to covid and also of people leaving the workforce or leaving low paying industries in an attempt to earn a living wage. There are so many other examples of ways that these systems have oppressed people for so long, and a lot of people are standing up and saying, “No more!”

Now we are seeing it playing out in other ways too, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolds. So many systems play into this invasion, including political and economic systems. It shows us that in a lot of ways, these systems have not necessarily tamed us, but cause their own problems that can lead to our animal natures coming out in the worst possible ways.

So when we pull the Emperor, we can ask ourselves what are the structures that we have in place that separate us from nature and its spiralic cycles. I have a couple of examples of where this was highlighted in my own life. One night after work I was sitting at a stoplight. It was still in the winter season so it was dark outside. The stoplight I was sitting at was wedged between two large shopping centers on either side of the road, so the whole street and the parking lots were lit up with lights. As I sat there watching the cars drive through, it occurred to me how dark it actually was outside and how we have gone to such great lengths to banish the dark from roads. All in an effort to help us get places after the sun has gone down, but to what end? So that we can be consumers for a longer amount of time every day? I thought, “If none of these lights were here, these people would all be home right now, safe in their houses.” We shield ourselves from the day/night cycle with our artificial lighting, just as we shield ourselves from the cycle of the seasons with our climate controlled houses. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that and I am the first person to turn on my air conditioner at the sign of a warm day because I can’t stand to be hot, but it has been a great practice for me to become aware of the ways that we separate ourselves from the cycles of the earth, and even take some time to embrace the hot weather once in a while as a celebration of that.

The other example I want to share has to do with the education system. When my daughter was younger, just starting middle school, she became extremely burnt out. She went through a lot because she is neurodivergent, and we decided to just take a break from school. And that is what we did, for about half a year. There is a process called deschooling where you just take a break from that system and the schedule and expectations that come with it, and it was great for her because she was able to really figure out who she was at that time. That is a gift that most kids don’t get, and that is kind of the age where they need it the most, that time to define who they are outside of the group. Peer pressure and the pressure to conform is so huge at that age, and in high school too. It’s the initial laying down of these structures that we are talking about, not to mention the overall structure of schedules and classroom expectations and homework and all of the pressures that come just from being in school.

I have talked to a lot of parents who have either worked from home or didn’t/couldn’t work because they did not want to put their children in child care while covid was so new and unknown and such a threat. A lot of these parents are going back to work and their kids are in child care since the threat of covid as a serious illness is disappearing. These parents talk about how much more stressful their lives are and how hard it is to keep up with everything, from kids to jobs to homework to housekeeping. Some even wonder how they managed it all before covid. It is like they did their own deschooling, except from the structure and expectations of their job, keeping their kids busy, doing homework, and all of the millions of things a working parent has to keep up with. Without jumping too high onto my soap box, I will say that this is what our capitalist economic system has sold to us as how life should be: two working parents keeping it all together and still having the clean house full of lots of things and soccer practice for the kids on the weekends. It is a demanding way of life, and the time away from it has shown a lot of parents just how thin they were stretching themselves.

These are the kinds of things that the Emperor card wants us to examine in our lives. Sure, you can read the card as someone needing to take on a position of leadership, and it might be true. They might need to. But doesn’t this interpretation go a lot deeper? Doesn’t this examination of the systems that rule our lives cause us to do some deep diving into what we have laid as the foundation in our lives and, if we don’t like what we find, give us the motivation to change that? That is what makes Tarot so great, using it to ask those really deep questions about what is driving us and motivating us and seeking to change those things to make our lives better.

How has the Emperor card shown up in your life? Can you point to any systems in your life that you would like to move away from in order to incorporate some healthier systems? Let us know in the comments.

New Blog Feature: Tarot Deep Dive

It has been a really long time since I have done a blog entry. My day job has been super crazy, which has sapped all of my energy. On top of that, I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go with the block this year and it was taking me way too long to figure it out. Then I realized that if I use my witchy tools to help manage my day job stress, then I will be furthering my practice and will naturally find my direction. And that is exactly what happened!

Lately I have been interested in the correlation between Tarot and Astrology. I know from my very limited experience with the Thoth deck that Tarot cards correspond with certain planet-sign combinations, or to element combinations in the case of the court cards. I did not experience a very deep connection to the Thoth deck so I didn’t explore that idea much until recently. I have never connected much to the traditional card interpretations because they seem superficial and generic to me. I know that there are some Tarot card readers out there who give fantastic readings with depth using the traditional card meanings, and I am not trying to say that those people are doing anything wrong or take away from the work that they are doing in any way. I am simply saying that those interpretations do not resonate with me. Then last year I took the Tarot for the Wild Soul course from Lindsay Mack. That was probably the best thing I have done for my Tarot practice thus far because it gave me direction and realigned my thinking about how the Tarot works and what it should be used for. I have a much deeper relationship with my deck and with Tarot in general because of that course. But still, some of the card meanings Lindsay gave in the course did not resonate with me.

During the last half of 2020 I developed an increasing interest in astrology and I began applying what I had been learning to come up with my own card interpretations. In some cases these card interpretations have been similar to those I have already learned from other people. In other cases they are in no way similar but they resonate more deeply with me than other interpretations, mostly because they are the product of my own intuitive interpretation of astrological combinations based on what I have learned about astrology.

My goal is to provide some of these interpretations on this blog, along with the astrological or elemental reasoning behind the interpretation. I’m hoping that this will help deepen both my Tarot practice and my astrology practice, and provide some insight for others who might be starting their own journeys with Tarot or astrology.

See you soon with the first deep dive!

Making Tarot Cards Relate to You

I feel weird writing a post about tarot card meanings because I feel like I’m not that far along in my journey with tarot. I guess I’ve been reading for myself pretty inconsistently for couple of years now. One thing I’ve found that makes it easier to be consistent is making the cards relatable.

Now, I feel like I’m probably plunging into an area of tarot that a lot of people disagree about. When I first picked up a pack of tarot cards, I was really big into memorizing the traditional meanings of the cards. After all, the cards have had those meanings for so long for a reason, right? Why mess with something that has remained unchanged for so long? I looked with disdain at decks where the authors did their own thing, jumping out of the mold of Rider-Waite or Thoth.

My thinking about tarot has changed a lot since those days as a baby tarot reader. When I stuck to the traditional meanings I didn’t read cards very much because I had a hard time relating to them. When I took a course that helped me look at the cards in a more relatable way (thank you, Lindsay Mack) I started reading cards a lot more often and using them as a way to connect with my intuition. Not only that, but using tarot in this way has seemed to be a gateway that has allowed my intuition to open up even more. I am feeling energies that I did not before, which I will expound on more in a moment.

Even after I took the Tarot course, I have still been married to the idea of memorizing card meanings. This time, though, it was Lindsay Mack’s card meanings that I was trying to memorize instead of the traditional Rider-Waite meanings. And while I have found that Lindsay Mack’s meanings are not that far off from the traditional meanings, there are some cards where either meaning just doesn’t feel relatable to me.

One thing that Lindsay Mack said over and over again in the course I took (Tarot for the Wild Soul) was that you should create your own meanings to make tarot relatable to you. Don’t count on her meanings or the traditional meanings, or the meanings in the little book that comes with the deck, or anyone else’s interpretation of the tarot. Tarot is only useful when it is relatable to you. And she’s right. How many more times have I pulled my deck out since taking her course and having the cards relate more to my life? I’m trying to do weekly spreads on this blog because I feel like I can now because the cards make more sense to me.

But this week I ran into a card that even Lindsay Mack’s meaning did not feel relatable to me:

The Three of Cups from the Witch’s Tarot by Ellen Dugan

The suit of Cups has always been hard for me to relate to because a lot of times I feel cut off from my feelings. But the tarot is actually helping me out with that by reminding me that the thinking brain is not all that there is, and that heart perception is actually even more important when it comes to life’s journey than the brain. You can disagree with me about this point if you want to. That is just my opinion in this stage of my journey. But moving back to the three of cups, when I got this card the other day I looked at the traditional meaning first:

“A gathering of friends, family, or coven members to celebrate. The power of three and the magick of manifestation. Observing the sabbats, sharing experiences,” (Dugan). Well, with the pandemic going on there is no gathering going on with me. I haven’t gotten together with friends or family members since March, and I’m not a member of a coven. Even before the pandemic I didn’t gather much. I don’t have a lot of friends (by choice) and am pretty solitary and eclectic in my magickal workings. So this definition did not work for me on any level.

Then I looked at Lindsay Mack’s interpretation:

“An invitation to come together with ourselves and our invisible community in a kind of ritual celebration,” (Lindsay Mack, Tarot for the Wild Soul, 2020). Her definition continued with an appeal to including well ancestors and how we can free ancestors who were able to come along but could not.

I am not criticizing ancestor work. Let me make that clear up front. I believe that our ancestors watch over us and help us along our way. But ancestor work is not something that I have done much of yet in my spiritual journey. It is something that I know that I am moving toward slowly in different ways, but is not something that is really happening in my practice yet. So this interpretation did not really resonate with me either.

However, I began to piece something together that does resonate with me. In Dugan’s book, the interpretation also mentions creativity and growth. And Lindsay Mack has helped me connect in a deeper way to spirit and my spirit guides. So to me the obvious interpretation would be:

“Connecting with Spirit in order to create. To be a channel for Spirit so that creations are in alignment with what is in our highest and best.”

Earlier in this post I mentioned being more connected to the energies that are out there, and this is actually an example of that. This year, according to the Tarot, is an Emperor year. It is a year for finding our voice, stepping into our truth, and knowing ourselves in a deep and meaningful way. Being able to stop relying so much on the Tarot meanings that others have come up with and make the Tarot something that you truly resonate with is a manifestation of that Emperor energy. Sometimes it is hard to do, to think outside the box that has been in place for so long, but as you work to make your practice your own, and make the tools of your practice work for you, you come into your own as a true practitioner of Magick.