Few figures command as much authority and attention as The Emperor. He is the fourth card in the Major Arcana, and a symbol of masculine (though not necessarily male) authority.
His power is unyielding, and his authority absolute. When he appears in a reading, some very potent energies are at work.
About The Emperor
- Keywords: Structure, stability, fatherliness, authority, protection
- Keywords (Reversed): Instability, tyranny, a lack of control, a rigid attitude
- Yes or No: Yes
- Yes or No (Reversed): No
- Element: Fire
- Zodiac Sign: Aries
In the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, The Emperor is shown as a man sitting on a throne. Though he has a long, white beard (a symbol of wisdom), he still appears strong and virile. He’s wearing armored greaves, holding an ankh-shaped staff and a sphere, and wearing shades of red and orange.
There is a golden crown on his head, set with red, white, and yellow stones. His throne has a ram’s head motif, as does his cloak. Behind him, golden mountains rise in the distance behind a gently flowing river.
All of these symbols combine to create an image of authoritarian power. Rams’ heads are a symbol of the God Mars, as well as the zodiac sign of Aries. Aries is the first sign in the zodiac, and is associated with leadership and a brazen attitude.
Numerologically, the number 4 represents stability, reliability, and structure — all things evinced by The Emperor. He is the ultimate embodiment of taking charge of a situation.
Where The Empress sits on a cushioned throne, surrounded by signs of fertility, comfort, and lush life, The Emperor sits on a stone throne, backed up by unyielding mountains.
The Emperor Meaning (Upright)
Sometimes, The Emperor signifies a person. In most cases, this is a very masculine authority figure. This person is usually, but not always, male — they just have a lot of masculine energy. You may even see them as a kind of father figure.
In other contexts, The Emperor is a symbol of authority, structure, rules, and organization. He represents the success that comes from following a plan. He may also symbolize a reliance on logic over intuition.
In an advice position, The Emperor tells you to make a plan and follow it through, focus on objective facts over feelings, and — above all — sticking to your word.
The Emperor Meaning (Reversed)
When reversed, The Emperor’s power is perverted into abuse or authoritarianism. As a signifier, he can represent someone domineering — someone who wields an iron fist, and not necessarily tempered by a velvet glove. Of course, people often become domineering when they feel that they lack control.
If he isn’t there as a signifier, then he may symbolize a situation in which your feelings are running the show.
As advice, The Emperor tells you to create more structure in your life. This will allow you to work toward your goals without distraction.
See also: Check out alternate Tarot decks here.
The Emperor Meaning – Love & Relationships (Upright)
For those interested in dating men, The Emperor may signify a male “silver fox” — an older romantic partner. He likely has a paternal energy, and is not very romantic by nature.
If you aren’t yet in a relationship, The Emperor advises you to take charge of your destiny. Maybe you’re waiting for the other person to make the first move — don’t. Maybe you’re waiting for a new lover to come to you — stop.
You’re in control of your happiness, and it’s up to you to go after what you want. Be careful that this doesn’t turn into authoritarianism or aggression, however. Your ability to pursue what you want ends where other people’s wants and needs begin.
If you’re dating or married to someone, then The Emperor is an omen of stability. Things aren’t likely to be super passionate right now, but the relationship will be comfortable, reliable, and an opportunity for growth for both partners.
The Emperor Meaning – Love & Relationships (Reversed)
When reversed, The Emperor signifies a struggle for power. One partner may be overbearing, causing resentment. Both partners may be vying for dominance, which results in arguments. Either way, it’s not a great sign.
For single people, The Emperor may point to unresolves issues with other male figures in your life. If you have unhealed trauma related to your father or other past relationships with men, it’s important to acknowledge and work on these in order to have healthy relationships in the future.
The Emperor often represents father-like figures, even in a romantic context. You may be looking for this paternal energy in order to fulfill an emotional need that isn’t necessarily good for you.
The Emperor Meaning – Careers, Business & Money (Upright)
When it comes to career and business success, The Emperor has it in spades. He’s the absolute ruler of his domain, symbolized by the golden orb in his hand.
If you work for someone else, your efforts will be noticed and rewarded. If you work for yourself, then structure, discipline, and effort will yield success. If you’re currently looking for a job, then you need to search in an organized and logical fashion in order to find what you need.
As far as money goes, The Emperor calls upon you to balance your income and expenses. He has access to his royal coffers for all he wants, but his wants have to be balanced with the needs of his empire. Even when you’re in a state of abundance, you need to be responsible about how your money is spent.
The Emperor Meaning – Careers, Business & Money (Reversed)
When reversed in a career or business reading, The Emperor is a warning. There’s a lack of structure, discipline, and focus somewhere, and it’s starting to have a negative impact on your work.
He can also signify that your current job is beginning to feel restrictive, and it may be time for you to take charge and either go into business for yourself or find a new job elsewhere.
Financially, The Emperor reversed can indicate a lack of responsibility and control. You may be experiencing shopaholic tendencies or using your spending to fill an emotional void. It might be time to ask for a professional opinion on how to structure your spending so you can keep your finances balanced.
The Emperor: Yes or No?
The Emperor is a successful figure, so it’s probably not a surprise to see that he represents a “Yes” in a “Yes or No” tarot reading. He’s structure, dependability, and stability. If you’re wondering whether a situation is going to work out in your favor, it will.
However, if The Emperor is reversed, he indicates the opposite. In this case, his power becomes either diluted or tyrannical — neither of which bodes well. The answer is “No.”
The Emperor has a lot going for him. He’s the absolute ruler of his domain, and his authority is indisputable. When he shows up, he emphasizes logic, reason, structure, and discipline.
When he’s reversed, he can signify a lack of discipline, or the overreach that comes from feeling out of control. Follow his guidance to add rules and plans to your life, and you’ll meet your goals with ease.
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