The Emperor

Meditations on the Tarot IV

With the fourth major arcana, The Emperor, the author of Meditations on the Tarot explores the concept of mystical authority. The first three figures represented “to be, to know, and to be capable”, and with all three of those conditions met, one is granted authority to “lay down the law”, as he states.The Emperor is a ruler without a weapon. That seems odd at first, but according to the author he needs no weapon, he “has renounced compulsion and violence”. He doesn’t rest on his laurels, however, he remains vigilant, not quite seated and not quite standing. His legs are crossed, and he has the eagle shield [or is it a griffin?] at his feet. “He is a sentry bound to his post.” [aside: Personally, I feel his pose of holding the scepter diagonally to the shield in an outward fashion compared to The Empress who holds them closely and horizontally at her bosom is quite telling in terms of the attributes and relationship of the cards.]

The author sees significance in the exceptionally large and heavy-looking crown on The Emperor’s head, “It is the sign of legitimacy… but it is also the sign of a task or mission by which the crown is charged from above.” The sunny rays that emanate outward imply a crown of thorns inwardly [as above so below?]. They are “nails piercing and crucifying each thought or image of the personal imagination.” Due to his station, states the author, The Emperor has made four renunciations; opinion, word, movement, and a personal name. These four renunciations mirror the four letters of the sacred name, YHVH. Since Meditations on the Tarot is a work of Christian Hermeticism, the author discusses the concept of God, powerless and crucified, in relation to The Emperor. While I don’t really get the crucifixion aspect of the card, the figure does seem to be stuck in a pose between actions, a liminal state if you will. Where the author sees a God almighty and at the same time a God crucified, I do see the hint of in-between in his pose that belies the stability of the 4 in tarot numerology. I have always considered the crucifixion to be Tiphareth, call me Rosicrucian, but I do see what the author is getting at here. Chesed, the fourth sephiroth, is the first sephiroth of action and creation, while also signifying mercy and love. Here we have the seeming contradiction of stability and authority with action and love.

In the card of The Emperor we also have the card of physical creation, the culmination of the first three cards. The author delves into one of my favorite Cabbala [his spelling] concepts, tsimtsum. This is the idea that before God could create a universe, God had to make a void first. By creating a space within “Godself”, there could be existence, as nothing could exist outside of God. Therefore, through tsimtsum, God could contract God’s power to create free beings, ruled over by love and authority and not coercion. For the author this is symbolized by the figure’s crossed legs and tightened belt.

The Emperor is outside, he has no court or retinue to guard him. He seems to be in a field, or on a rocky promenade perhaps. This adds to the idea that he is, in my words, a sort of archetype of the ruler rather than a practical ruler of people. His domain is the sky and the earth. As the author says, The Emperor’s power is gained through initiation, the state of consciousness where eternity and the present moment are one.

The author guards us against reading too many “theories or concepts” into the cards, declaring that the theories and concepts flow from the symbol on the card and not the other way around.

..it would not do to say: the fourth card “The Emperor” is the symbol of the astrological doctrine concerning Jupiter. One would rather say: the Arcanum of the fourth card “The Emperor” is also revealed in the astrological doctrine concerning Jupiter.”

Meditations on the Tarot, p90

This is pretty much the opposite of the way most readers I know read, including myself. We let our big occult brains complicate a reading instead of letting the symbol speak to our subconscious. What else can you expect in the modern world, where numbers and algorithms and words are what are valued? For centuries diviners gave readings without ever having heard of solve et coagula, much less Hod or Chesed. [aside: I have to remind myself often to look at the card, and why I am weary of someone using a Hello Kitty deck and reading it like a Thoth deck, not that I, too, haven’t done such. I once used a “food” deck in a pinch- how does one read the “3 of Sushi”? But I digress..] The author is concerned with Hermitic philosophy, and “Hermetic philosophy is not composed of the Cabbala, astrology, magic and alchemy. These four branches sprouting from the trunk do not make the trunk, rather they live from the trunk.” In the first four cards of the Major Arcana, for him, you find the four spiritual practices that form the key to the Apocalypse [in the meaning of the ‘unveiling’, I imagine]: concentration without effort, vigilant inner silence, inspired activity of imagination and thought, contemplation of everything which preceded.

The Emperor, therefore, is a symbol, from that symbol flows these spiritual concepts, and from the first four Arcana one sets the groundwork for practice of Hermetic concepts. So much for making the cards less esoteric I guess!

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Kevin Carlow

Masshole in California, alien in the desert, iced coffee enthusiast

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