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The Emperor, Empowered Protector or Despotic Destroyer?

"But he puts his power at the service of a higher and more deadly passion, he masks us in what we have from deep down. Without doubt, this is not the first time that a man has spoken to us. it is the first time he has used it without limits, to deny man and the world. That's what scares me about him and I want to fight. Losing life is a small thing and I will have that courage when I have to. But to see the meaning of this life dissipate, to disappear our reason for existing, that is unbearable. We can not live without reason."

- Albert Camus , Caligula

If I asked you to name an Emperor from history who would that be?

I presume many of you might say Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, perhaps Herod or even the lineage of Emperors from China and Japan. As you flit through the possibilities and various characters you note that very few come to mind who were seemingly kind or fair or joyful or giving. I am sure that there were some but precious few leap from the annals of time and even less than you can remember!

Perhaps it is because the Emperor was not meant to be jovial and jolly, funny or sweet as these attributes did not build civilisations. Emperors are about power. Therefore we often see from the pages of our history books that these guys were diabolically tyrannical.

I don’t know about you but when I first met the Emperor I didn’t particularly resonate with him.

I think it maybe because I associated him with the kind of power that ultimately has caused suffering; the kind that has made the rivers run with blood, the floors of the Cloisters swim with ink and sent people to hide in the hills. The dark side of our Emperor very possibly encourages us to shy away from our own power as we don’t wish to be aligned with the atrocious abuse of power humanity has witnessed through the centuries. Over the years I have come to appreciate the Emperor as a call to action but not without planning and self-belief.

The Emperor in Tarot has taught me about focus and discipline.

He has taught me that it is necessary to have strategy and plans in order to achieve. He is the benevolent despot, the externalising animus, the self-made man, the patriarch and the grand architect. We need the level-headed Emperor to ground us and take us forward but what of his dark side?

Do we learn more about ourselves when we explore the dark side?

Let’s take that symbol of enabled self-authority - the enlightened Emperor who leads the battle charge into maturity and self-knowledge; let’s put all that on its head and see the Emperor in shadow…

The Emperor reflects solar consciousness, the higher mind, the ideals of a community and enlightened self-awareness. Yet his dark side is all that we have come to fear from those that have tried to arrest the development of humanity.

We see the shadowed Emperor in political oppression.

It is the warfare, fascism and the inflated ego that destroys democracy through direct force. At first the dark Emperor leads his people to Utopia, the promise of a new beginning but this becomes hollow as the dystopian reality kicks in. The willpower of a monster is leading a charge into subservient submission to justify and establish his own authority. Violence is the catalyst towards his personal preservation and thinks little of violating someone’s freedom for his own pleasure. He clings to convention in the vain attempt to create minions with him as their head.

It is unlikely that any of us will go to such lengths for power over others.

However, we do have to be mindful of riding roughshod over those who are not on the same page for whatever reason. It is part of the journey to be aware of egotism and irresponsible actions. We have to find a way through the adversities that beset us and turn them into meaningful moments of discovery. One’s inner knowledge cultivates sensitivity and compassion, these are the qualities that make the foundations for true leadership which evolves and becomes.

  • If you ruled the world, what would you do to change things and why?

  • What steps would you take to make the change?

  • Which characters from the Major Arcana would you have to assist you in building your new world?

  • If you have the inclination, reflect on your choices, what does it indicate as to how you would lead?

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