Continuing along on his journey, our Fool meets the Emperor, World Father and husband to the Empress. He is the supreme ruler of all he surveys, and he has earned that place and title. The Fool, naïve though he is, recognizes the qualities of leadership borne upon the Emperor’s shoulders, and he is eager to learn.
Mythologically, the Emperor is considered to correspond to Zeus, Odin the All-Father, or sometimes Zeus’s son Minos (this last is particularly interesting in the tale of the Minotaur—more on that later).
As the fourth Major Arcanum, the Emperor represents solidity, stability, and strength. A good foundation supports four walls. Our planet passes through four seasons. Indeed, the Tarot itself comprises four suits. Fours are inherently stable numbers, and the Emperor is no exception to that rule. He is the very definition of Order.
His orderliness provides a needed counterpoint to the sometimes fickle emotional tendencies of the Empress. She favors Intuition, he favors Logic. She favors Inspiration, he favors Intellect. He has grown his Empire through strategy, skill, and thoughtful resourcefulness. However, as we all know, Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. The Emperor must keep his power in check, or he risks losing his Empire.
This card serves not only as a signal that a Querent is in a position to lead or make decisions, but also as a warning that those responsibilities are not to be taken lightly. Any time one is in a position of power, that person is in a position to abuse that power. It doesn’t take much imagination to call to mind any number of tyrannical dictators throughout history, let alone in recent memory. These are clearly extreme examples, but the message scales down to more mundane levels just as easily.
Another danger is the artificial sense of entitlement that sometimes accompanies the crown, throne, and scepter. Simply being in a position of power does not increase one’s worth as a human being on this earth, or as a spiritual being in this existence. Even kings must one day die, and when that time comes, every living creature nourishes the earth just the same. Humility, ironically, is often overlooked by those in positions of leadership, but it is the single most important quality for a leader to possess. A sense of entitlement beyond one’s rights is a violation of humility, and sooner or later leads to corruption.
King Minos, according to myth, was given a sign of his Divine Mandate in the form of a magnificent white bull. When the time came to sacrifice the bull, Minos substituted one of his own. In response, Poseidon afflicted Minos’s wife, Pasiphaë, with a zoophilic lust for the white bull. She mated with the bull and produced the Minotaur Asterius (or Asterion), a horrific half-man, half-bull creature who fed on human flesh. Essentially, King Minos had regarded himself as being above his station, making decisions that ran counter to the expectations of his gods; he was punished harshly for his hubris.
Our Emperor has done his fair share of living. He is not a young man, and he knows the stakes. He has seen kingdoms and empires rise and fall. He has seen men of immeasurable power die: some of them with grace and dignity, showered with the love and adoration of their subjects; others in shame and notoriety, their deaths celebrated in the streets as the end of a dark age. He knows what it takes to rule effectively, and he knows what missteps to avoid. He knows when to leverage his subjects not only to help him achieve greatness, but also to elevate their station as well. He is also aware of when he needs to set aside his orderly, logical nature and defer to his Empress.
Though the vast accumulation of the Emperor’s Knowledge is far greater than the young, unexperienced Fool can truly comprehend, he sets off again, eager to put into practice some of the philosophies he has learned.