2009 Tarot Study – IV The Emperor

It seems that my Tarot Study this year is sinking into my unconscious, becoming a constant voice in the back of my head reminding me of both the study and the week’s current card’s connection to my life in one way or another. It’s even to some extent shaping my dreams. Hopefully the Emperor will prompt me to become more organized and orderly in my personal life as well. One can hope.

More Than A King

The Emperor card in the Tarot’s major arcana connects to life in the form of logic, reasoning, protection, and the kind of encouragement of growth that we don’t associate so much with the Empress, who’s more creative, nurturing, and loving. Not that the Emperor can’t be creative, nurturing, and loving, it’s just that he manifests those qualities in a different way. He’s in some ways more like the inspiring thought that prompts creation, and in other ways like the working hands and energy that do the work of making things. He’s disciplined and practical. He’s a stabilizing, organizing force in our lives. He relates to government and social structures. He’s a provider, and a beneficent force in the lives of all in his domain. In his more negative form he can represent oppressive government or leaders, abuse of power at any level, laws that do more to limit freedom than to protect it, and narcissistic or despotic rule.

Now if some of this sounds a little sexist, please note that a woman can manifest the Emperor’s qualities, just as a man can express the Empress. They both represent archetypal forces that exist in everyone, of either gender.

From a mythological standpoint, if the Empress gives birth to every creature and every thing in the world in the form of Goddess or Gaia, then the Emperor is the inseminating force as well as a caretaker, builder, provider, and — when needed — hunter and warrior. He’s been compared, in some decks, with a pagan god, such as the Greek god Pan, the Green Man, or the Celtic horned god of the forest, Cernunnos. He could also be compared to the Norse father-god, Odin. Odin seems an apt comparison, especially in the way he’s believed to have discovered the Runes and thereby invented written language for his people. What better way is there of organizing and ordering our thoughts than through writing?

The Emperor is believed by many users of the Tarot to represent the beginning of spring, a time when the world seems to spring into life, when every living system regenerates or rebuilds itself.

The study of the Emperor leads naturally back to my study of the Kings. But the Emperor is so much more. The Kings are more like specialists who focus on their tightly defined realms or suits. The Emperor is a more full-blown and well-rounded representation of the archetype in question than are any of the Kings, or even all four Kings together.

But what is an archetype?

In her book Discovering Your Self Through the Tarot: A Jungian Guide to Archetypes & Personality, Rose Gwain writes that, “The archetypes are invisible energy centers in the collective unconscious that channel instinctual energy.”

She goes on to quote C.G. Jung from Symbols of Transformation: “These energy centers serve as ‘river-beds along which the current of psychic life has always flowed.'”

She quotes C.G. Jung again, this time from Civilization in Transition, to explain that the archetypes “‘are not personalities, but are typical situations, places, ways and means that symbolize the kind of transformation in question.’ We symbolize certain transformational energies as people … because types of people seem to characterize the processes, as do certain typical situations, places, ways, and means.”

So the personalities we speak of as archetypes are only the symbols that manifest them, those that seem to characterize the processes. I admit, archetypes are a concept I’ve never thoroughly understood. But this helps me see that when I write of Tarot major arcana cards as archetypes, that only means that the images represent those archetypes in one form, and in one way of seeing them. From what I’ve read so far, no one has perfectly corresponded the Tarot major arcana to a set of archetypes, Jungian or otherwise. Nor can one. An archetype can never be that narrowly defined. Tarot is Tarot, to be interpreted as the user sees fit. While I find it helpful to assign archetypal meanings to the cards, what I write about them here is intended primarily to benefit me.

Among the Jungian archetypes, the Emperor seems to fit the idea of the Great Father. As we can see now, the invisible current of energy we label “Father” can have a wide range of meanings, and based on our own relationships to our fathers or to father figures, this archetype will present itself to each person in unique ways. The Emperor, as Father, can have to do with masculine sexuality, as a part of the fabric of that energy we speak of as fatherhood or the force that is the seed of all life. He can also represent the Animus, the masculine side present in every woman.

While studying the Emperor this week I dreamed one night about the android Data from the Start Trek: The Next Generation series. (I recently watched a lot of old episodes from that series.)

Data illustrates a few facets of the Emperor to me. He resembles the facet of the archetype that has to do with order, logic, and with building organized systems. He could be said to illustrate self-discipline or government, in his adherence to his programming. Data was also created in the image of his “father” just as humans are believed, in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions to be created in the image of God. Data spends his life attempting to become “fully human”. This is a concept we could interpret in two possibly interconnected ways. First it resembles a path of return to God, as written of in many sacred texts including some of the gnostic gospels (see my review of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene by Jean-Yves Leloup). Second, it reminds me of the Jungian-defined process of individuation.

This concludes my post on the Emperor, but I could write much more. In fact as I go along I’m having many more thoughts about what I’ve already written, and I’ve found that my posts on each card, rather than conclude what I learn in my study, seem to spark further thought. Perhaps I’ll return later to some of these posts and revise or fine-tune them. But for now I intend to keep moving forward in my study and not backtrack.

If You’re New to Tarot and Reading This

I want to take the opportunity to add a note about this study in general. It’s important, if you’re new to Tarot, to realize I’m not attempting to provide basic interpretations for use in readings here. My intent is more along the lines of expressing some of the aspects of the cards that have been bubbling up in my mind, and that I’ve come across in my more detailed readings and study after many years of using the Tarot.

There are lots of helpful books out there for people just beginning to learn Tarot. One that I highly recommend is Tarot For Your Self by Mary K. Greer.

Copyright © 2009 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved.

2009 Tarot Study Index

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