I read Tarot often. By “often,” I mean probably just short of every day. There are occasional days when I do fail to bust out a deck, sure. Things happen, we get busy — you probably understand where I’m coming from. But for the most part…yeah, I read the cards often.
And this guy has been showing up a lot lately:
If you’ve yet to make his acquaintance, that’s The Emperor right there. And when I say he’s been showing up a lot, I mean way beyond what general statistical theory can account for. There are 78 cards in a standard Tarot deck, and while I do like to shuttle around among a dozen or so different decks, all of these, without exception, adhere to that 78-card thing. So you’d think that any card, Emperor or other, would show up about once out of every 78 draws, right? Or possibly a little bit more than that — the real world very rarely plays out exactly as statistical theory would have it play out — but sure, then what? Three out of every 78 draws? Five, max?
But over the course of the last month or so, I’d say that every time I’ve done a spread for myself of more than a card or two, which has been maybe a dozen times now…The Emperor has only failed to appear twice. This would translate to not one time out of every 78 draws, and not two, or three, or even five. This would be more like drawing a card 78 different times, and having it be the Emperor glaring out all authoritatively at you no less than 65 times!
Unlikely, right? And here’s another relevant factoid in all of this Emperor traffic: he’s only showing up for me, specifically, when I read for myself, and not when I pull cards for other people. Make of that what you will…
So, aside from the bizarrely high recurrence of this card in my drawings of late, why should this bother me? I actually tend to like weird happenings in my life, to be honest, so this would seem like something I’d be kind of into, right?
But see, the thing is…I don’t really care much for The Emperor. I mean, some specific renderings of him are okay. I actually do like that version of him up above from The Shaman Tarot. I like this Emperor, too:
But it’s not so much the usual imagery of The Emperor that I object to — it’s more the idea of him. Right from my initial wide-eyed entry into the wonderful world of Tarot, I found that there were a few cards that just didn’t sit well with me. The Emperor started out immediately as a contender for the uppermost slot in that dubious list, and he’s continued to occupy that same bleak territory to this day (although more on his small peer group there in one or two posts yet to come…).
So what is it about The Emperor that so puts me off? Why — if Tarot cards were people — would I be so hesitant to have him over to my place for dinner? He gets things done, right? He’s large and in charge. Maybe not a bad ally to have. Why wouldn’t I want to break bread with the guy?
In pondering this question — a question I was at first unable to answer very well, to my growing frustration — I decided that the cards that inspire that special sense of dislike and aversion in us probably have just as much to teach us as the ones that we instinctively love the most. I realized that The Emperor probably had a lot to show me about myself…probably things I suspected deep down, but didn’t want to face or deal with.
And this Emperor-stuff would be…?
Turns out, I don’t much like male authority figures. Okay, sure, I don’t care for all of the female ones, either, but there’s just something about dudes trying to tell me what to do that sets my teeth on edge. And it’s not like I’m this big rebel or anything, either — I’m actually a pretty mild-mannered person. But when guys take it upon themselves to start giving orders…I very much don’t like it. And giving orders is one of the things that The Emperor is all about! He’s the King of King-types, the archetype of the Monarch. He runs his Empire, instilling order where there was only chaos, giving his subjects security, giving them a rallying point. He provides a link to the past, a schematic for the present, and a pathway toward the future. The Emperor, in his own way, has as much force of will as, say, The Magician, even if he applies it in different ways and toward different ends, and he harnesses that will toward being the grand provider for his people.
And so I came to wonder if maybe I don’t care for him in part because I don’t see those kinds of traits in myself…? I don’t picture myself barking orders out to people from pre-dawn until post-dusk, making all the decisions, big and small, deciding people’s fates, creating law. I don’t know that these things are in me, but as a male in contemporary American society, I do feel pressure to nevertheless be an Emperor-type anyway. Modern-day America likes the take-charge kind of guy, respects and rewards him. And so what if I’m not really him? What am I? What can I be? Am I then of value in modern-day America…?
These are some of the hard questions and some of the soul-searching that The Emperor inspired in me (and which I’ve been examining again this past, rather Emperor-heavy month…). And I’m happy to say that I’ve largely come out the other side of them much more secure in the understanding that no, I’m not the embodiment of the Emperor archetype…but yes, I do still have plenty of value. And not being The Emperor is not the same as being spineless. That’s a very important lesson to learn, a critical distinction to draw. I once accepted being drawn into a street-fight so that I could protect the person I was with at the time, because failing to do so might have resulted in her being hurt…and I jumped into the fray even though there were only two of us and five of them. I may not be The Emperor, but there was some spine in evidence there that night, and there’s been plenty of spine in evidence since then, even if I’m not large and in charge, or a King of King-types, as my default state of being on a daily basis. I now have a better handle on how to view all of this…and I owe a lot of my more complete and mature sense of self to The Emperor!
I still don’t care for him all that much, though. And I probably would still hesitate to invite him over for dinner…or I’d at least go through most of the other Major Arcana cards first when drawing up my guest list…