Monday, July 19, 2010

The Emperor

The Emperor and numeral 4

Who or what do we think of as The Emperor in Tarot? While The Empress is the Formator, The Emperor is the Motivator. In what way? Again, in referring to the past, in early civilizations there were emperors that we retain in memory and still talk about. Some are known for being courageous leaders setting up well-ordered societies, with laws, rules, and other civilizing edicts. History records the Roman Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, as having been effective leaders, while some others were terrible despots doing nothing but exploiting their subjects. This included several demagogues, such as Nero and Caligula. Think of the hubris and arrogance of Napoleon who crowned himself emperor. In the painting by Jacques-Louis David in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, we see Napoleon crowning his wife Josephine after he had crowned himself. There is a huge responsibility in governing a vast empire. So we know emperors and empires have come and gone over the centuries in cycles of construction, war and destruction.

Now we want to know what part The Emperor has in the Tarot and why, in the number 4 position? In Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness, The Emperor has cosmological meaning. This card not only represents the power of leadership, authority, and stability in governance, but in a spiritual context, The Emperor symbolizes conscious awareness of a cosmic selfhood. This is not a depiction of a warlike soldier, but a description of an active energetic organizer who expresses fatherly qualities of love and support for others, revealing a “kinder, gentler” side. The meaning of this card indicates a spiritual stabilizing factor for the on-going development of a whole society.

In the metaphysical realm, a symbol for The Emperor is the tetraktys—an isosceles triangle with 10 points arranged in 4 layers. These are the first 10 numerals, 1 to 10, and the numbers 1,2,3,4 add up to 10. In older decks, The Emperor is shown seated on a cube, which can be drawn on 6 points of the tetraktys. The cube symbolizes an earthly life where one’s purpose is to master the 4 elements: Fire, Water, Air and Earth. In an article by Robert Apatow on “The Tetraktys” (Parabola, Fall, 1999) he shows that the tetraktys was first created by Pythagoras and writes that, “Pythagoras’ vision of the mind and cosmos can be explored in the tetraktys.”

To illustrate this, I have made a small painting of the tetraktys with lively whirling energy points to emphasize the importance of this diagram in understanding the placement of The Emperor as number 4 in the Tarot. Pythagoras started a school where the 4 studies of arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy correspond to the 4 layers of the tetraktys. These 4 studies were considered crucial in setting up early societies and were even revived again during the Renaissance. A conscientious emperor would need scholars to study and teach these subjects in order to establish a well-rounded society.

In a reading, The Emperor represents culturing the ability to know yourself and to understand your limitations, yet seeing the whole picture. It’s a time to take charge of your life and manifest leadership and know-how in your daily activities. When you find your power you won’t become a victim of circumstances instead, you will be looked up to as a leader and guide.