The Emperor is all about recognizing and accessing our inner power and using it to master life’s challenges. Mary Greer states that the Emperor assumes responsibility and acts forcefully with conviction. Both Rachel Pollack and the Mythic Tarot make clear the distinction of male and female sex roles with the Empress representing nurturance and emotional expression while the Emperor represents law and order, favoring objective thought over emotional energy. Depicted as Zeus in the Mythic Tarot, he understands the law of the Universe and his laws are obeyed by the hierarchy of gods that he established in the mountains of Olympus.
The Emperor sits on his throne, exuding power. He holds the key to life in one hand and an orb in the other which represents power. He looks powerful, there is a patch of black under his throne representing unsolved problems. His white hair and beard represent wisdom and his red robe symbolizes new solutions and illumination (Fiebig and Burger).
The Mythic Tarot also states that our “inner father” can be rigid and self-righteous which reminds me of the men in my father’s family. My father was a Syrian Jew, the fifth of eight brothers, all of them emulating Clint Eastwood in his touch guy days. Syrian Jews are a clannish group mixing exclusively with other Syrian Jews. They stay in the same neighborhood, marry into other Syrian Jewish families and revere sons. Daughters are usually a disappointment.
My father’s grandparents lived in Bensonhurst Brooklyn in a railroad apartment over a bar on Bay Parkway. Whenever we visited, we would see many of my grandparents’ friends who would visit after the Sabbath, on Saturday nights. My grandfather had a backgammon board set up in the front of the apartment and there was always his homemade Arak served, made from his distillery in the kitchen. My grandmother had a water pipe set up in her sitting room off the kitchen and there was always a circle of friends sharing the water pipe and chatting in Arabic.
The men clearly enjoyed each other’s company but when they came into the other room to share the water pipe their tone and demeanor seemed to change from relaxed casual chatter among men to tall proud looking peacocks strutting their stuff taking to the women in condescending tones. They wanted to be noticed and looked at the women and girls as one would when looking at delicious chocolates. One man was visiting from Argentina, saw my sister who could not have been more than thirteen at the time and wanted to marry her. Their sense of entitlement was astounding, and it seemed to me that their air of superiority was not earned from any great achievement but instead just because they were men – Syrian Jewish men. I remember these men as if they were caricatures but in reality, there are many men today that still seem to exude the same kind pride in their maleness.
Oddly, my father acted just like them until he had Alzheimer’s Disease when he was in his 80’s. Alzheimer’s disease melts away the mask some of us wear as defense mechanisms. It was as if he spent his life pretending to be someone else until the mask melted away. Underneath my father’s “tough guy” demeanor was a fun-loving creative man who struggled with insecurity and fear just like ordinary people.
As in life, tarot cards teach us that there are polarities in every part of our existence, and our task is to identify and find balance between the two. The attitude of male superiority, whether or not it has been earned is an issue that has plagued women since the beginning of time, so it is easy to feel challenged by these less attractive Emperor qualities. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the more positive sides of the Emperor as well. The Emperor’s objective manner of approaching life lends itself to a structured way of accomplishing goals. In my own family my father was the money-maker, and the person responsible for all household repairs and renovations. He would look at a broken appliance, find out where it was malfunctioning and fix it. He often made the part that was missing, or he would find a way to improvise. He built a bathroom out of a closet and moved a staircase to a different part of the house. He used his analytical thought process as well as his creativity and imagination to make improvements in our home. In our traditional Sephardic culture, he was what my Greek mother called a Pasha, a man of high rank and I would say he mirrored both the negative and positive side of the Emperor.
When I think about both the Emperor and Empress, I see myself as emotional and creative, very Empress-like, but the Emperor lives within me as well. With my current cancer recurrence, I am anxious, sad, and angry but more recently I find myself feeling more in control because I am trying to balance my heavy-hearted emotions with an understanding that I can handle what comes my way. My inner-Emperor, steps forward by figuring out what I need, which involves connecting with people, journaling, and essay writing, and by seeking outside support — all of which gives me confidence and hope. It is a more logical confident energy that enables me to think things through and come up with ideas on how to get through this with the realization that I will have to overcome my fears and muster up the discipline to actually carry out a plan. But in looking back, I always had Emperor-like qualities without realizing it. I thought of it as rebellion because I left a very traditional upbringing to be an independent woman, and I made my own way in life despite the difficulties. When I saw the self-satisfied look that the men in my early life walked around with, I was awed by that power and confidence and wanted it for myself. I couldn’t see myself being subservient, so I became in charge of my own destiny.
The fool’s journey to the Emperor helped me recognize my own power and leaves me ready to continue the path.