What is the meaning of the Emperor card in tarot? The Emperor card puzzles many, seeing him as a one-dimensional patriarch. The Emperor corresponds to the zodiacal sign Aries. But what does the Emperor card mean in a tarot reading, and how does Aries relate to the card? Learn here about how to interpret the Emperor card when he shows up in your tarot readings.


Context is Key for interpreting tarot cards

Interpreting any card is all about context. Did the Emperor card show up as a general “card of the day”? Was it the answer to a specific question, or has it shown up in a particular spread position? Every Major Arcana card tends to encompass an expansive range of topics. The Major Arcana represent the higher forces and things beyond the mundane – some call them “karmic” in nature. Because of their larger range of meaning, the Major Arcana of tarot are often a challenge to interpret. But every tarot Major has (at least) three primary ways that they can be interpreted.


Spectrum Fari, the guidebook for our Pharos tarot, breaks down the Emperor card into three possible general meanings:


    •            Dominion, authority, control, leadership, governance, strong and benevolent rulership

    •            Rigidity, enforcement of rules, patriarchy, masculine impulse, order from chaos, building

    •            Active and fiery volatility, finding structure and solutions, self-reliance, pioneering, being first

The meaning of The Emperor card and Aries

Many of these can be traced to the Emperor as the tarot trump of Aries. Aries is the first of the signs, leading the zodiacal parade. Aries wants to lead, to rule, to break ground, and to be first. Aries is a Cardinal Fire sign: Cardinal is initiating and controlling, and Fire is fast, brash, and inspired.


Consider this excerpt about the sign Aries from the Book of Seshet:


^ Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, at the ascendant[1], and is the home of the planet Mars. Aries says “I am.” It uses its pioneering, martial energy “to boldly go where no man has gone before”.  Aries is the sign of the Ram, and its symbol resembles the horns of the ram. Like the ram, Aries is impulsive and headstrong. It is cardinal in nature and the first of the fire signs. Aries begins when the Sun enters the vernal equinox around March 20th and extends through around April 20th.


Aries is the fiery and energetic sign of the Warrior, the Explorer, the Leader, the Soldier and the Athlete. As an archetype it is at best courageous, vital, dynamic and confident, and at worst can be infantile, selfish, warlike and impatient. In the body, Aries governs the head. The Emperor is the trump card associated with Aries.  The Two, Three and Four of Wands each rule a decan[2] of the sign. The Queen of Wands rules the first two decans of Aries and the Prince of Disks picks up the last decan in addition to the primary sign of its element.


Cards of Aries
The Emperor – Zodiacal Trump of Aries
Two of Wands – Dominion – Mars in Aries
Three of Wands – Virtue – Sun in Aries
Four of Wands – Completion – Venus in Aries

[1] The ascendant is the beginning of the first house of the zodiac, the time of sunrise and the vernal equinox, and associated with the body, the mask, and the lens or filter through which the world is seen from within and viewed from without.


[2] A decan is a ten degree division of a sign of the Zodiac. Each sign has three decans, beginning at zero through ten degrees of the sign.


You can learn a lot about the Emperor just by considering some of the archetypes of Aries: the Warrior, Explorer, Leader, Soldier, and Athlete. You can also learn more about him by looking at the Minor cards of Aries. Dominion shows his tendency to break ground and rule his domain, Virtue his qualities of good governance, and Completion shows the result when he fulfills his objectives.


Examples of The Emperor card and its meaning in our decks

The Emperor card - what does it mean in tarot?


The Emperor card from Pharos Tarot

The Emperor card of Pharos Tarot is also called Azimuth to illustrate its meaning of how the pioneer (the Emperor) orients his direction and pursues his goals.


From Spectrum Fari:


The word azimuth comes from an Arabic word meaning “the directions”. The azimuth is an angular measurement in a spherical coordinate system. One can use it for celestial navigation, where it points out the horizontal direction of the Sun or Star chosen. The astronomical object, Star or Sun, is the point of interest, the reference plane is a circular area around the observer, and the reference vector points to True North. Here the Sun is depicted as the object, since the Sun is exalted in Aries. The Sun is after all also a Star, and here we will see a relationship with the Star card that delves into a mystery of the Thoth tarot system.


The azimuth is used in navigation, astronomy, engineering, mapping, and ballistics – all very appropriate for the card of the Great Architect (aka The Emperor) and the sign of Aries the pioneer, explorer, and soldier. The azimuth diagram in the card is topped by an eagle, giving the overall shape of it a resemblance to the “orb and cross” of traditional Emperor cards.


The Emperor - what does it mean in a tarot reading?


The Emperor card from Tabula Mundi Tarot

In Tabula Mundi Tarot, the Emperor is portrayed as he contemplates a bee skep (man-made hive structure), marked with the word Ozymandias: King of Kings Ozymandias am I.


If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work. ~ Inscription, statue of Ramses the Great


The bees themselves are the wild chaos of nature (The Empress) while the Emperor attempts to structure and control nature. The poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley Ozymandias has a line “And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains.”


This is a comment on the dangers of hubris applied to the establishment of order and the inevitable decline of empires and those who build them.


Excerpted from Book M: Liber Mundi:


The Emperor seeks to order what the Empress creates. Nature creates the honeybee, man seeks to hive it and tame it with sacred fire. This compulsion to order from chaos and the rule of mind over nature is represented by the compass and square, symbols of the Grand Architect of the Universe and his desire for structure. The compass is shown fashioned with a design of the red eagle of alchemy, symbolic of the red tincture and the solar forces, and surmounted by the Eye of God, the all seeing and omniscient completion of the holy trinity. This red tincture is the equivalent of the guna Rajas of Hindu philosophy, or alchemical sulfur. It is a force of motion and action, initiative swiftly expended and followed by creation and preservation. This is the complement to the Empress’ white eagle or white tincture, and the lunar forces and alchemical salt.


Behind the Emperor, the bricks are patterned in the Fibonacci sequence. The Fibonacci sequence begins with 0 and 1, and each following integer is the sum of the two preceding it, thusly 0, 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21… It is often seen in patterns of growth and biology in nature. The Fibonacci sequence mathematically is the rational form of the irrational Golden ratio of the Empress, and the fish hook of Tzaddi is shaped in the same spiral form that growth occurs in. This sequence is found in everything from the shape of a pinecone to the ratios inherent in the birth rate of bees.


The Emperor card in Tarot and Qabalah

In the Thoth system, the Emperor corresponds to the Hebrew letter Tzaddi, which means “fish hook”.  This is a Thoth-system switch Crowley made with the Star, swapping Heh (Window) for Tzaddi (hook). Spectrum Fari, the Pharos deck’s guidebook, explains:


Path 28 extends from Netzach (Venus) and Yesod (Moon). This path placement between the two sephiroth corresponding to the two most feminine planets is probably what puzzles most people about Crowley’s switch. After all, shouldn’t the ultra-feminine Star maiden be here, and he be placed on the path between the two masculine spheres Chokmah and Tiphareth, the Father and Son? Yet the Hook of Tzaddi invokes the idea of penetration into the receptive feminine, a very masculine impulse. The magickal image of Netzach is “a beautiful naked woman” while that of Yesod is “a beautiful naked man”. The “hook” connects them. This imagery enhances the idea of it being appropriate for Star and Emperor to have this dualistic attribution.


The Emperor: summing up the meaning of the card in tarot

When the Emperor tarot card shows up as your card of the day, Book M, Liber Mundi advises you to seek order from chaos. Act to build a firm foundation for your kingdom. Send forth your seed. Know that planning, ambition, and power are qualities of rulership.