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The boss, the CEO, the president. The Emperor is the figure associated with power, leadership and authority. Read more about The Emperor Tarot card meaning. 

Missed a few? Read more about the previous Major Arcana cards.

‘Enlightened leadership is service, not selfishness.
The leader grows more and lasts longer by placing 
the well-being of all above the well-being of self alone.’

John Heider, Tao of Leadership

Key Phrases of The Emperor

  • Leadership, authority and your relationship to power
  • The patriarchy, masculine energy
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Leading the pack

The Emperor Tarot card upright keywords

  • Masculinity
  • Power
  • Authority
  • Leadership
  • Father figure
  • Law and order
  • Promotion

The Emperor Tarot card reversed keywords

  • Lack or loss of power
  • No authority
  • Lack of discipline
  • Too much control
  • Inflexibility

The Emperor Tarot card description

An old male, a king, sits atop a throne. He holds a sceptre in his right hand, and in his left, he holds an orb. The Emperor is always depicted as wearing a headdress of sorts; be it a crown, laurel wreath or hat.  

The Emperor is often depicted as being outside, surrounded by mountains. In many decks, there is the visual of an eagle or bird; either shown as an emblem on a shield, engraved to the throne or flying overhead. The Robin Wood, Rider-Waite and Hanson-Roberts decks include ram’s heads as decorative elements on the throne. 

Rider Waite Tarot The Emperor
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Key Points of The Emperor tarot card

Symbolism and mythology of The Emperor

Representing the patriarchy, The Emperor is a strong expression of masculine energy. In Jungian archetypal psychology, this male figure represents the animus, and in Oriental cultures, he is the yang energy.

Masculine energy is active, energetic, action-orientated, expanding and domineering, the counterpart to the feminine anima or yin energy.

Father of the Gods mythology 

The Emperor figure is present in all mythologies. He is the great father of the gods who ruled over the masses and had dominion over the sky. 

From Zeus, who propelled lightning bolts and thunderclaps, to Thor, who thrashed about with his great hammer, The Emperor’s patriarchal principle comes alive in countless manifestations. 

A long beard or grey hair signifies wisdom and experience. In some decks, The Emperor’s red robe covers a suit of armour. This is sometimes interpreted as one who has a secure defence system, protects his heart and hides his vulnerability.


The Emperor is often shown in nature. The mountains hint at his strength, sturdiness, assertiveness and that a solid foundation backs him. This could hint that this figure is set in his ways and may not be welcoming of change or new ideas. 

In the Robin Wood deck, the sun can be seen. The sun, the world’s source of life and light, is a strong symbol of power, and of course, fire. 

Attire and accessories

The Emperor holds a sceptre in his right hand and an orb in his left. Often adorned with jewels or decorated to be very ornamental, the sceptre is a staff or wand that is used by royalty to show their status and power

Derived from the Greek word which means to propel, a spectre displays a royal’s sovereignty. In some decks, this sceptre bears an ankh, the Egyptian symbol of life. The orb in his left hand represents the world which he governs. In the Robin Wood deck, The Emperor rests his feet atop a globe. 


Similarly to The Empress tarot card, The Emperor card is often shown to include an element of an eagle or bird. Traditionally, birds symbolise freedom, but the eagle itself is specifically linked with power, authority and a high level of status – all of which signal the majestic Emperor. 

Robin Wood Tarot The Emperor
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Symbol of Aries

The Emperor tarot card links with the sign of Aries, represented by the glyph of a ram’s head. In the tarot, most decks include visuals of rams in their depiction of The Emperor card. 

Further emphasising the link to Aries, most decks show some red, orange or burnt orange in the design of the artwork, typically in The Emperor’s attire.  

The Emperor Tarot card meaning

With a strong command, assertive mind and structure, The Emperor embodies achievement and the drive required to make a mark on the world.  

He is the leader, the ruler, the builder and the do-er, The Emperor gets things done in a matter that is stable, solid and secure. 

When The Emperor arises in a reading, his presence could mean an array of things:

  • His presence could symbolise your drive, determination and ambition. You may be paving your path to success with a logical plan and strong will. Whether you are male or female, his presence may indicate that you are adopting a fatherly role of sorts, and are looking to exercise control over something. 
  • The card could indicate a form of authority and possibly even your relationship to this. For example, the card could symbolise your boss, career, school principal, government, law enforcement. You may be in a position where you’re the authoritative figure, or you’re in opposition to a form of authority of sorts. 
  • As The Emperor is the manifestation of the patriarchy, the card could symbolise a story, situation, dynamic or similar with your father or a father figure in your life. 
  • In terms of a career, The Emperor could link to a hierarchal vocation with a leader at the top of the system. The card and its association to Aries could signify that you’re a natural leader or project initiator and that you may be better suited to lead a project rather than work as a member of the team. If in line with your personality, The Emperor may suggest that you’d be best suited to a job with a hierarchy where you can set your mind to climbing the ladder of success. 
  • Sometimes The Emperor can manifest as a person. Mentioned above, this could be a father figure, authority figure or possibly a businessman. The card can speak strongly to relationships with authority and dictatorship, and pulling this card could signal to a form of oppression. 

A call to balance your masculine energy

This card represents masculine energy. In a traditional sense, the masculine energy is action-orientated, expansive, in control and assertive. Opposite to the feminine principle, as demonstrated in The Empress, which is intuitive, emotive and receptive, masculine energy is at a distance from emotional expression. 

Sometimes, the energy of The Emperor can relate to the outdated saying, ‘boys don’t cry,’ which has conditioned men from expressing themselves fully. 

The Emperor may represent defensiveness and difficulty in expressing emotions, either in yourself or a person in your life. If this interpretation is relevant to you, it may be time to slow down, relax, rest and practice being receptive. 

Barbara Walker Tarot The Emperor
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Your relationship to power

The Emperor asks you to question your view of and relationship to power. Do you place too much emphasis on your position, or should you be paving a new path to lead the pack? Do you have an obsession with authority, or are you losing your freedom to a single figure? Are there patriarchal energies in your life that need assessing? Are there crunchy feelings with father-figures? 

When you draw The Emperor, think of ways that you are expressing governance with grace in your life. This card relates to how you own and demonstrate your leadership powers and how you express the element of masculine energy in your life. 

The Emperor asks you to revisit how you take command of your life and how you express your force of power in the world. It is an important time to stay in your power. Do not abandon yourself in any way, but be welcoming of and receptive to new opportunities.

Other names of The Emperor

  • L’empereur
  • L’Imperatore
  • El Emperador
  • Der Herrscher

The journey through the Major Arcana

As The Fool continues along his path he is met with The Emperor. This strong male presence shows him the masculine energetic principle in action. He shows qualities of power, leadership and authority. 

Featured image available from Viva Luna Studios.

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