Saturday, April 08, 2006

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: The Emperor

[Please see the Introduction to this series for a brief synopsis of my approach to working with the major trumps of the Tarot. I am hoping to post a new meditation each Saturday. I use "meditation" here in the philosophical sense of the word, meant to denote an open-ended, free-form exploration of an idea.]

Sallie Nichols begins her chapter on the Emperor in Jung and Tarot with this quote from one of the few female alchemists:

"One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth."
~ Maria Prophetissa
The quote refers to the alchemical process of extracting spirit from matter, but as the Emperor is the fourth card of the major arcana, we might look to this formula to explain a little of his significance.

As I discussed before, the Magician/animus and High Priestess/anima are given form through the Empress. Through the Emperor, all the creative energies that we've worked with until this point get grounded in the real world -- through the first three emerges the one, the Emperor, as the fourth card in the sequence.

Paraphrasing Nichols: past, present, and future are meaningless abstractions until they are grounded in space. Likewise, events in three-dimensional space cannot become concrete until they are grounded in time. The Emperor brings stability, permanence, and wholeness -- he grounds us in the real world of time and space.

Having encountered the Emperor, the Fool is confronted for the first time with reality in all its variations. But s/he has a father figure to help her/him find some footing in the world of adults. S/he needs the stability provided by the Emperor if s/he is to continue growing toward enlightenment in a healthy way.

As the fourth card in the sequence, the Emperor has some unique meanings. The number four is a common number for wholeness in Western culture: four directions, four seasons, four phases of the moon, four elements, four Gospels, and so on. Four symbolizes the way humans orient themselves in reality.

Which brings us to the card itself. One of the oldest variations of this card shows the Emperor casually sitting on his throne, holding a holy scepter, and with the eagle-emblazoned shield at his feet. This is the same shield we saw in the Empress card, thus connecting them as husband and wife. He clothes are colorful and represent the blending of different regions/peoples into his kingdom.

His scepter, with the cross at the top, signifies his position as caretaker of a divine kingdom. Yes, he is the Emperor, but he is not attached to this role by ego. He knows that he serves a higher power. From all appearrances, he is comfortable in that role.

Because he is more grounded in human affairs than is the Empress, he is more relaxed in his earthly power. He offers us his left side in profile, the side often identified with the unconscious, which demonstrates a remarkable security in his position. He does not fear attack.

The Emperor is very masculine. His card represents a movement away from the mythic and largely feminine levels we have seen so far. He brings us into the world of logos rather than the preverbal, the rational rather than the pre-rational or intuitive.

This card represents a movement away from the matriarchal into the patriarchal, which is always a tough transition. As we move into the patriarchal, we encounter the need to belong for the first time. In human history, matriarchal cultures typically are hunters and gatherers comprised mainly of the family group -- very kinship based. With the rise of partriarchy, families begin to inhabit the same space and with that change arises social needs, such as belonging, a hierarchy of power, and rules to maintain order.

This card, in that respect, represents the first emergence of the Blue meme (ethnocentric, authoritarian, based in mythic order, and highly structured). At the archetypal level, then, the Emperor signifies the creation of divine order on earth as it is in heaven. This is the epitome of "as above, so below."

The Osho Zen deck (their crooked scan, not mine) calls this card the Rebel, emphasizing its sense of mastery and self-possession. This "rebel" energy represents the harmonious balance of Red meme ego/power needs with Blue meme submission to a higher, inner truth.

Whether he is wealthy or poor, the Rebel is really an emperor because he has broken the chains of society's repressive conditioning and opinions. He has formed himself by embracing all the colors of the rainbow, emerging from the dark and formless roots of his unconscious past and growing wings to fly into the sky. His very way of being is rebellious - not because he is fighting against anybody or anything, but because he has discovered his own true nature and is determined to live in accordance with it. The eagle is his spirit animal, a messenger between earth and sky.
This take on the card is not too different than the Western version, but it feels more harmonious because it is less concerned with the outer manifestation of the archetypal energy and is more focused on how the archetype manifests at the psychological and spiritual levels.

The Osho Zen variation is really an "intentional quadrant" (interior-individual) take on the card, while the Western variations are more of a cultural quadrant (interior-collective) interpretation. If we look at the two together, we see an Emperor who is very self-aware and able to be himself even within the confines or cultural expectations. But he understands the structures and needs of cultural enough to become a leader who is trusted by his fellow citizens.

So the Emperor is the archytpal father. With the Empress as the mother, we have the Fool's parents identified in their best aspects. I mentioned that the Empress can have a negative manifestation as the Terrible Mother. The Emperor can also have a shadow side, most recognizable to us the tyrant or dictator.

The Emperor, as an agent of the divine order, has absolute power. We know that absolute power can corrupt absolutely (first said about a Pope, in fact). If the Emperor were to allow his ego to become more important than the divine order he is entrusted with, which includes the care and compassion for all citizens, then he becomes the tyrant we have seen so often in our history.

Having established an interior masculine and feminine for the Fool, and having found that s/he has a family of origin, we can now begin to explore the movement s/he undertakes into the world around him/her, beginning with the need for connection to Spirit now that s/he is fully embodied.

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