The Emperor Tarot Card Meanings (Upright & Reversed)
Last Updated: February 28, 2023
The Emperor is card number 4 (IV) in modern cartomantic tarot decks and the 5th major arcana trump card (The Fool, number 0, is the first card). Divination practices such as cartomancy can help us make decisions, offer guidance, and help us tune into our intuition when we are at a crossroads in our lives. Understanding the meanings of each tarot card can help you sharpen your interpretative skills so you can get the most out of your readings.
For many tarotists, The Emperor represents one side of the duality of masculine and feminine, his other half is The Empress. These masculine and feminine energies aren’t necessarily gendered, every individual holds both within themselves, only more or less embodied and activated, depending on a multitude of factors making up our daily lives.
In the Tarot, this card speaks to that masculine side of our energies; the directive, structured, logical half of our creative force, while The Empress is the half that nurtures, flows, and feeds our creative force with gentle love.
Associated with the zodiac sign Aries, The Emperor is generally depicted on a throne bearing four ram heads. He holds a sceptre, representing his rulership, and an orb, representing the kingdom he rules over. Behind him are bare mountains, showing the dry force he rules with; whereas The Empress is associated with abundant foliage and nature showing fertility.
In this article, we will explore the different meanings of the Emperor Tarot card in various reading contexts as well as the different advice it can offer you.
4 Quick takeaways about this tarot card
- The Emperor represents authority, structure, and order.
- The Emperor signifies the need to take on responsibilities and show leadership qualities.
- The Emperor can represent a father figure or a powerful mentor.
- Finally, the Emperor can also suggest that it’s time to take control of your own life.
The Emperor tarot card key correspondences
Authority, Discipline, Structure, Drive
Rigidness, Stubbornness, Control issues, Tyranny
|Yes or No|
Light aspect: The Warrior, The Father, The Hero / Shadow aspect: The Rebel, The Rescuer, The King
March 20th to April 20th
The Morrigan, Amun, Horus, Montu
L'Empereur (Tarot de Marseille)
What does the upright Emperor (tarot card IV) mean?
In Latin, major arcana translates to “big secrets” and each of the 22 cards in this section of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck represents an important life lesson we must all face at some point. The Emperor, arcanum 4, is no different.
When The Emperor appears upright in a reading, you are being called to embody that masculine, leader energy. What area of your life do you need to show up in with a direct, focused, organised energy, in a no-nonsense kind of way?
Maybe you’ve been trusted with a responsibility that demands that kind of presence, or maybe you’re about to launch a personal project where you’re going to have to boss up. You’re going to need to follow your dreams by implementing some method and strategy to see them happen.
When pulled in the upright position, The Emperor is associated with authority, discipline, structure, and drive.
What does the upright Emperor mean in a love reading?
In a relationship reading, The Emperor doesn’t necessarily speak to a great deal of romance per se, however, it can indicate stability and drive. This can be a traditional, committed relationship, which can feel reassuring or stifling, depending on what you’re looking for!
The Emperor being linked to the Father archetype, without getting too Freudian, can indicate a relationship with someone that feels familiar because they have similar traits to one of your caregivers or someone that makes you feel provided for.
What does the upright Emperor mean in a career reading?
In regards to your career, The Emperor could be advising you to step up into that role or find someone to model it for you. For example, this could mean finding a mentor or a coach to help you implement the kind of Emperor structure and discipline you’re needing right now. Or otherwise, to channel your inner Emperor alone, and set up some routines that will help you meet your goals.
What does the upright Emperor mean in a health reading?
In regards to your health, this card could be trying to tell you that being too stoical in regards to your health isn’t the best option. Having a basic pain threshold is great, but ignoring your body’s needs is just counterproductive. Being strong will take you so far in the short term, but your body needs listening too and some empathetic care. Be wary of the path you’re on so that this full force you go ahead with doesn’t tip into burnout.
The Emperor Tarot card as feelings
Ever met an Aries? There’s a reason they’re the sign associated with this card. They don’t give up. They never stop. They’re represented by the Ram – butt-headed stubbornness and drive. Aries is ruled by Mars, the planet of movement, war and sex. All things that require a certain amount of momentum. Now, obviously, life, astrology and tarot are about balance and finding a flow. But sometimes you need a little bit of Emperor energy to get that big thing done – and although too much Emperor can be exhausting, this is why we love him.
What does the reversed Emperor card mean in Tarot?
The Emperor reversed is a reminder that we can’t be in control of everything in life, so many things will slip out of our grasp and we have to learn to accept them. Where in your life are you clinging on to control in order to feel safe? Where are you potentially being a little bit of a tyrant? A tyrant feels the need to be so harsh in his ruling because he lacks trust. How can you open up a little to confidence and faith?
Alternatively, this card reversed can point to someone in your life that’s exercising a form of authority over you, maybe a partner, boss, friend or family member. How can you exert your boundaries and take back some control?
When pulled in the reversed position, The Emperor is associated with rigidness, stubbornness, control issues, and tyranny.
What does the reverse Emperor mean in a love reading?
In relationship readings, drawing The Emperor reversed can signal a power imbalance in the partnership. Are you vying to be in control, to have the upper hand? Do you feel stifled by your partner? Is there a sense of overbearingness, maybe a lack of freedom?
Do you struggle to trust their commitment to you? As always, communication can take you a long way. Open up the conversation about your mutual needs and boundaries and explore building trust together.
What does the inverted Emperor mean in a career reading?
In the workplace, The Emperor reversed can mean a lack of Emperor energy (no drive, no motivation, no discipline in regards to the things you should be working on) or too much of it (boring, repetitive administrative tasks maybe, or an overbearing senior colleague)!
Either way, the message here is an invitation to find more balance. How can you turn The Emperor around and use him to help you create the life you need and deserve ?
What does the upside-down Emperor mean in a health reading?
In regards to your health, drawing The Emperor reversed mainly indicates the presence of stress. Are you over-exerting yourself? Pushing yourself too hard and ultimately heading for a burn-out? How can you release a little and move with more flow?
Alternatively, The Emperor reversed can signal a lack of structure and discipline that would actually be beneficial for your health right now. The Emperor’s advice is that it’s never too late to start again, to pick up your gym kit and to get back out there.
How to use the Emperor card in your Spellwork
Powerful moments to use this card in aid of your spell work would be: during Aries season when the New Moon is in Aries when Mars moves into Aries or into your first house (the house ruled by Aries in astrology) – but as a basic instruction, it’s for whenever you feel called to perform a spell to help you instil power and motivation into a chosen area of your life.
Please follow fire safety precautions. Use the card as a signifier (the central card of your spell) and spend some time centring and grounding yourself. Then, while gazing at the card, reflect on what power means to you, while breathing deeply.
When you can feel this sense of power in your whole body, write out affirmations of your personal power and capabilities. Try “I am intrinsically powerful.” or “My strength upholds me and is a constant flow.” Spend some more time repeating those affirmations to yourself, perhaps coupled with some repetitive movement, like tapping your face, head, chest or your knees if you are sitting to help record the message into your body as you speak the words – Aries rules the first house of the physical body!
Then light the paper with your affirmations on fire and watch it burn while holding on to that feeling of inner power. Mix the ashes into salt to make black salt you can use in future spellwork!
You can finish off with a cup of ginger tea (one of Aries herbs) and sip with intention, remaining focused on those affirmations.
The Emperor symbolism with archetype psychology
The Emperor, in terms of archetype psychology, relates to The Father. The Father embodies the duality of the masculine, the dark and the light. The light side is the energy of power, strength, loyalty and wisdom. The dark side is that of tyranny, lack of empathy, coldness and rigidity. This dark side often materializes as a literal or figurative absence. As Kim Krans says in her Archetypes Guidebook, “The Father […] is both the guardian and one who leaves us to the wolves.”
This archetype demands of us that we reposition him as a human person with human limitations – the Father was once the Child. The Emperor is a ruling power in his own kingdom, but there is a whole world outside of those borders, where he is simply a person like any other.
A Poem to remember the upright meanings
Poems can be a good way to remember information because they often use rhyme and rhythm, which can make them easier to memorize.
Additionally, poems often use vivid imagery and figurative language, which can help to make the information more interesting and engaging.
The Emperor is a figure of great power
He is in command of his own tower
He stands for strength and authority
That leads us to stability
He governs in a logical way
To keep his kingdom safe each day
He will take control of every detail
To ensure that all are safe and well
He represents a fatherly kind
That will help us make our minds
He guides us with his wisdom and grace
To ensure our lives stay at the right pace
The Emperor is a card of great pride
Its symbolism is a thing to abide
It brings structure to our lives
And helps us to learn
And he helps us to thrive.
A Poem to remember the reversal meanings
The Emperor in reverse, a warning to behold,
Reminding you of patterns too rigid and old.
It beckons you to temper, your grip to release,
And to find the balance of your strength and finesse.
It warns against control that seeks to oppress,
And the need to let go that is your true success.
It speaks of a freedom, a break from the past,
To embrace the unknown and to grow at last.
The Emperor in reverse is a message to heed,
That a new path awaits if you will take the lead.
It’s a call to be brave, to follow your heart,
And find the courage to make a fresh start.
In conclusion, The Emperor tarot card is a powerful symbol of authority, discipline, and structure. When this card appears in your reading, it is often a sign that it is time for you to take the lead and focus your mind on achieving your goals in a structured and disciplined way.
Despite its association with mysticism and occultism, the tarot has grown to become much more than a simple “fortune-telling” tool. For many tarot readers, it is a complex system made of symbolic imagery and psychological considerations (Jungian archetypes for example) that can be used for self-exploration, meditation, and personal transformation.
The 22 major arcana cards each correspond to different aspects of the human experience that are universal. They represent the different stages of the “hero’s journey”: our biggest challenges and life lessons, as well as our highest aspirations and greatest potential.
Have you ever had a reading where The Emperor card appeared? What was the outcome? What does The Emperor mean to you personally? How do you interpret this card in your own tarot practice? Share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comments below.
If you want to know more about the different tarot cards, feel free to check out our complete list of all 78 tarot cards and their meanings.
Written By Daisy Forrest
Daisy Forrest is a queer, neurodivergant witch, astrologer and writer based in France. As a qualified community organizer and space holder, with years of experience in workshop organization, she also holds virtual events via her Patreon, usually centred around the lunar cycles. She’s on a journey to heal generational trauma through astrology, tarot, witchcraft, therapy and manifestation. You can find her writing about these themes on Instagram @Daisy Forrest, or on her website daisyforrest.com