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The Emperor Card in Tarot and How to Read It

Andrea has a background in Myers-Briggs and Western astrology. She mostly writes about relationships.

A strong emperor that people trust leads with the heart and not the fist. This is someone who wants diplomacy, surplus, and benevolent outcomes.

A strong emperor that people trust leads with the heart and not the fist. This is someone who wants diplomacy, surplus, and benevolent outcomes.

The Emperor Tarot Card

The Emperor is the first trump card of fire in the Major Arcana. The Emperor is the fourth card after the Empress (III) and before the Hierophant (IV).

The Emperor represents a father figure, a masculine authority, a king, and the patriarchy. The Emperor often represents someone's father or father-in-law. It could also represent fatherhood, or it could be your boss.

The Emperor has the fire element, and the Empress has the earth element. They're the first two elements of the zodiac: fire and earth. The Emperor is essentially Aries, and the Empress is Taurus.

Masculinity in tarot relates to yang concepts. Yang is bright colors like red and yellow, sharp distinct lines, daytime, the Sun, life, and fire. Masculinity in Western astrology relates to the offensive elements of fire and air.

Femininity in tarot relates to yin concepts. Yin is subdued colors like blue and black, curvy lines, nighttime, the Moon, death, and water. Femininity in Western astrology relates to the elements of earth and water.


The Emperor sits on a ram-adorned throne, a symbol of Mars or Aries. Another ram image is on his cloak. His long, white beard indicates wisdom. He holds an ankh, an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol that represents life. The ankh in the Emperor's hand is a scepter.

He sits on top of a mountain in front of an orange and yellow background. He rules at the height of the secular world, and he is just under the lowest order of the cosmos. The Emperor is the ruler of the world, and his wife is the nurturer of the world.

The Emperor Unlocked








Ruling Planet

Mars (sometimes Saturn)

Zodiac Sign

Aries (sometimes Capricorn)


Fathers, kings, bosses, leaders, and strong personalities

Examples of Archetype

King David, Aragon, King Arthur, King Lear

The Emperor is ruled by fire. He is the embodiment of willpower. He has developed expertise over his lifetime in order to lead.

The Emperor is ruled by fire. He is the embodiment of willpower. He has developed expertise over his lifetime in order to lead.

Upright Meanings

Authority, father figure, fatherhood, patriarchy, paternal line, maturity, man, parent, executive, government, esteemed, respected, dignified, honorable, exalted, adored, masculinity, forthright, law and order, leadership, power, and promotion.

Reverse Meanings

Control freak, dictator, immaturity, ruthless, lack of discipline, frail, neglectful, arrogance, corruption, loss of authority, bad reputation, hostile, territorial, demagogue, barbaric, selfish, warlike, demanding, aggressive, out of balance, and decisions made in the shadows.

Influences Behind the Emperor Card

The Emperor card's look and meaning have remained consistent over the centuries, though it has been censored out of decks. The High Priestess, the Hierophant, the Empress, and the Emperor cards are sometimes replaced with four Moors or Turks.

The Emperor card is associated with the planet Mars and the zodiac sign Aries, and it is also associated with the planet Saturn and the sign Capricorn. Mars was the war god of Roman times. Saturn was the father of Jupiter, and Saturn was banished following the rise of Jupiter. Some legends describe Saturn as a wanderer who went to villages to teach humans about advanced knowledge. This was his way to redeem himself after his fall from the gods.

Aries is the first sign of the zodiac and the first fire sign of the zodiac. It is identified by the ram. People born under Aries are said to be aggressive, full of energy, instinctual, and passionate. Capricorn is the 10th sign of the zodiac and the last earth sign. It is represented by the goat. People born under Capricorn are known for their dedication to their family, their conservative ways, and their longevity.

Aries is born to go into the battlefield. Capricorn is born to survive. Aries would make for a warrior king. Capricorn would make for a longstanding monarch who refuses to give up the throne because they know their successor would disrupt the flow of the kingdom and maybe even the world.

The Emperor doesn't have to represent a masculine person. It could represent a desire for courage.

The Emperor doesn't have to represent a masculine person. It could represent a desire for courage.


Red Robe: The Emperor wears a red robe indicative of his power, passion, energy, and connection to the fire element. He relates to Mars, the red planet. He has a magnetic persona, is full of life, and people look to him for guidance. They ask him questions related to wars, the economy, and infrastructure.

Suit of Armor: Underneath the red robe, the Emperor wears a suit of armor. He is prepared for war and ready to defend his lot. He is confident in his ability to fight against all enemies and can lead an army to victory.

Long White Beard: The Emperor's beard signals wisdom and a long life. He has avoided fatal blows and has earned his place in the world with age.

Gold Crown: He is a well-respected authority, as if blessed and chosen by the cosmos. The golden crown designates him as a mind that others cherish. Gold signifies wealth, mysteries, happiness, and possibility.

Mountain Range: In the background are mountains. These represent the challenges the Emperor has faced, both old and new. He is backed by solid rock, but he is resistant to change. He likes things to be in a way where he can be the top dog.

Small River: Somewhere, a more sensitive side exists in the Emperor. There is hope that he will open himself up to his emotions. He isn't as willing to go with the flow as his wife, but he can be malleable if he deems it best for himself and his kingdom. It is hard to get him to reveal his softer side.

The Emperor Upright

The Emperor card in the upright position suggests you're taking on a fatherly role, regardless of your gender. You provide for your family. You protect them. You are the rock of the family, and they rely on you for security and sensibility.

The Emperor represents a powerful leader in your life, someone who demands respect. Status, power, and recognition are essential traits for this person, whether it's you or someone else.

You yourself may desire to be a stronger leader. Your heart wants more courage, you want to be seen as the victor, and you have a will to compete. In order to be a strong leader, you must be firm and fair. You need a clear vision of what you want to create.

To be an Emperor takes great organization. You must be clear about your agenda, you must stand up for virtues, and you must keep to your word.

If you want to be heard, then you must listen to others. You must seek wise counsel. Put people in your orbit who you trust and know will lead you toward the goal you desire. An Emperor cannot be shaken by conflict. You must stay calm under pressure, or people will question your worth.

The Emperor reflects a sound system. He is the figurehead. He can either create calm or chaos. He is the enforcer of laws. He gets the final say. He has gained this powerful position by studying and working hard. He has developed expertise.

The Emperor card can also reflect a teacher, coach, boss, or good friend in your life. At the core of the Emperor card is strong leadership. You must be decisive. You must visualize the correct action to take.

The Emperor needs to be a trusted leader. He needs to follow the rules. If he takes shortcuts, he could damage his reputation.

The Emperor needs to be a trusted leader. He needs to follow the rules. If he takes shortcuts, he could damage his reputation.

The Reversed Emperor

The Emperor in the reversed position is a dire warning. Something is wrong with your leadership style, or there is a leader in your life who is handling their position poorly.

You may be leading with too much force and neglecting the opinions of the people around you. You don't want to come off as a dictator or sour spirit. The people will only believe in a leader for the long term if they recognize benevolence in the leader. Gods become footnotes if they come across as malevolent. People tire of connecting to something that's corrupted.

In the reversed position, the Emperor is domineering. They have a policy of "my way or the highway." They call for extremely high taxes, they punish for minor grievances, they don't follow the rules everyone else must follow, and they lavish in other people's pain.

This is someone who is rigid on a daily basis. They're so stubborn that it seems futile to try to negotiate with them. They are often led by rumors rather than by wisdom.

  • Distraught Emperors have father issues.
  • Distraught Emperors likely had rough childhoods.
  • Emperors are the bosses of toxic workplaces.
  • Corrupt government leaders are Emperors in the reversed position.

Power isn't the only method an Emperor should use. The Emperor must have some compassion. He must lead by the heart and not the fist. A thirst for power will only end in ruin and shame.

If you're wanting to come out of the reversed position, you should seek to find a solution from your personal power. All leaders need to look within to see if they have any insecurities guiding them. Power can be a creative or destructive force. Power needs to be equally distributed and not hoarded.

Other Interpretations

The reversed card could also be a sign that you are an expert in your field and others look to you, but you are shying away from the role. You fear the spotlight that comes from leadership. You prefer the shadows where you can work out of sight and out of mind.

Those who want to influence from the shadows can write books, provide training materials and guidance, or disguise themselves as commoners and work within a resistance group.

The reversed Emperor card may encourage you to stand up to an authority figure. Maybe now is the time to push back. Stop letting the bully pick on you.

If you aspire to be a boss one day, you should consider what it takes to be a good leader, so you don't become an antagonistic force to others.

The card suggests:

  • Seeking a career where you have flexibility and time to be creative.
  • It's okay to break free from something.
  • Don't take on too much stress to the point that you're not thinking straight.
  • Have clear and feasible plans.

Relationship Reading

If the Emperor appears in the reversed position in a relationship reading, there is one thing you should do: run.

Why is the reversed Emperor so bad in a relationship reading? It means you or your partner have become too overbearing, possessive, and mean. It will be difficult to make headway with each other.

If your partner is overbearing, then your independence has been forfeited. You have become a victim in their quest for power.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Andrea Lawrence