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Leading with the Emperor

78 Miles of Mystery: Mile 4

It’s mile 4 of 78 Miles of Mystery, and joining us on our road trip this week is the Emperor, Key 4 of the Tarot, and the 5th card of the Major Arcana. Power and authority come with this card, so the mood onboard shifts from the passionate femininity of the Empress, to a more stern, masculine one. It’s time to turn down the radio, focus on the map, and ensure we’re all going in the right direction. When did you last check tyre pressure and the oil? he wonders. And is there enough gas to get us there?

The Emperor Tarot card on a wooden surface
The stern Emperor jumps in for this next mile. Deck: Universal Rider Waite Tarot

The Card:

The Emperor sits on a stone throne adorned with rams’ heads. Associated with the zodiac sign of Aries, rams symbolise intellect, action, initiative, determination, and leadership. The Emperor is alert, with his gaze roaming the scene before him, ready to take action if necessary. His long, white beard represents the wisdom of experience, while his dark red cloak denotes passion. The battle armour on his legs and feet announce his readiness to defend, protect, or invade. The jewelled crown indicates his authority. The Ankh in his right hand is the Egyptian symbol of life, while the orb in his left hand, represents the world. Behind him, the land is severe, reflecting his serious nature.

The Emperor Tarot card from the Runic Tarot
Thor vibes off this Emperor card from the Runic Tarot

What the Emperor Portrays:

Said to be the father figure of Tarot, the Emperor is seen as a provider, one who defends and protects. He comes from an established line, and is regarded as the patriarch of the larger family network, along with his own immediate family. His worldly experience allows him to dole out guidance and wisdom.; he’s wearing armour, so has ‘been there and done that’ in life, and is therefore a worthy authority. Grounded and stern, the Emperor has the ability to turn disorder into stability. He’s a strategic thinker, and places great weight in forward planning. Once he sets a plan in motion, he perseveres, seeing it through to the very end. When the Emperor appears in a reading, it suggests a determination to manifest goals and dreams drives the seeker, and can also indicate the potential of an opportunity which could bring about success in the future.

With his iron will, the Emperor respects rules and regulations. When he appears, it’s a sign to heed law and order, follow guidelines, and work with structure. Discipline is one of his strongest traits, so now is not the time for frivolity, or winging it. It’s most definitely time to get serious.

With such a strong head-over-heart mindset, the Emperor calls for logic over emotion. Focus must be held, and although operating from such an emotion-less space might seem counter-intuitive, the Emperor maintains his concentration to master emotion, not ignore it. With emotion mastered, confidence and assertiveness prevail, allowing the seeker to not only control themselves, but the world around them.

The Emperor represents a powerful leader, so when this card appears, it can represent the seeker needing to take charge, but can also indicate a need to bow to elders and respect their authority. As his battle armour suggests, the Emperor is no stranger to conflict, yet he rules with a fair hand. He is not a bully, but uses his power and force to protect and defend. He also listens to the advice of others, considering all aspects of a situation before taking action. All of these traits make him an impressive leader, one who inspires loyalty.

When the Emperor appears, it’s time for strategic planning, stern focus, and discipline. If you’re prepared to do the grunt work now, it will pay off in the future. Respect is also important at this time. Whether you’re the father figure, or dealing with an authority, hold due regard for others.

The Empress and Emperor Tarot cards
The Empress and Emperor. Take a moment to consider their differences.

A Closer Look:

Where the Empress represents all things lush, fertile, and feminine as she sits on her plush throne in a beautiful nature setting, the Emperor strips all that abundance away. Instead, he sits on a stone seat, in a world of government and law, where personal conduct is key to success. Note how the meandering stream from the Empress card has reduced to just a trickle of water at the base of the stark mountain in the rear. This indicates how emotion has been greatly tempered in favour of logic and strategy.

Yet, despite how removed this harsher scene appears to be when compared to the inspiring creativity within the Empress, the Emperor doesn’t crush creativity with his emotion-less thinking. Instead, he advises the seeker to reflect upon their foundation and its current strength. He asks what you’re building upon, and to consider if creative blocks are caused by a poor base rattling confidence.

Many turn to the Empress for inspiration when struggling with creative block, but the Emperor has a few things to say about creative struggles, too. He advises stripping away emotion and getting back to the basics. With a return to order and stability, the path to creativity will open again, but it demands logical, structured action, something many creatives push against.

With red the dominant colour in this card, themes of passion, war, and violence are reflected. The Emperor is not afraid of physical action. Where the Empress lounges on plump cushions, her counterpart is alert, and ready to launch himself into action. He looks almost wary as he glances off to his right. With such a watchful eye, he misses nothing. It’s also worth noting that in handwriting analysis, a slope to the right indicates forward thinking and being open to the surrounding world.

When faced with conflict, the Empress is likely to use her feminine wiles to soothe, but the Emperor uses logic, and where necessary, force. As an example, consider a situation where children are fighting over a toy. Empress energy would be more inclined to engage the children in a peaceful resolution, where the emphasis would be on the children’s emotions and feelings, while Emperor energy would likely confiscate the toy, separate the children by sending them to their rooms, and demand they think about their actions and the subsequent consequences. Both will end the conflict, and teach the children a lesson about sharing, but the difference between the feminine and masculine approach is obvious. Both the Empress and Emperor can rear up like bears when their kingdoms are threatened; neither shy away from conflict (reflected in the abundance of red in both cards) but it’s how they face that conflict that separates them, even though both will defend with might.

The Emperor wears a robe of deep red. On his left shoulder, the pattern indicates a heart shape. This can be seen to reflect many ideas: The Emperor wears his heart on his sleeve, which is why he maintains such a loyal following. Although he can defend with fierceness, the Emperor tempers violence with compassion, and there’s also a suggestion the Emperor does not rely solely on logic to rule, but understands the importance of heart-centred thinking alongside, preventing ego from taking over. What resonates most with you?

The Emperor Samiramay Tarot
No rams in this card, but there is a narky dragon! Samiramay tarot

The Emperor in Fiction:

Here are a few fictional characters who embody that disciplined, leadership energy of the Emperor. They’re always ready to defend their loved ones, and are full of sage advice.

Mr Bennet from Pride & Prejudice, Bob Cratchit from A Christmas Carol, Arthur Weasley and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, Katniss Evergreen from The Hunger Games, Gandalf the Grey from The Lord of the Rings, Rhysand from A Court of Thorns and Roses, and one of my favourites; Diana Price aka Wonder Woman!

The Emperor tarot from ethereal visions illuminated tarot
An Emperor who reminds me of Gandal the Grey! Ethereal Visions Illuminated Tarot

The Emperor in Motion:

To work with Emperor energy means setting a goal, planning each stage, sticking with it, and once achieved, acknowledging the lessons learned along the way. Think about how you might set a resolution for yourself; let’s say you decide to try a Couch to 5K challenge.

To begin, you’ll likely download a relevant app, and get yourself the necessary clothes and shoes. You might then decide which days and times of the week will suit you best to do these runs. There’s your foundation laid.

Next, you’ll begin. With your end goal in mind, you hit that first training with great determination. Chances are, you’ll start strong, all fired up by good intention. But soon enough, enthusiasm wanes. Here’s where the Emperor energy comes into play. He’s like your coach; he knows the work is hard, but he wants you to keep going. ‘No pain, no gain!’ he’ll yell while jogging alongside you as you try not to puke up a lung. Once home, he’ll look at why the run pushed you to your limits. Had you fuelled up enough in advance? Did you push yourself too hard too soon? Perhaps you lost sight of your end goal? Coach Emperor will then suggest the necessary adjustments for the following session, and won’t listen to any excuses if you say ‘no thanks, I’m done’. You’ll never hear the Emperor say ‘to hell with it’, or ‘I quit’. Those phrases aren’t in his vocabulary.

Over the next few weeks, Coach Emperor will stick with you. He’ll keep reminding you of why you’re doing this challenge, of how capable you are of smashing it, and what you’ll achieve once it’s completed.

Then, the day comes when you run that 5K, and there he is, cheering you on at the finish line, a tear in his eye as you run those last few metres. He’ll celebrate with you, but he’ll also ensure you reflect upon the challenge, what did and didn’t work, and what you’ll do differently when you start training for the 20K marathon next month . . .

As you’re jogging along the streets, what’s playing? Here are a few Emperor inspired tunes to keep you company. (Links take you to Spotify)

I am the Man by The Philosopher Kings (no link for this, sorry!)

I am the man, that's what I am I'm a straight shooter, with a master plan I am the man, that's why I'm here I am the man, I am the man

Truth and honesty That's my game I'm gonna make it simple I'm gonna make it plain

I wanna be fearless No holding back No backing down Fearless Because I believe You're with me now Bring on the unknown Lead me and I'll go

This girl is on fire This girl is on fire She's walking on fire This girl is on fire

Looks like a girl, but she's a flame So bright, she can burn your eyes Better look the other way You can try, but you'll never forget her name She's on top of the world Hottest of the hottest girls, say

And I won't let you get me down I'll keep gettin' up when I hit the ground Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh I won't let you get me down I'll keep gettin' up when I hit the ground Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh

The Emperor Tarot card
Vibes of King Midas from the Tarot Illuminati Emperor

The Emperor in Creativity:

When the Emperor appears in a reading centred on creative pursuits, it’s a sign to get organised. It may not be what many creatives want to hear, after all, we follow our hearts, and love to get swept up in the rush of inspiration, so who wants to hit pause and tend to the mundane matters? The Emperor will happily let you return to that blissful state once you’ve dealt with the adulting. All he asks, is that you apply logic and structure to your project. What’s the end goal? Are you seeking to make a profit? If so, how much, and will you invest or spend that profit? He’s also wondering about capital, materials, projected spend . . . and, yes, your eyes have probably glazed over already. What he means is, don’t wing it. Have a firm grip on what you’re doing, how you’re going to do it, and what the outcome should be.

The Emperor is a huge fan of structure, so would likely baulk at my plotting methods when it comes to structuring a book. Normally, I’m a pantser, which means I write without a fully formed plot—a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mindset. This pantser method works well for me, but only up to a certain point. With a recent book, I had a lot of loose ends to tie up to close out the series. I found myself hopping between half-formed chapters, unsure of which scene to write next, or which plotline to explore more. When I began to grow frustrated, I quickly realised what I needed; structure. I channelled that logical Emperor energy and got out my sticky notes to get a clearer view of where the story stood. With the door of my study lined in colourful notes, I suddenly had a bird’s eye view and could see exactly what gaps needed filling.

How would the tactic of 'sticky notes' feature in your creative endeavours? Consider when a project last had you antsy and unsure of which direction to take. When you stepped back, did you return to the basics of foundation, and ensure you were building on something solid, or did you wing it and carry on? What was the end result, and what did you learn from it?

Ideally, we’d all love to create with a balance of Empress and Emperor energy, but that’s not always the case. The next time you find yourself struggling to progress, or wondering why the flames of inspiration are sputtering out, channel Emperor energy to get back on a smooth, structured path.

The Emperor tarot card
One of my favourite depictions of the Emperor from the Shadowscapes tarot

Symbolism for the Emperor:

4: The number of stability, foundation, and organisation

Throne: A seat of power and authority.

Rams: The symbol of Aries, which is ruled by Mars; the planet of war. The ram symbolises leadership, courage, and aggression.

Ankh: The Egyptian symbol of life. An amulet to pharaohs and kings said to bestow health, happiness, fortune, and life.

Orb: As a feminine symbol, the orb represents the world, and indicates how the Emperor has balance with is consort, the Empress.

Armour: The Emperor’s armour both shields and protects. Constructed from iron and steel, these metals are associated with Mars.

Crown: Rulership and authority, often also seen as a ‘marriage ring’ between heaven and earth.

Red Robe: The red of the Emperor’s robe reflects passion, desire, aggression and romance, and is connected to the Root Chakra which governs security.

Orange Mountains: Orange is the colour of creativity, enthusiasm, and optimism, and is connected to the Solar Plexus Chakra where self-esteem, confidence, and personal power are rooted. Mountains represent challenges, but also prophetic revelations, indicating the Emperor can access divine wisdom and has a higher perspective.

Long White Beard: Wisdom, age, and experience.

Astrological Correspondences:

Aries and Mars. Aries is a cardinal fire sign, the ‘I am’ of the zodiac. A fiery, passionate and courageous sign, Aries represents great leadership, and the strength of bold, original thinking. Mars governs drive and ambition; the energy to advance and succeed.

Leading with the Emperor tarot spread

Leading with the Emperor; a tarot spread.

Using the Emperor as a focal point, shuffle and draw while thinking about the questions. Journal your thoughts, or take a photo so you can refer back to the reading at a later date. If you’ve read using the Empress or High Priestess, how do they compare or contrast?

What area of my life requires structure and authority?

Where am I in control?

How can I enact change?

What should remain in place?

Where should I look for leadership?

How do I best lead others?

The Emperor tarot card
The Emperor from Pride Tarot. Note the simple rainbow motif on their shoulder.

The Emperor Journal Prompts:

When do I embody Emperor energy?

Who in my life represent the Emperor?

Do I balance Empress/Emperor energy?

What makes a good leader?

Do I prefer to lead or follow?

What traits of the Emperor do I most resonate with?

Which do I least resonate with?

The Emperor reversed tarot card
The Emperor reversed. Has power gone to his head?

The Emperor Reversed:

When the Emperor appears reversed, it can hold a number of different messages. Consider first how he’s balancing on his head. This can indicate ego has overwhelmed intellect, and leadership no longer comes from an honest, considerate space. It can also mean someone losing grip of their leadership role. Although they strive for control, things are falling apart.

A reversed Emperor can also indicate a softer energy, where the attitude is less stern and more casual. In this case, it would suggest leaving people to their own devices; allow them to manage themselves, especially if the seeker has a tendency to micro manage.

Finally, a reversal here can suggest someone hiding from responsibility. Instead of facing up to the challenge, they’re avoiding; picture a colleague allowing the rest of the team to work on a project while they slack off.

The Emperor Codex Obscurus tarot
The Emperor and his loyal subjects from the Codex Obscurus Tarot

The Emperor Reversed Journal Prompts:

What is challenging me right now?

What am I avoiding?

Is my ego in check?

Is it time to loosen the reins?

Where am I losing control?

How can I reclaim control?

Where should I look for encouragement?

Spend the next few days hanging out with the Emperor. Seek him out in music, lyrics, poetry, books, art. TV/Movie characters or well known people. What about those around you? Who amongst your friends/family/colleagues embodies his leadership energy? Where would his leadership and protective energy benefit your life—and what might change with it?

If you journal, write about your experience. Discovering your own personal associations is a fantastic way to connect with the themes of any card, so if a connection clicks, keep note of it. Associating a card with a person, song, or character forges a solid understanding that has personal meaning, and works way better than simply rote learning the meanings. The main thing is to enjoy the process.

The Fool, Magician, High Priestess, Empress and Emperor tarot cards
The Fool, Magician, High Priestess, Empress and Emperor. Have you enjoyed the journey so far?

Consider too how the the Emperor impacts the Fool’s journey. He’s been on a creative buzz with the Empress, hanging out in her fields of gold, but now it’s time to get serious. Why? What’s the Fool’s next step? What tips his scales right now in terms of heart-lead thinking versus strategic planning? What advice would the Emperor give the Fool, and how might it move him onto the next mile of his journey?

The Emperor Edmund Dulac tarot
The Emperor from the Edmund Dulac tarot, looking a little weighted by responsibility . . .

Further Resources:

If you’re looking for guidance on journaling you can check out the post here. Likewise, for recommended books on tarot, hop to the Resources section where all the books are linked for easy access to Amazon. Please note, that as an Amazon Associate I may earn commissions from qualifying purchases from Amazon. The links you click are affiliate links meaning I get commissions for purchases made through this link, but at no extra cost to you whatsoever.

The Hierophant joins us next. Until then, enjoy going within. Let me know how you and the Emperor bond. I’d love to hear associations you make, especially when they’re pop-culture based. You can reach me at if you’d like to chat!

The Emperor card from the Dark Wood Tarot
A stern ram represents the Emperor in the Dark Wood Tarot

Decks Featured:

Samiramay Tarot by Vera Petruk

Codex Obscurus Tarot (kickstarter)

Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I may earn commissions from qualifying purchases from The above links are affiliate links meaning I get commissions for purchases made through the links, but at no extra cost to you whatsoever.

Would you like tarot goodness every Monday? My weekly newsletter contains a Tarot for Creatives reading, along with crystal recommendations and an oracle card for the week ahead. You can sign up by visiting Creative Soul Tarot.


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