The Meaning of The Emperor [Card 4]

The Meaning of The Emperor Tarot

At a Glance

The Emperor Card #4 denotes restraint, gravity, and prudence as well as wisdom, experience, and success gleaned from sacrifice.

If You Drew This Card…

Tarot cards offer a range of meanings to draw insight from. Both negative and positive aspects of each card can resonate with various aspects of your life.

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  • What would you go to great lengths to protect? What comprises your empire? It may be some essential part of yourself or others you feel responsible for.
  • What have you learned from the dark side of human nature, and how can you use this knowledge to protect what is most important to you?
  • Sometimes your efforts may seem fruitless, but you are not working only on your own behalf. If you succeed in your work, who else will benefit? If taking risks or enduring discomfort might help you achieve success, carefully weigh your options and the potential outcomes. 


  • Do you feel overworked and lost in a dry, thankless environment? Do you give orders and no one obeys? Exercise patience and restraint.
  • How can you be courageous, brave, and ruthless toward your ambitions while keeping your eyes open in case circumstances shift and require the formulation of new goals?
  • Are you craving love and affection but your mouth is dry, your bones are rigid and achey, and you feel old as though that were a bad thing? Consider temporarily relinquishing your crown, delegating duties to others, stripping off your armor, and taking a swim or attending some other sensually nourishing experience. Take refuge in the present rather than perpetually planning for the future.

Interpreting the Symbols

  • Ankh : Your empire, responsibilities, or virility.
  • Apple : Preservation and eternity; the good and bad potential of power i.e. King Midas’ touch.
  • Mountains : Difficult and arid, the terrain represents inner or outer states that must be ruled and controlled.
  • Rams : War or sacrifice to achieve renewal.
  • Beard : Wisdom from age; discernment.
  • Throne : Ruling from isolation; cold materiality. Utilitarianism.
  • Jeweled Crown : Insight that comes from sacrifice; the warmth of knowledge.

Charmaine’s Take

At first glance, this card looks simple and not as laden with imagery as some of the others. This may be partly due to the muted brown and red toned colors. However, upon further scrutiny, the symbols rise up. The emperor sits fiercely on his stone throne accented with ram head gargoyles, and he holds a lemon and a scepter topped with an ankh, the ancient symbol for eternal life. A bejeweled crown presses down on his head, and he is armored beneath his red robe and long, white beard. Behind him is a blood-orange sky and sharp, arid mountains.

While one might think of an emperor as gaudy, effusive, and brash, The Emperor pictured here is restrained, calculating, and prudent. He is not immediately trusting of others, which is why he wears armor. In his face one can see a strained expression; he is ready to listen but also to judge. He has seen the dark side of humanity, and it has aged him, but now he is wise.

The ankh scepter represents the empire The Emperor protects; he takes this duty gravely. In his left hand he holds a lemon, which is sour but also detoxifying. In the same way, peace is sometimes achieved through uncomfortable means. The rams on his throne were sacrifices to Mars, god of war--The Emperor will go to extreme lengths to protect those he watches over. Meanwhile, the dry mountains jutting behind him show that his reality is one of sacrifice and harshness. He is a symbol of virility, not fertility. He is aggressive rather than nurturing--there are no gardens in this scene.

Despite how walled he is, there is still something quite human and vulnerable in the few areas where The Emperor is unarmored: his face and hands. He does not protect ideas divorced from their application--he is not moved by calculative abstraction which would take a human life in vain; he supports those who depend on him, and he supports human life.

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