The Emperor

thoth-emperorPlanet: Sun/Mars

Element: Sulfur/Fire

Hebrew Letter: Tzaddi (fish hook)

Key Words: worldly authority, structure, domination, will in embodied form, virility, Aries, Maltese Cross, Crux Ansata (ankh), creative enterprise, transformation, new beginnings.

Counterpart to the Empress, the Emperor represents a strong and driving male force: “He is the virile power, to which the Empress responds, and in this sense is he who seeks to remove the Veil of Isis; yet she remains virgo intact” (Waite). The Emperor is the realization of power, both within and on the material plane, and in its positive aspect, symbolizes a kind and compassionate ruler, benevolent and open to change. In its negative aspect, the Emperor is a tyrannical dictator, resistant to change and paranoid at his loss of authority.

The Zodiacal Trump of the Emperor is Aries, and he sits upon a throne adorned with the ram. The Emperor posses both the fearless initiative and stubborn resistance of the sign, and again, this duality must be carefully balanced. In the Thoth representation, the lamb lays at his feet, symbolizing the tamed, gentle side of Aries: “The qualities of true leadership include humility and submission to the cosmic law, as well as dynamism and power. A deep understanding and a constant consideration of the will of the Whole are also necessary” (Ziegler, p.22).


On the shield is a double-headed eagle, representing the inner and outer changes of the sun, and this symbolizes new beginnings, insights, and masteries.

The Emperor’s body itself is a depiction of the alchemical symbol for sulfur, his torso forming a triangle, and his legs the number four.



Crowley writes that sulphur is “the male fiery energy of the Universe, the Rajs of Hindu Philosophy. This is the swift creative energy, the initiative of all Being.” This symbol also represents “Domination of Spirit over Matter,” and likewise, emphasizes the importance of the number four to this card.

The fourth sephiroth on the Cabalistic Tree of Life is “Chesed (Mercy, Sphere of Jupiter, home of the Demiurge, materialization, and the rule of Law)” (Crowley, p.179).  While DuQuette links the suits, rather than Trumps, to these numbers, Chesed seems to resonate quite deeply with the Emperor: “Fours (being the first manifestation of their suit below the Abyss) define their suits in actuality…They are very strong and, like the Demiurge Zeus, establish their element’s ‘rule of law'” (DuQuette, p. 64). The Emperor sits confidently upon his throne, and as the fourth Trump, can be seen as a warning of becoming stagnant, of thinking too fixedly or highly of oneself, choosing to remain ignorant of one’s place in the grand scheme of things. I’m sure that as my understanding of the Cabbala deepens, so to will my relationship to the Emperor.

Though not immediately visible, at least to me, it is noted that the Emperor sits upon a cubic stone, potentially representing the potential for it to become the unfolded Golden Cross of the Rose Cross. I’ll simply make this note here and return to the Rose Cross in more depth elsewhere.

In his right hand, the Emperor holds the Crux Ansata, or Ankh, representing the concept of eternal life. Scholars debate the origin of the symbol, but some key hypotheses are: the belt buckle of Isis; the joining of the male and female to represent “creation” or “life”; or even a sandal strap, with the loop representing where it would attach to the ankle.

Finally, on the orb the Emperor holds is the Maltese Cross, also known as the Amalfi cross, associated with the Knights of Malta, a famous Western Christian military order of the Middle Ages. In the 15th century, the eight points of the four arms cross represented the eight lands of origin, of the Knights. Later, the eight points came to symbolize the eight obligations or aspirations of the knights:

  • to live in truth
  • to have faith
  • to repent one’s sins
  • to give proof of humility
  • to love justice
  • to be merciful
  • to be sincere and whole­hearted
  • to endure persecution

These eight virtues could also be said to live in the symbolism of the Emperor.

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