Tarot: Symbolism of the Emperor

Hermit’s view on Jay Thursmund as the Emperor:

Card 4 in the Revenant Tarot deck.
Card 4 in the Revenant Tarot deck.

Who is the commander? Who is the solid foundation on which kingdoms are made? Who is the leader, the lawmaker? The Emperor is, and in this case the Emperor is a King: Jay Thursmund, the Phoenix King of Estland. He is a strict, authoritative figure in his later years, and as fiery as the bird whose sigil he bears. Fire and strength are the foundation of the Emperor, traits that Jay has in abundance.

This card is strikingly similar to the Rider-Waite card. The familiar figure of an older man dressed in red, sitting in a ram-headed throne, wearing armor, with craggy peaks in the background. One major difference is that Jay holds a sword in one hand, and the other rests plainly on the arm of the throne, rather than holding an orb. The sword is his symbol of power, like the Rider-Waite Emperor’s scepter, but while the rod is a symbol of ambition and will, the sword is more of conscious decision and logic. The sword is firmly held in Jay’s right hand, meaning that he is in full control of his thoughts and actions, and so has the mental capacity to run the Kingdom with which he was charged. While his left hand does not hold an orb, like the Rider-Waite Emperor does, his hand rests over a circular inscription on the arm of the throne. Inside the circle is a triskelle, a Celtic symbol that ties together the powers of Earth, Sea, and Sky, and so stands in metaphor for the land over which Jay rules, in much the same way as the Rider-Waite Emperor’s orb does.

The age of both Emperors is an indicator of experience, and a nod toward this card being that of a father or All-father figure, someone who gives structure to the lives of his children, or subjects, in Jay’s case. They both wear armor, Jay wearing a bit more than Rider-Waite’s, which is a symbol of their perceived indestructible nature, and the overwhelming prevalence of the All-father archetype. This is emphasized even more so in Jay’s phoenix crown, and his title. He is the immortal Phoenix King, the Firebird of course being a symbol of life, and the unconquerable. Both Emperors also wear red, another symbol of life, passion, and war. It is the color of the war-hero, which, combined with the massive sword, indicates that King Jay is not only a master of his mind, but of his own body as well. He earned his authority. He is worthy of being listened to, because he has seen, first-hand, the consequences of his own actions, both for good and ill. In the background, the mountains stand for the heights of intellectual and physical accomplishment, adding to the overall idea. They are sharp, spire-like, having been worn and chipped down in ages past by the flow of glaciers, just as time and circumstance has shaped Jay.

The zodiac for this card is Aries, indicated by the ram’s heads decorating either side of the throne’s back. Aries is determined, a challenger of challenges. Rams in general are hardy beasts, which is well known by anyone who has ever watched a bighorn hop its way up precariously steep cliff walls. They are takers of action, with the Emperor should also be. The King who sits and watches without action is not much of a King. This card inspires us to action as well, but action to benefit the greater good. If that good be ourselves, so that we may better run our own Kingdoms – however small they may be – then so be it. Why does the Ram climb the mountain? To see what he can see from the top.

The rune on this card is Algiz, the Elk. Obviously, the parallels with the Ram are there: hoofed animal with skull adornments. Algiz, however, is a guardian, more content to stand guard over its domain, antlers held forward to fend off any unwanted attention. Algiz is the King at war for his people, shield raised, sword in hand, standard blazing proudly behind him. Nothing will get past his defenses. Like the rune, though, the King should also know when the time comes to retreat and save the lives of many. Algiz knows when to bend, if it would otherwise break. It knows when to be the Elk, and stand strong at the base of the mountain, and when to be the Ram and use determination and reasoning to get to the top of the peak. However, it also recognizes that none of these things are possible without a strong foundation, which is the bottom line of the Emperor card. The King must be the foundation for his people.

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