The Emperor is Big Daddy. He’s the Executive. He’s the guy who makes decisions, not just for himself, but for the good of the Empire. He outranks the Kings of Cups (Mr. Sweetie-Pie), Wands (Mr. Energy), Swords (Mr. Logic-even-if-it-hurts) and Pentacles (Mr. Practical, including Mr. Business). Those designations for each suit are a little too high-level but they’ll do for now. The basic thought about the Emperor is that he is the Grand Administrator for the Realm. It’s his job to take theory and turn it into workable practice. He makes it happen.
He’s usually portrayed seated on his throne with his symbols of power. Being seated, it’s clear he isn’t building the bridge or hospital or road himself; he delegates to the specialists. He has the whole Empire to draw his resources from and issues orders to execute his plans. If he didn’t accomplish anything, he might just be The Fool without focus. If he did it all himself, he might just be the Magician and his personal will with limited impact. If all he did was stay in the realm of ideas and mysteries, he would find himself to be the High Priestess. And if he were the creative force itself, he would be the Empress. But he isn’t one of those; he is the next step beyond those. He is the Implementer. He makes it real.
For all the ladies who have tuned out while I used the masculine pronouns up to now, this is to notify you that you are not off the hook. The Emperor, while portrayed as a masculine archetype, is not just for guys. We all have a little bit of Emperor in us, as we do the entire tarot. You might not like the implementer, the decider, the-buck-stops-here personae. But that person is a part of all of us to some degree.
A lot of tarot decks portray the Emperor with a bit of a grumpy expression. That’s because it is lonely at the top. I don’t mean the Emperor lacks for company. Oh, no, he’s often surrounded by company, usually people who want something from him because their view of him is the guy who has the Power to implement. What he lacks is the certainty that any of the advice he gets is unbiased or complete. And yet he is still saddled with making the best decision overall for the Empire. And if something goes wrong? Everyone else steps away and says, The Boss made the decision. And suddenly the weight of less-than-ideal results is on his shoulders.
Sure, some Emperors use the “sh** rolls downhill” concept and share the responsibility for bad results with their subjects. Maybe that’s “overshare.” Some bear the responsibility themselves. Similarly, when things go right, some Emperors share the glory and some hog it, which was one of the ideas when I picked out my Emperor in the Victorian Trade Card Tarot.
Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright Marcia McCord 2010
The Emperor doesn’t have to be President of the United States or CEO of a major corporation. He can be you or me. He’s an archetype, not a person, so he represents aspects of each of us. He can be just Dad.
About ten years ago I was working for a major financial firm who shall remain nameless, not my current job. I really liked the work we were doing. It was fun for me and involved creating reusable parts of code that different systems could use to basically get the same answer every time any system within the company needed information about a customer. Instead of having to keep a zillion copies of a customer’s address, for instance, we could keep just one and have everyone look there. It had a couple of advantages, like if the address changed, we had to change it in just one place. This made for better customer service.
One of the funniest conversations about this initiative, in retrospect, was talking to one of the architects. The architect expressed what I could only guess to be sincere annoyance that we had actually implemented the cool ideas about this. The idea was that, once implemented and made real, these “tinker toy” parts were no longer in the realm of perfect ideas but manifested in the flawed real world where any shortcomings in the supposedly-perfect ideas would eventually be found out. And, because they were in use and people now had expectations about them, they would be harder to fix and perhaps worst yet, visible revisions to the once-perfect idea.
But isn’t that the problem with implementing any idea? Once you’ve made a decision, you’ve chosen not to do the other thing. Once you’ve selected your partner, you’ve said no to whomever else. If you wear red, you aren’t wearing blue. Deciding is committing, if only for a little while. Nothing says you can’t wear blue tomorrow. Ah, the limitations of choice! And oh, the woes of responsibility!
A long time ago in a far-away state when I was in my 20’s (yes, there was electricity), I had a fun and goofy boss I’ll call John G. I worked for a major utility and had an odd data entry job where I typed a bunch of numbers, plus the letter F. It wasn’t exactly a rewarding job, but I didn’t think of it as the pinnacle of my career either. I wanted to do well and then see what was next. John G had a great attitude about it too, realizing it was a strange job tied to an experiment in computing people’s time cards. Accuracy and speed were important; actual understanding was not particularly. With those limitations, the job could hardly be called interesting, especially since it was my job to type those numbers and his job to supervise me.
John G was a pleasant, kind-hearted fellow, happily married with two lively little kids. He didn’t have big worries and he wasn’t on a power trip. He was basically a nice guy. He told goofy, not offensive, jokes. He would walk in on a slow afternoon about 3 pm, sit down to rest and drawl, “Shooooore don’t seem like 5 o’clock!” We’d laugh.
John G decided to take the family in the Jeep Wagoneer on a road trip to Canada to enjoy the beautiful scenery and go camping. We were all anxious to hear how his vacation had treated him since he almost always had a funny story to tell. But when he walked into the office his first day back, I knew the news wasn’t good.
“What happened?” I demanded, wanting to know the whole story. As it turns out, their vacation was wonderful until the drive home. They had just crossed back over into the USA when a doe and twin fawns dashed across the road in front of them. The Wagoneer lived, as did all the people, but sadly at least one of the deer was dead.
“Oh, no!” I said. “Will it cost a lot to repair the damage?”
“Not that much,” John G admitted. “It’s my family.”
“Were they hurt?” I was confused. I figured he would have said something about his family immediately.
“No,” John G sighed. “They were a little shaken up of course but we all had our seatbelts on. When I got through talking to the highway patrolman and we were on our way again, no one said anything for miles. Finally, after about 100 miles of silence, my daughter burst into tears and said, ‘Daddy killed Bambi!’”
John G sat before me, the sad Emperor, responsible for the safety of his realm, successful in avoiding harm to his loved ones, even lucky in the cost of the damages to his vehicle. But, in his family he was forever branded the one responsible for the death of a beloved childhood icon. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
In your Emperor year, remember that no action is without its consequences, both good and bad, and yet nothing ever gets done unless ideas are actually implemented.