The Emperor Tarot Card Meanings Made Easy

Today we’ll cover the meaning of The Emperor tarot card. This is a part of a deep dive series on the tarot.

The Emperor tarot card: A stoic ruler figure may be seen on his throne, decked with the heads of four rams, indicating his astrological sign of Aries.

Let’s explore the various meanings and interpretations of The Emperor tarot card.


Upright MeaningAuthority, structure, leadership, power, control, stability, organization, discipline, and masculinity
Reversed MeaningTyranny, lack of control, rebellion, chaos, abuse of power, lack of authority, and over-structuring
LoveA strong, dominant partner who values stability, loyalty, and control. In a relationship, it signifies a traditional, patriarchal role where the man takes the lead.
CareerA career in fields related to leadership, management, administration, or politics. It also suggests a career in law enforcement, the military, or any other profession that requires discipline and structure.
FinancesFinancial stability and control. It suggests a time of managing your finances effectively, making practical investments, and creating a stable financial future.
PastA time of structure, discipline, and stability. It may indicate that you had a strong and authoritative figure in your life who helped you establish a sense of order and control.
PresentA position of authority or seeking to establish control and structure in your life. It may indicate that you are pursuing a career in a field that requires discipline and leadership skills.
FutureA time of stability, control, and discipline. It represents a need for structure and order in your life and may indicate that you will achieve success in a leadership role or in a career that requires discipline and organization.

Classical Emperor Tarot Interpretation

The classical meaning of The Emperor can be seen in the Rider-Waite deck.

The emperor tarot card meanings

He wields a scepter in one hand, symbolizing his dominion and authority to govern, and an orb in the other, symbolizing the realm he guards.

The emperor’s long beard symbolizes his enormous experience; he has learned a great deal about what it takes to reign, to establish power, authority, and full order for the benefit of his people.

A massive, impassable mountain range rises behind his throne, indicating that he is supported by a sturdy foundation yet resistant to change unless he thinks it essential.

A little river flows beneath the peaks, providing some optimism that, despite his rough demeanor, he is still an emotional human – it would only take some digging and trust to bring him up to his gentler side.

Upright The Emperor Meaning

The upright Emperor has a straightforward meaning:

The upright emperor is about control since this card represents authority, regulation, stoicism, and patriarchy. The Emperor signifies a ruling strategist who devises plans that must be carried out.

Seeing him in a reading gives you the opportunity to progress in terms of the goals you’ve set for yourself. It promises a prosperous future if you pursue your goals in the same logical and deliberate manner as the Emperor.

When you see him in a reading, one possible interpretation is that you will be given major responsibilities. It might be a job or a position in any company or institution that sorely requires order and a resolute mentality. You may be invited to take the Emperor’s place and use his knowledge to bring clarity to the endeavor.

The meaning is easy to remember by just reading some of the upright card keywords off of the symbols:

  • Ruler = responsibility
  • Mountains = sturdy foundations
  • Beard = experienced
  • Scepter = power

The upright Emperor meaning encourages us to use common sense, organization, discipline, and rationality in our interactions. Relationships centered on this tarot card may be fairly conventional, and sometimes suffocating if not handled appropriately.

As a person, the Emperor signifies someone older and more established, who may also struggle to communicate their emotions. This card can also represent a person driven by ego, who is dominant and bullying others and unable to sympathize with them.

The classical meaning of the card should be easy to remember.

Reversed The Emperor Meaning

Reversed, The Emperor has the opposite meaning:

The Emperor’s reversal is an indication of misused authority. It might show in your social life as an abuse of power by a father figure or a possessive lover.

On a personal level, the Emperor might indicate a lack of self-control and inability to handle events.

When the Emperor assumes the opposite position, he may be more strong and more dogmatic in his beliefs. The card may represent an overuse and misapplication of the authoritative power that surrounds you.

It might be from you or from someone else, most often your boss, boyfriend, or father figure. It might also be linked to deep concerns or father issues from childhood.

When you see a reversed Emperor, it is probably time to look for those relationships that are no longer serving you and exit them. If you can’t think of anything like this, then maybe it is you who are the one exercising too much dominance.

Your work may begin to deteriorate if you lack attention or discipline. If you’ve been weak in these traits at work, you may have noticed that it’s affecting your projects.

This card might also indicate rigidity and bureaucracy in your workplace. Because the methods required to achieve anything have been lengthy and irritating, this may limit your feeling of creativity and motivation.

In the worst-case scenario, the reversed Emperor can point to a senior employee or supervisor who governs the workplace like a dictator. If this is the case, starting looking for work elsewhere could be a good idea.

Modern Interpretations

I always like to examine other, modern decks to see what can be read into their symbolism.

The reason for this is that every person will have different decks, and so it’s good to learn how to go with your gut on what you see. This is the best way to have a good interpretation for the moment.

Too many people stick to a learned reading instead of going with the flow. Remember, each reading, deck, person, position, and question differs. Reading the cards is an art, not a science.

We’ll use a different deck for every one of these. Today’s is the Robin Scott’s fantastic Urban Tarot.

the emperor urban tarot

Let’s notice several of the differences. The first thing that jumps out to me is replacing the mountains with a towering bridge. Still powerful and sturdy, but also indicates the need to get across something.

The scene is stormy, indicating that there’s something troubling going on. The emperor here is much more sinister. Power corrupts. The older tarot symbolism takes a more naive view that the Emperor’s good nature prevents this corruption.

This draws out a new meaning: when the emperor appears look at how you’re controlling things. Look to where you have power. No matter how much you think you’re trying to act benevolently, understand how your power could skew these intentions.

This modern take makes us think about corporations and bureaucracy. Are there systems in place that are hindering your progress?

Maybe it’s time to figure out how to exit these systems and take power back: too much social media in your life swaying you in ways you can’t even understand yet. TV and news and corporate media make you fear things and buy things.

These power structures are all around us. They are the air we breathe. The Emperor appearing gives us a chance to take a moment and understand this and make the conscious decision that we’ve had enough.

emperor tarot card meanings

The Emperor Tarot in Context

Context matters a lot when reading the cards. Here are some particularly strong things to look out for when the Emperor appears in these contexts.

  • Past: You have escaped an overly dominant relationship or dangerous leadership position.
  • Present: You are a patriarchal figure or under one.
  • Future: You are about to enter such a role and should reconsider.

For other types of readings:

  • Hobbies: You control your fun time and never let them be your escape.
  • Love: There’s a power dynamic issue in your relationship that needs to be resolved.
  • Work: The strict rules of your job inhibit your creativity or ability to follow through.
  • Finance: You over budget and control your money to a problematic level. Splurge once in a while!

Back to the Major Arcana list.

The previous card was the Empress tarot card and the next card is the Hierophant card.