The Emperor: holding power

For the past several days I’ve been writing in my journal rather than online, but this is a draw I’d like to keep more visible, so I can refer back to it without rooting around in my huge stash of random notebooks. All very apt for The Emperor, a card of order, structure and control over resources.


Today is all about power.

I have an interview for a position with a local companywell, less a formal interview, and more a “thanks for your CV, when are you free to come in for a chat?” Unlike past interviews, which usually involve me contorting myself into shapes that please my prospective employers, this situation gives me power. The decision of whether or not we can work together will be mutual. If I am successful, my salary and working hours are open for negotiation.

Power has not been a big part of the past few depression-blighted months, so I drew The Emperor, face-up, to represent Aries: my inner fire and my core of steel, the personal power I need to call back to myself.

The Emperor is, to put it mildly, not my favourite card. The figure on his throne seems so rigid and distant, and the social order he represents calls to mind the systemic injustices I see every day.

smash the patriarchy

But there is something in this card I need today. So, in meditation, I set out to find it.

I walked up the hill towards the rocky peak where I knew The Emperor’s throne would be – and heard a voice speak from behind my right shoulder

It was Arthur.

The Arthurian Tarot

Arthur, as an archetype, has been in my life since I first read The Sword in the Stone when I was eight years old. I found him in the Mabinogi and the Wife of Bath’s tale, in the medieval prose of Malory and the Victorian poetry of Tennyson. In my druid practice, I’ve worked with the mysteries of Preiddeu Annwfn, journeying to the forts with Arthur and Taliesin as archetypal guides. Arthur embodies the order, strength, and will needed to set out on these journeys and to see them through.

I turn to face him, this glorious figure alone in his power and strong under the burden of his kingship, and hear him speak:

Look at what flourished in the order I created.

I think of court feasts, new traditions, quests and chivalry – but what he shows me is a garden, carefully tended, harmoniously planted so that each plant can express its unique nature without crowding out any of the others. And he calls to mind a patch of weeds choking each other in their search for soil and sun.

Now, I love weeds and wild plants. I find most of my medicine in hedgerows. But the truth is that most weed patches are created by us, by our mismanagement of the soil and blithe disregard for the balance of the ecosystem. The least we can do is work to create a balance which is healthy and nourishing to a multiplicity of different lives. In the order which The Emperor creates, new growth can spring up, bees can find food, birds can find nesting sites, and the whole ecosystem flourishes. As Siobhan Rene writes, “The Emperor is the kind of protector a seedling needs.”

Husbandry, I remind myself, is care and cultivation, the judicious use of resources, “the fine art of looking after yourself.”

In Rachel Pollack’s interpretation, The Emperor “can signify a time of stability and order in a person’s life, opening up creative energy.” This card represents not so much the work as the order, strength, and will needed to see the work done.

Here and now, The Emperor represents two things: the inner power and self-belief to gain this position – if I want it – and the order I am seeking in applying for this role. Just enough order to allow my creativity to flourish.

Author: angharadlois

"I'm only interested in everything."

6 thoughts on “The Emperor: holding power”

  1. This card and Arthur I struggle with too as representatives of power, social order and injustice, and the civilisation of the wild. So interesting that you got a garden and cultivation. I’ve been thinking a lot about the theme of cultivation in Culhwch and Olwen with the shaving of Ysbaddaden’s thorn bush beard, the cultivation of his land to grow food for the wedding feast and flax for Olwen’s veil. The story never shows how the help of Amaethon and Gofannon is won to plough the fields although it may be suggested the Spoils of Annwn shows that the Brindled Ox is stolen from Caer Vandwy. Of course it’s Gwythyr and the ants who get the flax seed from the barren fields to be replanted. A gentler story amidst the unforgivable carnage wrecked by Arthur and his men…

    1. I thought of you when I wrote this post.
      I find your insights into Arthur really thought-provoking, almost as though you are scraping away the veneer of order and civilisation to reach the wildness and chaos beneath. This card, at this moment, brought an insight that the wild balance was lost by the time iron was in use, and from that point forward we bear the responsibility to work with the land to maintain some semblance of the balance we destroyed. But there is also work to be done to honour what was lost, to value it and listen to it, and a lot of what you write about Gwyn ap Nudd feels like it is doing this work.

      The appearance of Amaethon and Gofannon always makes me wonder – you may already know this, but ‘amaethyddiaeth’ literally means ‘agriculture’; Amaethon is agriculture personified. I wonder if this story holds the seeds of a folk memory from a time before agriculture, and before iron. I need to go back and re-read it…

      1. I wasn’t aware that ‘amaethyddiaeth’ means ‘agriculture’ but Amaethon has always come over as an agricultural god. In my reimagining of Culhwch and Olwen in my next book it is he who brings about the shift toward agriculture so I’m very pleased that fits with the etymology of his name 🙂 It’s my personal belief that little snippet is a folk memory. Such a shame the individual tale wasn’t told and we never find out how Arthur gains Amaethon’s help…

    2. Lorna – when we next meet up, I have a story for you! It’s called Mother Tongue, by Diana Wallace, and it does that wonderful thing of opening up a crack through a throwaway line in a story from the Mabinogi (the Dream of Macsen Wledig) to explore what lies beneath.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s