IIII. The Emperor

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
(Luke xiii, 35)

The fourth  Arcanum– that of The Emperor –is the arcanum of authority.  Regarding The Emperor, our Anonymous Author writes:

4 resized The Emperor“The less superficial a person is — and the more he knows and is capable of— the greater is his authority. To be something, to know something and to be capable of something is what endows a person with authority. One can also say that a person has authority in proportion to what he unites within himself of the profundity of mysticism, the direct wisdom of gnosis and the productive power of magic. Whosoever has this to a certain degree can found a “school”. Whosoever has this to a still higher degree can “lay down the law”.

“It is authority alone which is the true and unique power of law. Compulsion is only an expedient to which one takes recourse in order to remedy a lack of authority. Where there is authority, i.e. where there is present the breath of sacred magic filled by the rays of light of gnosis emanated from the profound fire of mysticism, there compulsion is superfluous.

“Now, the Emperor of the fourth Arcanum of the Tarot does not have a sword or any other weapon. He rules by means of the sceptre, and by the sceptre alone. This is why the first idea that the Card naturally evokes is that of the authority underlying law. The thesis which proceeds from meditation on the three preceding Arcana is that all authority has its source in the ineffable divine name YHVH and that all law derives from this. The implication here is that the human bearer of true authority does not replace divine authority but. on the contrary, cedes his place to it. He has to renounce something to this end” (77-78).

Among other things, he is said to have actively renounced:

  • Compulsion and violence
  • Ease
  • Walking
  • Action
  • Movement
    • Physical
    • Intellectual
  • Personal Mission

And consistent with the first beatitude— “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” —the Emperor has, through renunciation, made room for the kingdom of heaven to manifest itself.  More precisely, he has renounced:

  1. Personal opinion (in order to receive the revelation of the truth)
  2. Personal action (in order to become an agent for sacred magic)
  3. The way (or method) of personal development (in order to be guided by the Master of ways)
  4. Personally chosen mission (in order to be charged with a mission from above)

“The Emperor has established in himself this fourfold emptiness. This is why he is ‘Emperor’; this is why he is authority. He has made a place in himself for the divine name YHVH, which is the source of authority” (79).

Alternatively, this may be summarized as follows:


Replaced with Letter from יהוה YHVH
Personal intellectual initiative Divine initiative י Yod
Action Revealing action ה He
Movement Magical movement from above ו Vau
Personal Mission Anonymous Authority ה He

NOTE:  The table above is slightly a modified version of the one found here (which is based on the last full paragraph on page 79).

Likewise, God governs by authority not by force.  In the Pater Noster, we pray, “thy kingdom come thy will be done” anticipating an increase in Divine authority, NOT Divine power.  Nevertheless, God’s power is active in this world only to the extent it is recognized and accepted.  With recognition and acceptance, his power become manifested in and through the powerless (80).

In contrast, those who would equate truth and power in this world, tend to express themselves in one of two ways:  1) the less offensive way that idealizes a (quasi-Nietzschean) superman with optimal control over his environment, and 2) the more offensive way that makes God absolutely responsible for all that befalls humanity, leaving no room at all for human freedom (81-82).

The alternative is to see that to be is to be free–i.e. to see that with existence comes inalienable freedom:

“Freedom, existence, is inalienable, and the beings of the ten hierarchies are immortal.  The statement: freedom or existence is inalienable, can be understood as the highest gift, the very greatest value imaginable — then this would be a foretaste of paradise; or as condemnation to “perpetual existence”-then this would be a foretaste of hell, because no one “sends” us anywhere —freedom not being a theatre.  It is we ourselves who make the choice. Love existence, and you have chosen heaven; hate it, and there you have chosen hell (83).

God is said to be, with respect to free creatures, either the ruling king or the crucified one–i.e. freedom is both the throne of God and the cross (83, 84).

And just as the renunciation of the Emperor makes room for Divine authority in this world, so God– consistent with the Cabbalistic doctrine of tsimtsum –first makes space for his free creation.  Then, the Emperor– by virtue of his free renunciation –is able to reflect the authority of God over this free creation (84-85).

 “The Emperor reigns by pure authority; he reigns over free beings, i.e. not by means of the sword, but by means of the sceptre.  The sceptre itself bears a globe with a cross above. . . . just as the world (the globe) is ruled by the cross, so is the power of the Emperor over the terrestrial globe subject to the sign of the cross.  The power of the Emperor reflects divine power.   And just as the latter is effected by divine contraction (tsimtsum) and by voluntary divine Powerlessness (crucifixion), so the power of the Emperor is effected by the contraction of his personal forces (the belt drawn tight by the Emperor) and by voluntary immobility (the crossed legs of the Emperor) at his post (the seat or throne of the Emperor)” (85).

In this way, the Emperor completes the hierarchy of Christendom and confers luster and authority to the lesser rulers beneath him.  In his absence, Europe is haunted by the shadow of the Emperor (86).

“…the Card is specific: the Emperor is alone in open air in an uncultivated field and with a tuft of grass as his only company—save for the sky and the earth. The Card teaches us the arcanum of the authority of the Emperor, although it may be unrecognised, occult, unknown and unappreciated. It is a matter of the crown, the sceptre, the throne and the coat-of-arms being guarded, without any witnesses other than the sky and the earth, by a solitary man leaning against the throne, with his legs crossed, wearing a crown, holding the sceptre and clasping his belt. It is authority as such and it is the post of authority as such which is expressed here. Authority is the magic of spiritual profundity filled with wisdom. Or, in other words, it is the result of magic based on gnosis due to mystical experience” (87).

The authority of the Emperor is a state of consciousness– the synthesis of mysticism, gnosis, and sacred magic –which constitutes initiation.  Not ritual initiation, but the state of consciousness where eternity and the present moment are one (87-88).

“It is the simultaneous vision of the temporal and the eternal, of that which is below and that which is above” (88).

This synthesis and this initiation is that of that of the Hermetic philosopher who is at once a realist and idealist since facts and ideas are two aspects of the same truth.  Hermetic philosophy is not just another philosophy any more than the Catholic church is just another church (89).

Hermetic philosophy “consists of arcana oriented toward the mystery and expressed in symbols” — and while it eschews formality and system, it nonetheless attempts to translate its insights into univocal concepts and verbal definitions (90).

“There are no theories; there is only experience, including here the intellectual experience of arcana and symbols. Mystical experience is the root, the gnostic experience of revelation is its sap and the experience or practice of sacred magic is its wood. For this reason its teaching —or the “body” of its tradition— consists of spiritual exercises and all its arcana (including the Arcana of the Tarot) are practical spiritual exercises, whose aim is to awaken from sleep everdeeper layers of consciousness”  (91).

Initiation through spiritual exercises — not theoretical or doctrinal teaching — renders one capable of knowing how to know:

“Thus, Hermetic philosophy does not teach what one ought to believe concerning God, man and Nature, but it teaches rather how to ask, seek and knock in order to arrive at mystical experience, gnostic illumination and the magical effect of that which one seeks to know about God, man and Nature. And it is after having asked, sought and knocked —and after one has received, found and gained access — that one knows. This kind of knowing — the certainty of the synthetic comprehension of mystical experience, gnostic revelation and magical effect —is the Emperor, this is the practical teaching of the fourth Card of the Tarot” (94).

On one hand, the Emperor stands for the throne of David– who was the most human of all men –the representative of humanity whose throne, it has been promised, will never perish.  But Hermetic philosophy also has a human ideal to which it aspires, namely, to realize the man of authority–the man worthy of the throne of David; and to guard the throne of David (96).

“Thus, the Emperor of the Tarot renounces the four arbitrary liberties of human nature. He is, in this sense, crucified. And as the real symbol of the emptiness which is established because of renunciation is the wound—one could say that the Emperor is he who has four wounds. It is by these four wounds that the manifestation of the divine image and likeness of human nature is accomplished in him” (96).

These four wounds allow the divine in human nature to become manifest.  For the Divine that transcends human nature to become manifest requires the five wounds of the Pope.

MOTT Study Guides  –>  V. The Pope

preview 05. The Pope

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