ATU XVII The Emperor


Atu XVII: The Emperor

Letter: צ Tzaddi (Tz), ץ Tzaddi Final

Number: 90, 900F

Proximity: Sephira #7 (Netzach) to Sephira #9 (Yesod)

Ruling Pentagram:

Pent #28 “Natural”– Water of (Kên) Keeping Still, Mountain (Above/Below)

Water of (K’an) The Abysmal, Water (Without/Within)

Berashith: “In the form of Elohim he created him”

Corner Hexagrams:

(Upper right) Fire: Hex #52: (Kên) Keeping Still / Mountain

(Lower left) Air: Hex #51: (Chên) The Arousing / Thunder

(Upper left) Water: Hex #57: (Sun) The Penetrating / Wind

(Lower right) Earth: Hex #58: (Tui) The Joyous / Lake

Keywords (Dignified): Imperious, Regal, Paternal, Disciplinary, Strong, Protective, Worldly, Assertive, Resolute, Intent, Focused, Penetrating, Principled, Realistic, Practical, Unstoppable, Authoritative, Indisputable, Foundational

Keywords (Ill-Dignified): Danger, Tyranny, Evil, Domination, Oppression, Bad, Anger, Harshness, Petulance, Weak-willed


Historical: The Emperor is often presented as a historical King, or Emperor. The Visconti Emperor is covered in a lush gilt robe, over royal blue, with red shoes. He wears a serene expression on his aged and bearded face and holds a golden globe covered in reptilian scales and scepter. The crown has a dark blue or black phoenix rising from it. Three linked rings on his robe represent the three worlds, and a curved sword between his legs represents his power of diplomacy and war.  It is one of the most elegant forms of the Emperor. After this initial flowering of nearly perfect imagery, the Emperor card hereafter became very degraded.

Golden Dawn: Called The Emperor, The Son of the Morning, The Emperor card corresponds to the zodiacal Aries and places between Sephira #3 (Chokmah) and Sephira #6 (Tiphareth) or Sephira #7 (Netzach) and Sephira #9 (Yesod) and is assigned the Hebrew letter/number Tzaddi (90)
     As the Emperor has such potential for power, it is a little terrifying to see how awfully it is prepared in most Golden Dawn versions. He fairs a little better well into the 20th century. The eagle or phoenix is always present, and the head of Aries. His scepter and globus cruciger are shown. And he is always dressed in royal clothes, with a cape and crown or phrygian cap. The progressive Hermetic Tarot, by Godfrey Dowson, puts a little life in his step. He’s getting up out of the silly throne and doing something excitedly, and the Eagle, if not the Phoenix, is present at least. All in all, the Golden Dawn failed miserably to achieve a decent picture of the Emperor, this is one of the ATU which actually became worse, after the Golden Dawn took over things from the powerful forces of The Enlightenment. The role of the Emperor has been polluted in this world, and so we can’t fault them for it. But it barely stands as an ATU, let alone a standard of royalty. (The worst looking Emperor is probably the diseased looking man in the Rider-Waite. Crowley rightly calls the deck a  ‘grotesque and falsified parody’.)

Thoth: The Book of the Law, (Liber Al Vel Legis) stated in 1904,  “All these old letters of my Book are aright; but [Tzaddi] is not the Star. This also is secret: my prophet shall reveal it to the wise.”
      Crowley responded by switching the Hebrew letter of the Star with the Emperor, but he didn’t change the ATU numeration. He also switched its positioning on the tree with the Star but again, didn’t change the ATU numeration.
     The imagery is quite frankly, awful. The image appears overworked and as many were reworked “up to eight times” according to the correspondence letters between Crowley and Harris, this would hardly be surprising. The two argued about everything and were ill-matched. Crowley had difficulty with women, so it’s incredible they were able to finish it at all, and much of this is owed to Harris’s ladylike patience and tolerance. The work came out decent enough owing to both of them having the heart for the work. The only redeeming element is the phoenix, on the shield. The rams overlooking the scene seem to be wondering, just what they are doing there, and the lamb of God, of Christianity, is sitting in the corner, a bastion of everything the champions of Tarot were fighting against during the Enlightenment.

Mutational Alchemy Interpretation: The Emperor card is one of several paths that have been positioned incorrectly according to the Proximity Principle of Mutational Alchemy, and The Book of the Law.
      The Emperor with the correct letter, Tzaddi, should logically correspond to the 28th Proximity Principal path between Sephira #7 (Netzach) and Sephira #9 (Yesod). The Emperor card acquires the additional value of Atu XVII, previously assigned to the Star card.
      The double mountain Hex of Ken, Keeping Still, the Mountain underlines the nature of The Emperor as someone with excellent timing and the ability to hold the reigns of immense kingdoms, a King of Kings. This is the Lord of the natural world, beyond mere forests and pantheons. The hexagram is also said to represent yoga, by Richard Wilhelm. It also indicates someone who is completely cloaked and very difficult to find, or detect, if he does not feel the time is right to unveil himself. (Notice that the Empress shares a secret relationship with the Hermit in this case, in their descriptions) Wilhelm goes on to explain to us in #51 Chen, that it is a sign of the eldest son, seizing power. It is the representation is of Heaven or God moving below the earth as an earthquake.  It is a terrifying but wonderful thing, full of surprise and delight. The phenomenon of initiation is similar. It only comes at the allowance of the Will of Heaven and cannot be attained through mere want, but when it is active, it can inspire and set man into action like no other force. It is said, that when the dragon bites you, one is already on the path of magick, and there is no longer any danger of being lost or blinded. This person will not be afraid of anything, after being visited by The Emperor in such a way. The sages tell us “Thunder repeated: the image of SHOCK. Thus in fear and trembling The superior man sets his life in order And examines himself.”  This not punishment or the threat of punishment, it is a revelation to prepare a warrior to be a soldier in the war of Heaven and Earth.
      Another double trigram in the postion of Water, Hex #57 shows Wind above Wind. The attribute of the trigram called Sun, is gentleness. It is also enduring and persistent, it does not force itself on anyone, or anything, but it never stops. It encapsulates the sacred axiom “Perseverance Furthers”.
     The next hex of Earth is #58, the double trigram of Tui the Joyous, Lake. It is an image of friendship and good vibes, the image of the holy court of Master Ra. It also describes the nature of the dojo, where learning becomes multi-faceted instead of one-sided, as it is in those self-taught. This cannot ever be as efficient and useful as learning amongst others in person. Therefore the power of the Emperor is especially manifest amongst the scene of scholars, learning and discussing amongst each other, whether it is in academic studies, or martial arts.
      Finally, the Pentagram reminds us, in the paired line from Berashith, that the Emperor has a responsibility to us, and this is why he treats us with special deference. Men and women are stars, part of his court. They hold a shared responsibility as his creations, for his work, which entails taking care of his vast kingdom.

The Scene: The Emperor was one of our favorite cards. We both agreed, that we were sick to death of the pompous fancy-pants, decked out in tragically hyper materialistic trappings, all too caught up in his silk panties and booties, and not at all very good at ruling, so much as sitting in his highchair. We fought especially hard with the Thoth imagery, where we felt it should be more indicative of an active ruler, at least, and not a disinterested buffoon.
     The lightning worlds, the sun worlds and the moon worlds are from Hermetic Qabbalah tradition, relating to the Tree of Life. (this is the linked three worlds, on the Visconti Emperor’s robe as well) The Sephirothic triangle of the lightning world is centered in Da’ath, the uppermost triangle, and its corners are in Binah, Chokmah and Tiphareth. The only way to express the top triangle, cosmologically, according to Hermetic Qabbalah, is with lightning. The sun worlds are anchored in Geburah, Chesed and Yesod. Here, is where the Phoenix of Hermes resides, within the center of the tree. (Note, this is where the crucial 63-64 reside, in the Temporals arrangement. This is very important.)  Hermes, the infant and criminal, who always does good through his works, not matter how pestilant he seems at first.  The Lunar worlds are anchored in Hod, Netzach and Malkuth. This is not *our* moon, it is not in *our* solar system. The crescent is a fine symbol and this represents the gamut of a moon’s relatively common phases.
      Here we have the aftermath of the Devil who is also the hidden Emperor and his work: The Tower – the power issue has been resolved and the true ruler descends, through the three worlds to claim what is his by omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence – The Crowned and Conquering Child.
     There is a paradigm shift in his numeration. New tarot users will not be aware of it, but for experienced occultists, the change may be exhilarating, or horrifying, depending on one’s point of view. An educated decision is best.
     The Book of the Law through “Hadit” tells us “All these old letters of my Book are aright; but tzaddi is not the Star.” Crowley took the advice to heart and switched the Hebrew letters Tzaddi, which was associated to The Star, and He, associated with The Emperor, with each other, but he did not did not switch the Star and the Emperor’s ordering in the ATU. We have issued this correction and feel, very pleased with it, due to the secrets it reveals. Appropriately the Emperor and Empress are no longer side by side. Even more wonderfully, the Emperor’s path now runs between Netzach and Yesod, and in the ATU, he is now before the Moon. The ordering of the ATU reflects his physical position, on the tree. It is appropriate that the Emperor be “down in the fray” as it were, commanding his kingdom – even though his authority derives from his association with the supreme feminine, the Empress, and from Kether itself. His physical manifestation is the “hand of god.” Thus, in the card, he is given the form of Apsu, or alternately, Kolowisi, the all-father water serpent, from Sumerian and Zuni mythology. Apsu is called “Lord of the Sweet Waters,” and is the consort of Tiamat, “Lady of the Bitter Waters.”   
       He is a  black bashumu, or horned serpent, also a  symbol of the Indian idea of primordial universe, the sea-serpent Shesha Ananta, a black, endless, serpent outside time and universe, often depicted supporting one of the supreme triumvirate, Vishnu, who is like his child, or emanation.
      Shesha Ananta only incarnates a small part of himself, ever as Balarama, always the older brother, of Lord Vishnu’s avatar. He has pure white skin and, a commanding disposition, of the Lord engaged in lila, play, appropriate to the Emperor’s path connecting Netzach and Yesod, or Venus and Luna.
      Students of Mutational Alchemy will note the appearance of his horns reflect the anatomy of the TwinStar, and this was intentional from the start.