Crowley and Harris’ rendering of Atu IV – ‘The Emperor’ – is an absolute tour-de-force of occult spiritual symbols, ideologies and themes, offering us enormous clues about the history of esoteric thought which he deemed to be of relevance and significance to the card named after the Latin imperator – commander, the one who is trusted to issue orders and decrees.

‘The Ancient of Days’ is a name of God from the book of Daniel, and is of course the title of William Blake’s painted rendering of ‘God as a Geometer’ – with set-square and compass, delineating infinity and perfection through the evolution of numbers – sefirot – and their connection to geometry (the point, the line, the plane, the sphere, and so on, up to and beyond the so-called ‘Flower of Life’).

‘The Ancient of Days’ by William Blake (1794)

‘A Bearded King in profile’ we thus have, and as such an icon of Kether – the Crown – Unity, from which the Emperor draws his power and authority. The beard is a symbol of paternal power, and maturity. Mankind, let’s remember, is ‘made in the image of God’.

His golden crown intimates the Sun, which rises behind him – giver of life and vigor, non-judgemental.

The Sun exalts in Aries, where Mars has rulership, and Aries is the sign of the renewal of Solar energy (‘Spring’) in the annual cycle.

All the Rams in the card (the scepter, the beings behind his ‘crowned and throned’ image of Chesed, the 4th sefirot in Kabalah, and related to the influence of Jupiter – again, royal, King of the Gods) represent Aries, and contrast the wild nature of the Ram of Aries, with the image of the (rejected, by Crowley) symbol of ‘the Lamb of God’ – associated with John the Baptist, Christianity, and thus ‘the Age of Osiris’, in Crowley’s spiritual malarkey, what he refers to as the ‘formula of the Dying God’ – which he, of course, suggests we have ‘awoken from’ and now live in the ‘the Age of Horus’ and ours is the ‘formula of the Crowned and Conquering Child’ – this is hard to summarize quickly, but being generous, it’s something like the Spiritual Age (and thus psychological compulsion) of both Caring Mothers and Disciplined Fathers is over, and the Age of the Adolescence of the Human Race is upon us…

Crowley was a contemporary of Nietzsche, whom he clearly admired, and Watson and Crick, and Einstein, and Planck and so on. He was no dumb-ass, and kept abreast of scientific and philosophical investigation in his age, always of course seeking to impose his ‘Will upon the World’, since he was obviously a God-man himself 😉

In his left – Spiritual – hand, he holds a symbol of antimony – an orb surmounted by a Maltese Cross – which I have a post about over on Instagram. He holds this symbol over his muladhara chakra (Crowley was an early adopter and keen devotee of yoga, in the West) – the center of procreative energy and sexual pleasures – characteristics associated with the Moon (Yesod – 9) and Venus (Netzach -7), and thus ‘Empress-like’ connotations are present – his dynamic complement & opposite, the Albedo to his Rubedo, the ‘White Tincture’ of Alchemy to his ‘Red Tincture’.

More on this in the discussion of the White Queen.

His garments are embroidered with bees and Fleur de Lis – symbols of both fertility and royalty, suggesting hierarchies, order, government – and attendant armies.

His pose, with the various yogic proportions and so on, has his arms and legs forming the symbol for Sulfur in Alchemy – the masculine, volatile, active, fiery ‘Soul’ of Nature. Each of the arms of his throne features stars of 16 points – the atomic number of sulphur, the ‘mundane’ volcanic element we are familiar with. 16 is also the gematria of ‘chach’ in Hebrew – ‘hook’ – which is the meaning of ‘tzaddi’ – the Hebrew letter-intelligence Crowley assigns to this card (controversially!).

His shield has a symbol of ‘The Red Tincture’ upon it – Sulfur that has been purified in the Magnum Opus (‘Great Work’), and is thus ‘Golden’ and affiliated with Fire and The Sun, and so the phoenix, another symbol of Rubedo and the final stage of Alchemical accomplishment – being reborn from the ashes of your former – fast asleep and materialistic – Self.

As Crowley put it:

The Method is Science, the Aim is Religion!

~ Aleister Crowley

Note that the ‘light’ emanating from the top of the card (from Chokmah, the the 2nd sefirot‘Wisdom’) illuminates the alchemical phoenix of the shield, and leaves the Agnus Dei Lamb of God ‘in the dark’ of the past – the idea of sacrifice, and the death of Beauty as a necessary precursor to renewal and truth is over, outdated, to be discarded in the illumination of scientific (that is, ultimately, alchemical) discovery and understanding, which is the highest route to wisdom.

The Emperor is thus associated with the first and also final stages of Alchemy – Calcinatio, first, where intense heat reduces and purifies the Prima Materia – the Alchemist, really – to ash.

And finally Rubedo, last, where the phoenix-like qualities of fire and its authority produce a new ‘Essence’, in an irreversible process that expands consciousness and brings the aspirant that little bit closer to the ‘Stone of the Wise’, the ‘Medicine of Metals’, and thus ‘Immortality’.

So…The Emperor is dealing with issues of power, strength, continuity, force, paternity, masculinity, aggression, vitality, ambition, security, boundary and governance of resulting territory, building (and destroying), editing (not creating, as such, so much as tossing out the garbage and keeping only the utilitarian), directing urges toward plans and manifestations, and acts as the ultimate arbiter on the overall ability to align the contents of the mind with Reality effectively, and without – as it were – ‘tossing out the baby with the bathwater’.

He is Rational and Efficient, and of course concerned mostly with ‘Self’ and its development and projection through Will. Me, Me, Me!

He would most likely, in the real World where you might encounter his living archetypal avatars, discredit and mock the Tarot, and be a difficult asshole, unless you met a perfectly dignified version of him.

I wrote somewhat on the Good-Cop / Bad-Cop paradox of the Emperor here.

No matter how extraordinary your personal Spiritual Experiences may be, no matter how reality bending your encounters with the Invisible Forces of your psyche may present themselves…at some point, the Emperor is going to have to get to work on new blueprints and ‘making sense of it all’, and formulating a new way to interact with whatever phenomena have prompted this need. He just doesn’t have much time for ‘woo’.

He represents this very moment in time, late March to late April, as Spring breaks upon the Northern hemisphere, and the Sun once again penetrates the soil and brings forth gestation and birth.

In many ways, as Atu IV, he is the first ‘real departure from One’, which as any fule gnoze, is not actually a number, and Two and Three are really just derivatives from this immediate conundrum (there’s always a subject and and object, right? A ‘thinker’ and the ‘thought’, along with the process ‘thinking’, even in the apparent case of ‘One’) – and so also ties into the gnostic, uh, ‘concern’, about the ‘Demiurge’ – the entity that believes itself to be God Almighty, completely unaware of the (admittedly abstract) Unity that must have preceded its status as ‘Architect of the Whole Universe’. A jealous God.

That’s too much to go into in this essay, however.

How many apples are in the original apple-seed?
Where did *that* seed come from?

You’d have to search North-South-East-West to answer that one.
Or any other cardinal arrangement of Four-As-One, take your pick! 🙂

If you’ve read this far, then I salute you!

Honestly, I just wanted to play around a bit in 3D with the assets I created for the Alch3m3m3s collection 😊 in my art pursuits…

These are now available to buy as high quality prints (or NFTs), by the way 😊

Share your thoughts and techniques of interacting with this card in your own practice and spreads in the comments below, I’d love to hear how you handle the Ancient of Days in your own divination…

Pour Water on Thyself:
Thus shalt thou be a Fountain to the Universe!
Find thou Thyself in every Star!
Achieve thou every possibility…

~ Aleister Crowley, the Book of Thoth

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