Death and The Emperor: Tarot for times of Transformation and Revolution

January 31, 2017

 Death Card, from the Revolutionary Dreamspace:

I want so much to pour love on the hurt places of the world. I want to soothe, to heal. I want to repair. But. 


Goddess, give me the bravery to face the inevitable/necessary death. To see the wounds of patriarchy clearly in the light. To be a part of the cracking open and pulling away of the old, dead limbs, skin, structures of power.


I am afraid. I simultaneously want the rising up, want to be a part of the lightning that finally strikes the tower. I want to trust the fire that ultimately brings fertile ash to the earth. And space to grow. But. I can’t see. Like a snake getting ready to shed it’s skin, the covering over my eyes is brittle, everything feels too tight, too small. I am uncomfortable and I can’t tell what’s ahead.


Goddess, show me the beauty of change. The true, revolutionary possibility of shedding and leaving behind the familiar. Freedom is only possible when we finally midwife the death that holds us back from liberation.


Death card above by Alexander Andreev


Death Card, from Lucidity:

As a western culture, we are hyper fearful of all death, and so make any death a battle. We don’t have a common way to commune with ancestors, so we fear the dead. But, really, the Death card of the major arcana is not the looming crisis implied by cheesy movie scenes. It’s about change. Big, necessary, transformational, change. It’s about an undeniable process that is underway. We will have to come to terms with letting go of some things, leaving some things/ parts of ourselves/ parts of what we have become familiar with/ attached to, behind.


 Motherpeace by Vicki Noble

The Death Card can indicate hard times and I don’t want to play you about that. It can be slow and confusing or fast and startling. It can be tangible loss, or a subtle inner change. It can be intensely personal or surprisingly transpersonal. Or any of those things at once. But the Death card can also be gentle. It can be beautiful. It can be a relief.


For my fellow revolutionaries, this is the intersection of the personal and the political. Things cannot stay the same and change, too. In our personal lives, relationships, daily choices and core beliefs, we may have to wield the knife. To choose death, no matter how hard that may feel. The death of privileges we’ve enjoyed and systems we’ve benefited from, to name a few examples that are true for me. In order to dream, to birth a world in which all life is treated as sacred, there will be many necessary deaths.


So many creatures on earth undergo massive transformation with so much less violence and so much more grace than us humans; snakes, butterflies, hoofed beings who shed/lose their antlers and grow them again. For those of us who need reminders when we are clinging to the known/current form, let us remember the ways of our animal kin. And Octavia Butler’s wisdom from Parable of the Sower, which applies to all of us,



 All that you touch

You Change.


All that you Change

Changes you.


The only lasting truth

Is Change.



Is Change



Law of Attraction Tarot Deck






The Emperor, from Lucidity: 

The shadow of the death card is #4, The Emperor. Traditionally, the Emperor is the empire builder. When I first learned about this card many years ago, I learned it’s correlation to capitalism, colonialism and the rampant, power-hoarding conqueror. He killed the goddess wherever he found her, subjugated and enslaved indigenous peoples all over the globe and codified structures of power and a model of “leadership” that we are still suffering under today.







Motherpeace by Vicki Noble



In recent years, I’ve learned some alternative understandings of the emperor that have provided useful guidance during readings. The Emperor builds on a vision and is strategic, planful, competent and determined. The Emperor is clear about material goals including finances, home, travel and long term security. The Emperor is a great delegator. He knows that he can’t do it alone and that it will take a loyal, dedicated team of support to build the dream. The vision combined with nuts and bolts action is what makes the Emperor so “successful.” Because we live in the capitalist heteropatriarchy, “mastering” these skills can be necessary, or at least beneficial, to anyone who is dreaming big.


The Emperor and feminist heartspace:

Tarot was created at a place and time when the heteropatriarchy was already rooted and growing wildly in power. One of the things I love about the major arcana in particular is that the archetypes have continued to resonate for people of vastly different life experiences of time/culture/geography. But as I was dreaming on this card, I was reminded that the context of patriarchy - particularly a European, western patriarchy, wherever it is found in the world - is a false archetype.



The Collective Tarot is one deck I use that re-imagines the Emperor. Here, we see a sexy, confident, genderqueer person rocking “The Hanky Code” - a system of communicating sexual desire through the color and pocket choice of hankies. This person knows the code inside and out. They uphold the system, but know  that people partake in it by choice.


I  am longing for more examples of a re-visioned Emperor, both in the cards and especially in the world. I dream  the archetype of a leader who is not one, but many, who builds sustainably, is accountable to the sacredness of all of life, who helps to shape the strategies and logistics necessary for long term healing and realignment,  who is caring, tending, listening. An archetype of the Emperor who inspires hope, generosity, kindness, nurturing, vulnerability, gentleness, slow sweet gratitude, trust and responsibility from a place of joyful service.



A simple way to think about the relationship between Death and The Emperor is this: In order to build, we’ll have to leave things behind. When we leave things behind, we open space to build.


But it’s not simple to do. Especially when there is major readjustment needed in our approach to both Death and The Emperor. The potential for radical healing on a personal and collective level is huge and the stakes are high.


So. Let’s take a deep breath. Gather our courage and our willingness to be change makers and be changed. Let’s transform, and emerge radiant.


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