Tarot, Psychology & DSM – “Emperor”

For years I’ve been teaching about the psychological challenges that appear in the Major Arcana cards of the Tarot…and the minors by association. Most recently, I was a featured speaker at the UK Tarot Conference in London-October 2019, where I expanded upon this body of work with my presentation titled, “Shadow Work – an Exploration of Psychological Challenges & Spiritual Opportunities”. This topic was inspired by my Global Spiritual Studies online recorded class title, Psychological Challenges in Tarot’s Major Trumps.

There have been numerous requests for me to write about this topic and, certainly, some of this material will be included in my current book project. So, let’s start diving into this idea with a little background about Tarot, Psychology and the DSM.

Briefly, many Tarot readers these days realize and utilize the soulful reflections that each image exemplar emanates, especially the Major Trumps, 0 through XXI. Also known as archetypes, these emanations are neutral, have no bias, only the characteristics that coalesce around a single ideal, such as “mothering”, “teaching”, “strength”, “balance”, and so on.

Once this archetype is embodied by a being, then the expression of this essence is colored by the lens through which the being views life. This is where we begin to split life into the dualistic values of good/bad, right/wrong, positive/negative, desirable/undesirable based on the perspective and preferences, but more often, judgments, of the individual. In this series, I highlight the less-evolved aspects of this duality to explore the possible challenges experienced by a being who has stepped into the role or been chosen to bring a certain archetypal energy forward in life.

In the practice of psychology and counseling, most professionals are trained to apply the standards of behavior, and/or mood irregularities in assessing their client’s dis-ease with life, using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The patient may experience either internal or external disturbances, or both, that range from “Normal” or well-adjusted on one end of the spectrum to “Neurotic”, then the other extreme being “Psychotic”, meaning the patient has no control over or awareness of their disorder.

Before I go any further, I must say that in my psycho-spiritual view, we are all whole beings who often lose touch with this wholeness, so viewing anyone as less than wonderful is not in my heart and the true aim is to re-discover our wholeness. Yet, the well established criteria in the DSM for viewing character traits or moods gives us some idea of the struggles that one may experience. Without labeling someone as defective by applying a diagnosis, we can still appreciate certain tendencies and patterns of thought, behavior, and/or mood.

Let’s start this series with “IV The Emperor” for 2020 is the year of the Emperor (see my weblog post for January 2020) and those of us who understand the challenges of this archetype, are seeing it manifested through many external representations…which will be explored in this short article.

I say “external” because for the most part I associate the Emperor with the “Yang” or “masculine energy” that seeks outward expression. In viewing the Emperor, then, I evaluate the expression of this type by noting the following:

  • How does the Emperor behave in the world?
  • What tends be their focus, goal, style, endgame?

I will not go deeply into motivation or inner workings in this series for that is truly advanced and requires more time and sensitivity.

Archetypally, we tend to associate “IV The Emperor” with leadership, the father of the family or sentient world, embodied masculinity, stability and rules.

What happens when these neutral characteristics make an appearance in a less than mature or positive way? Leadership slips into dictatorship, the father figure becomes the bully or tyrant, masculinity seeks dominance over instead of balance with the feminine, and rulership is wielded with tyranny and absolute control.

When I think of the DSM, “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” best describes the Emperor gone bad. Here is a summary of the nine criteria for this diagnosis (only five are required):

  1. A grandiose logic of self-importance
  2. A fixation with fantasies of infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty, or idyllic love
  3. A credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions
  4. A desire for unwarranted admiration
  5. A sense of entitlement
  6. Interpersonally oppressive behavior
  7. No form of empathy
  8. Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her
  9. A display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes

It is interesting to note that we have many public leaders who misuse their powers and they could easily fall into this diagnosis, including our current US President, for whom “IV The Emperor” is his Life Card, a kind of destiny you might say, but sadly, not actualized to his greatest potential, as explored in my weblog post from May 2011 (yes, nine years ago).

Side note…these undesirable characteristics are the reason many Tarot readers fear or have negative reactions to the Emperor card, but please realize these are only the less evolved traits and do not honor the Divine potential in this image exemplar.

I look forward to sharing future posts highlighting other Major Arcana Tarot cards. Please feel free to ask questions or add comments, below.

If you are interested in learning more about this spiritual opportunity vs. challenge way of viewing Tarot cards, please purchase my recorded class, Psychological Challenges in Tarot’s Major Trumps.

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