Coming to Grips with IV War

In today's post, I want to catalogue an evolving and challenging relationship I'm having with a particular card in a recently purchased deck. It's a little long and rambly, but I'll do my best to keep it interesting, and I hope, too, that it gives some insight into my process of working with individual cards and archetypes. If nothing else, it is further proof that one never really stops learning tarot!

The Japaridze Tarot depicts archetype IV, The Emperor, as War. When I first looked through this deck, I was swept away by the lush and vibrant colours, but my reverie came to a screaming stop when I saw IV War. What the heck? Here, in amongst the rich and colourful fantasy worlds of this deck was a stark, bleak scene of violence and conflict. It's a pretty striking change in language from "The Emperor", and I think, takes a strong, almost non-negotiable position on how this card should be interpreted. It really stopped me in my tracks! It didn't, however, stop me from purchasing the deck and so now, IV War is sitting on my coffee table.

In my deck interview with the Japaridze Tarot, I mentioned that I wasn't surprised to see this card come up, given that I had had such a strong reaction to it. In that context, it felt confrontational. The Japaridze Tarot knew I was judging it, and it was demanding that I listen to its side of the story. Alright, fine, I thought. The Emperor can be a tyrant at times. I guess I can see your point.

This wasn't a peaceful, "let's hear each other out" kind of negotiation, though, and the conversation sure wasn't over. A couple of nights later, I decided to do some meditation with a random card from the deck. I wanted to visit one of those rich, colourful landscapes! After giving it a good shuffle, who should appear, but IV War. Are you kidding me? The Japaridze Tarot effectively snuck up behind me, threw a hessian sack over my head, and chucked me in the back of a van! I can see I have no choice but to go along for the ride.

Dutifully, I pulled out my journal, and started writing whatever I could come up with - "It looks like an upside down ghost horde facing off against an army of naked humans. Does it represent suppressing the subconscious, the spiritual? I'm having trouble get past its violent implications. I suppose I can see that it could represent times when we need to stand up for our worldview and impose our will. Metaphorically, perhaps some things are worth going to war for. The flipside is - are we being too tyrannical? Are we fighting for something that isn't worth it? There are times when we need to lead our troops into battle, and times when that is a futile, destructive quest. This doesn't look very glorious to me though." Grappling, grappling!

The Emperor is a card I rarely see. In fact, I can't even remember the last time it came up in a reading for a client, much less for myself. The only connection I really feel to it is that it is the birth card of one of my most beloved friends, and I sure don't see her reflected in this bleak scene. Given that I did have such a strong reaction to this version of it, though, I obviously have some pretty firm ideas about what The Emperor means. In the hope they could offer some guidance, I dragged out a few other Emperors in my collection and stared at them. What's with you guys? 

That strong, stable, ancient tree of the Wild Unknown is hardly about to shoot somebody. The Green Man, he's a little scary with his staff, I guess, but over his bubbling cauldron, he's more creator than destroyer. The Steampunk Emperor - inscrutable. One thing I didn't notice that now seems screamingly obvious to me, is that the Rider Waite Emperor is wearing armour beneath his robes. He might be reclining on his throne, but he's ready to jump up and whoop ass at a moment's notice. Huh. I obviously haven't looked up his skirts before. Perhaps physical conflict has never been far from The Emperor's reach.


The accompanying booklet describes IV War thusly - "... this card embodies the archetypal father possessing a worldly masculine energy... His power is often seen as the stabilising energy that counterbalances the feminine energy of The Empress and represents authority, social order, and control. ... The artist has chosen to portray a less harmonic facet of patriarchal power; the darker side of social power wherein emperors send other men off to war."

Maybe therein lies the key to my discomfort with this card. The Emperor himself is nowhere to be seen. He might be wearing armour back at the palace, but he's not going to get down here in the mud and squalor with his troops. I suppose that is implied by the more traditional Emperors - they are excellent delegators, after all - but here that reality is stark. This is not so much a depiction of the act of imposing one's will but of the potential consequences. Perhaps this card is to be read as calling out bad leadership, a chance to stop and question how one's decisions might be affecting others. 


The following day, I set the timer again and sat in meditation with IV War. This time, I focused more on visualising the scene, walking around in it, making it a sensory experience (incidentally, if you are interested in learning more about working with cards in this way, I recommend the Four Queens video, How to Pathwork with Tarot. There are also some great exercises like this in Tarot for Yourself by Mary K. Greer). I approached the crouched figure in the foreground, put a hand on her shoulder, and asked, "What happened here?" She replied, "Chaos." Man, I just love this exercise! All kinds of things bubble up from the depths of the subconscious! 

Chaos. That's an interesting keyword to attach to The Emperor archetype. Chaos is actually the antithesis of this card of discipline and order. This card could be depicting a place where The Emperor's energies are needed, where unrest and violence need to be transformed into peace and stability. Or, it could be showing us where discipline and order go too far and become oppression. IV War is toeing a fine line here! I do feel like this card is starting to unlock for me. I like the idea that it can be explained as either a need for or an excess of Emperor energy, although I think I'll always struggle to say to a client, "You just need to bring more War to this situation!" That's just really not my jam! Notice, too, that I'm still not quite comfortable with calling this archetype "War", even in this paragraph!


Later that day, I was pottering around, doing some reading and ruminating, and I had a sudden impulse to take out my Dark Goddess Tarot. It's not currently in my regular reading rotation, so it's packed safely away, but I just had a feeling it might have something to say about this whole War situation.

IV Sovereingty, The Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of the Blood. From the guidebook: "Prophesying after a battle, she speaks of peace, 'peace to the sky... strength in everyone.' The peace of the goddess is achieved by power, vigilance, and the willingness to shed blood, one's own and another's." It seems IV War is not without precedent! Because you're unsurprised by synchronous connections, you're just going to smile knowingly when I say that The Morrigan's army is traditionally naked.

Maybe it's because I like the idea of badass warrior goddesses, but this version of the fourth archetype of the Major Arcana is so much more accessible and comprehensible to me than War. However, I'm coming to understand that they essentially mean the same thing. I think I have been failing to see this archetype for the warrior king that it is. The Emperor, The Morrigan, War must be willing to impose order by force at times, and force can both disperse chaos and create it. You guys, I think I just "got" this card! 

It has been an interesting little journey, from rejecting and doubting this card to questioning, exploring, and finally, coming to an understanding with it. It did require some outside input - I feel like I've got a bit of a king's council situation going on with all these Emperors spread out around me - but I think I got there in the end. Most importantly, I feel like working with War has given me a deeper understanding of the traditional Emperor archetype that I think was lacking before. No doubt, now that the door has opened, I'll be seeing more of this card in the future!

What's your take on the Japaridze Tarot's fourth archetype? And how do you feel about The Emperor? I'd love to know! Please do share your thoughts in the comments.

Oh, and if you enjoyed this ramble around The Emperor, you may wish to subscribe to my blog by email! Sign up for future rambles here.

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