"Who is the authority on what structures my life?" That's the question asked by THE EMPEROR / THE CODE cards. What follows is a comparison of the imagery and interpretation of the Rider-Waite, The Haindl, and the Collective Tarot decks' respective fourth of the Major Arcana trump cards.
Rider-Waite shows a man on a throne wrapped in a rich red garment that covers much but not all of his armor beneath. An orange sky blazes behind him, the image of Aries' ram's head carved four times in perfect symmetry on his rectangular seat. Fiery yellow mountains behind him rise to the level of his strong shoulders. His eyes furrow beneath his helmet crown, in his right hand he holds a phallic scepter, which he seems to scowl at or through sternly, and in his left hand he holds the mysterious orb, symbolizing the world in his authoritarian hand, which he mostly ignores. He is more concerned with the power he holds than the subjects he influences. He is active, structured, rigid, armored. He is ready for an attack- well suited for battle if unarmed. He is the structure of patriarchy in the Rider Waite deck, an image of the cold ruler. A keeper of boundaries and borders, a protector of resources and a leader in battle for defending our personal structures that work for us, or against us, this card is the ultimate authority on all that is at stake at the illusory but very clearly-felt border of ourselves and other.
Haindl shows a great tree with a nude man standing in front, holding an unadorned orb and scepter, crowned by a four-color diamond shape floating above his head. The Hebrew letter Heh, or "window" is present, a structure through which we can see in or out, as is the sign for Aries, the ram- headstrong, clear on his intentions, and active. Present also is the rune Ansuz/Ansur, or "stag/mouth"- symbols of leadership and communication- another opening, as well- a structure around the passageway in or out of the body. The image looks like Adam at the tree of knowledge- not only empowered to name and categorize all of creation, but now self-empowered to understand his place as leader. Rachel Pollack, who spent time with Hermann Haindl and examines this deck in The Haindl Tarot: The Major Arcana, notes that "the tree is Yggdrasil, the world tree of Scandinavian myth, with its roots deep in the mysterious origins of life and its branches reaching up to the stars and beyond." The tree is nature, the whole of the planet, and dwarfs the small vulnerable nude figure below. It serves as a reminder that, for all that we have control over in ourselves, all this is minuscule in comparison to the great expansion of nature that we are so vulnerable within.
Collective Tarot refers to a gay and queer cultural practice called "flagging" for the Code card- the hanky code emerged as a way of stealthily identifying oneself as sexually available for particular activities without verbalizing such things in a world hostile to sexualities that didn't fit heteronormative expectations. Today, the practice has been reclaimed as a way of outwardly advertising sexual identity, and is a common language, a structured system that is understood by those within the community. This specific color hanky in that specific pocket means the person is looking for such and such a specific activity. Getting clear on who we are and what we want means drawing some boundaries, and making some clear distinctions between ourselves. We cannot be everything to everyone.
Thanks to @inthe78cards and @thetruthinstory for hosting this month's awesome challenge on Instagram!