The Emperor is a little like the Rune ᛗ (Mannaz). Both represent authority, but The Emperor is more about the one who holds the authority, whereas Mannaz is more about the community over which the authority is held. The Emperor is the card of the strong-handed ruler, the leader whose authority is rock-solid with the weight of mountains.
The Fool’s Journey
Odin meets The Emperor when he goes to visit his foster-son Geirrod in Grimnismal. Geirrod became king almost as soon as he returned from his winter with Odin and Frigg. The Emperor can be cruel and hard, as Geirrod.
But in the same poem, Odin meets a second king, Geirrod’s younger brother Agnar. After Odin deposes (disposes of) Geirrod, Agnar becomes the new representation of The Emperor. Agnar is strong and kind, using what he learned from Frigg (The Empress) to rule with justice and wisdom.
The most common image of The Emperor is of a man sitting on his throne, holding a rod. The rod is often an ankh, the Kemetic symbol of eternal life. In the Thoth Tarot on the left, The Emperor’s rod is a ram’s head: symbol of Aries from Hermetic astrology.
The Emperor is also sometimes shown as a religious figure in front of his flock. In the Sensual Tarot, on the right, The Emperor is initiating a man and a woman into The Mysteries. In the Pagan Tarot on the left, they appear to just be getting ready for some sort of ceremony.