Justice and the Emperor: Exploring the Libra Aries Opposition through Tarot
Astrology and tarot share a long and rich association. Nearly every tarot scholar has tied the two systems together, tweezing details from astrological theory to inform tarot symbolism and use. It’s easy to see astrology as a black and white system, a series of dualities that exist solely on opposite ends of a pole. Signs and planets seem magnetically charged, drawn together or forced apart regardless of individual interference. And while opposition does play a large role in astrology, it’s less like a magnet and more like a coin, presenting two expressions of the same energy.
Libra is associated with Justice, the 11th card of the major arcana in the Smith-Waite deck and beyond, emphasizing the sign’s association with balance and harmony above all. In her left hand she holds a scale, empty but level, waiting to receive that which must be weighed. In her right, a sword is raised above her head, symbolic of her ability to cut through illusion. It’s important to remember that Swords in tarot represent logic, rationality, communication, thought, the very heady air element from which Libra as a sign is born. Within the air triplicity, it is Cardinal, the noblest, and Justice wears a golden crown bearing a square stone, echoing the circle-within-a-square of her brooch: the nature of order, structures for wholeness.
These symbols of Justice tie her to Themis, the titan goddess of order and counsel and sister of Once-King Saturn. Themis is often depicted as a strong, commanding woman holding both a scale and sword–but her sword is usually lowered, trailing the ground behind her. Themis’ sword is reserved for occasional force, not front line defense. In fact, Themis is a goddess who seems wholly more trusting than her tarot counterpart: later depictions show her almost exclusively blindfolded. While Themis judges not by appearances, weighing each situation with calculated objectivity, Justice stares out boldly, aware that observation is her greatest advantage.
But there’s another goddess present in Justice’s imagery: Ma’at. Ma’at had no formal cult, no known temples, no seat of worship, and yet she pervaded every aspect of Egyptian life. Kings often bore the title “Beloved of Ma’at,” and her name was used as the word for truth itself. Truth and Order, Ma’at’s primary rulership, were the core of Egyptian values, and at the end of one’s life, she weighed the heart to determine whether one could pass into the next realm. These are the symbols of the Temple of Justice depicted in tarot–the royal purple curtain that separates us from Higher Knowledge, suspended between temple pillars. In order to access what comes next, we must pass Justice’s test: we must be weighed and measured and judged accordingly. This is not the first time we’ve been tested in order to proceed: the High Priestess sits before the Veil and bears the wisdom necessary to initiate us into tarot’s mysteries. Now, Justice observes our development.
Justice emphasizes Libra’s role as curator and moderator, the gateway to experience beyond one’s own. Ultimately, Libra is the active expression of Venus, one of astrology’s only receptive feminine forces. It’s the ruler of the 7th House, a place of partnership and commitment, but also the first concerned with integration and collective experience. It’s a milestone of soul development, not unlike Justice herself who stands between the first 10 cards of the major arcana which follow the Fool on his journey of personal discovery and the last 10, which guide him through spiritual empowerment and universal integration. But metaphysics is a hall of mirrors, each vision a reflection of one before and after. In order to fully understand this active femininity and the power it holds, we need to look at its opposing force: Aries, the Emperor.
If Libra is the sign of the Partner, the place where we learn to experience others along our path, Aries is the sign of Self. It’s the first sign of the zodiac, the birth of the self, the place where we learn what drives us forward and stokes our fire. As the ruler of the 1st House, it’s also the place we first experience boundaries as we proudly explore what makes us separate from the world around us. Here, we construct principles, rules, ways of life that distinguish us as distinct individuals. And it is this concern which ties Aries to the Emperor.
The Emperor is the 4th card of the major arcana, emphasizing his sense of structure and stability. He’s a man of age with years of experience behind him, but beneath his blood red robes he still wears the armor of a knight. He is willing to act, but sits firmly on his stone throne, a symbol of receptive masculinity, a stabilized Mars. In his right hand he bears a staff formed from the ankh; he is a sovereign power and through his discipline, he has achieved immortality. In his left he holds a golden sphere, a symbol of the world he rules over–but remember, the left hand is also the receptive hand, and as such this also comes to symbolize the nurturing, symbiotic relationship he holds with his kingdom. The Emperor recognizes that he is only as powerful as the kingdom over which he rules, and his strength is the strength of his nation. We can see the rocky arid cliffs behind his throne, a collection of hard-fought and inhospitable land he had to conquer–or destroy–to hold this position. This is all in stark contrast to Justice’s golden palace and plush fabrics, a Venusian luxury compared to the Emperor’s Martial utility.
The Emperor is the card of the Sovereign Self, a man who has already made the necessary decisions and has only to hold firm in his stance. Justice weighs each decision as if it is the first, the only, with careful consideration for all involved; the Emperor already knows what’s best for him and the nation he represents.
This is the balance between Self and Other, Mars and Venus, Ambition and Harmony. This is the energy of the Aries Full Moon, a reminder of the individual within the collective. The Full Moon is a time of release where we see clearly where our inner and outer worlds are out of alignment. The Aries Moon can allow us to release limiting thoughts of self, allowing us to step up and claim our stony throne, and it can allow us to see where we’ve fought to defend infertile terrain, vainly clinging to what we perceive as our own undying principles. The themes depend largely on other transiting planets and the aspects they make with our warring luminaries. With Mars currently in retrograde, this particular Aries Moon might bring us a glimpse at where we’ve clung to perceived authority at the expense of the whole, a theme perpetuated by so many other planets over the course of this year. Ultimately our goal is to exist somewhere within the spectrum of this energy rather than throwing ourselves to one side or the other; we should not fully embody Justice, nor the Emperor, but incorporate aspects of these archetypes into our lives where they fit. It’s important to remember that archetypes are simply characters to help us understand the stories we play out–they are tools for growth and evolution. Like the Fool’s Journey through the tarot, or the Sun’s path through the zodiac, we learn their lessons and move forward.