Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Tarot Tales: E is for the Emperor

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Emperor

Meanings: The Emperor stands for order, law, and authority. He is a leader and a father figure, someone who provides structure and protection, security and stability. He is respected, responsible, focused, and dominant. 

Selection process: I was having a hard time with this card, because strong and powerful rulers abound in folklore and mythology. It would have been easy to just pick King Arthur or Odin or whatever, and be done with it. In the end, I decided to go another route and chose a teaching tale.

The story: Mahakapi Jataka (The Great Monkey King)

Origin: India

This Jataka (Buddhist legend that recounts previous lives of the Buddha) tells about a great monkey king who rules over 80,000 monkeys. They all live in a big mango tree by a river. One day the water takes a mango to the King of Baranasi, and he likes the fruit so much he decides to take over the giant tree and kill all the monkeys. Seeing the impending danger, the monkey king ties a vine around his waist and jumps across the river to another tree. The vine, however, is too short, so to complete the bridge the king offers his own back for his people to climb across. All the monkeys escape this way, but the last, evil one jumps on the king's back and breaks it. 
Stunned by the brave self-sacrifice of the monkey king, the King of Baranasi has him lowered to the ground, anointed, fed, and treated with respect. He asks the monkey why he did what he did. The dying monkey king tells the humans that it was his responsibility, as the ruler of his people, to protect them and keep them safe. He says that keeping his people happy is the greatest responsibility of a ruler, even over his own life. 
Soon after, the monkey king passes away. The King of Baranasi gives him a royal funeral, and builds a shrine over his burial place, in memory of his bravery and the wisdom he imparted. After that, he becomes a wiser, better ruler. 

Sources & notes: Read the story here, and read more about it here.

Runner-ups: I was also considering the Jade Emperor from Chinese mythology (based on his life story in this book), and Attila the Hun (because Hungarians have a lot of legends about him).

Which legendary king would you have chosen for this card?


  1. I love the story that you chose to go with this card. If only more leaders took the monkey king's approach of putting their people first. Weekends In Maine

  2. Loved the story of the monkey king. Now, only if the modern rulers and politicians would pay attention. I'm glad you chose to share a tale such as this. Cheers.

  3. What a lovely story, and very like a tale indeed, kings (and politics) don't pay attention to the people first...
    Quilting Patchwork & Appliqué

  4. A leader that many people in positions of power today could learn a thing or two from.

  5. Self-sacrifice is definitely a necessity for the job of a ruler. Great tale!

  6. I love this story! It definitely shows the importance of being a wise but also kind ruler.

  7. This is a fabulous story - another one I had not heard. And I think it was a perfect choice for illustrating the Emperor. I've always felt there was such a benevolent aspect to Emperor that isn't stressed enough.

  8. I've got the Emperor much later in the draw for my random story. Though it does kinda come before what I expect is going to be an assassination.
    Great topic and I'm enjoying reading about the cards.

  9. He's a better, wiser ruler, but, did he still take the mangoes? The island was now monkey-free!

  10. Hi--I thought I'd return your visit and was happily surprised to find a lovely story. I think I read it many years ago, but it is a story of a leader's love for his people. that's how it should be, but rarely is. Thank you again.

  11. Oh, I would have to go for a Scottish king - Robert the Bruce for me!

  12. I loved this story. As others said, if only our leaders would follow its example.

  13. Is this the story that the tv show "Monkey" was based on? At the start of each episode it retold the story of the Monkey King, but it is different to this one.

    1. Nope, that is based on the Chinese epic "Journey to the West" :)

  14. I love stories about monkeys. They're often nobler than human beings, despite their reputation as mischief-makers.

  15. Really loved this story. It's true that there are many stories that tell of how kings are servants more than rulers, but this one is particularly moving.

    The Old Shelter - The Great War