top of page

The Emperor, The Hermit‭,‬ and the Temperance

The Emperor, The Hermit‭,‬ and the Temperance

When The Fool reaches The High Priestess and continues to advance to The Empress with the aid of The Chariot card, a second process which is parallel to the first is created, and so The Fool continues to advance simultaneously on two levels. We saw an example of that when The Fool reached The Empress on one level, and at the same time, reached the Strength on the second level. This is also the reason why now when The Fool reaches The Emperor on one level, he also reaches The Hermit, which is located on the second level (Figure 1).

The Emperor

At this stage, I can say that the Emperor represents a framework and rules. A framework in the sense of a certain set of rules that force The Fool to give up certain things that so far he considered his own, in order to create a condition that will enable higher influences to create and develop his real self. The Fool so far conducted himself in a disorderly fashion, without any order to guide him. One might say that he was led by the circumstances that carried him, having his life ruled by chance.

As Michel de Montaigne wrote:

“We do not go, we are driven; like things that float, now leisurely, then with violence, according to the gentleness or rapidity of the current.”

Now, upon meeting with The Emperor, he must follow Emperor’s rules. If The Fool wants to keep moving forward, he must begin conducting himself differently and give up many whims that he loves so dearly, which at this point can only hinder him.

There is a song that says, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.” So is The Fool, who wants to keep moving forward, but in his view, giving up those whims is death. For him those whims, which include his principles, loves, hatreds, habits, lies, identities and more, constitute his ego, and by giving up all of those, he gives up himself for something foreign and external.

In reality, The Fool does not know himself at all. Everything he imagines himself to be is merely an imagination and self-deception, disguises which he gathered on the way and dressed himself up with. In other words, The Fool developed a sort of imaginary picture of himself, and with it The Fool defines himself. That same imaginary picture contains lies about who I am, what I like, what I abhor, what are my opinions, what are my principles, how should I act and how others should act towards me.

The Emperor demands another thing from The Fool: he must set himself a goal related to his advance and development and act only following the rules of his new purpose; namely, he has to act in such a way that all of his actions will advance him towards his goal. When The Fool sets himself a goal, he creates for himself a new framework of rules. As long as he does not stray from his goal, the new framework of rules will apply to him. Those would be different rules from the rules that apply in day-to-day life which The Fool has grown completely accustomed to. As long as the goal serves the advancement and the development, the new rules will cause friction and suffering. The Fool’s initial reaction and passion will be to try and get rid of that friction; in other words, to deviate from his goal. In order to remain in line with the goal The Fool must invest energy and effort, and he must overcome the suffering and the friction. The goal is chosen after self-observation and understanding of The Fool’s functions.

The Emperor may also symbolize The Fool’s first encounter with a group or a school, that is, a framework in which people like him receive guidance and help. After The Fool attempts to overcome the beast (“The Strength” card) to reach the state of the Empress and realizes that he fails, again and again, he reaches the conclusion that he cannot advance on his own and that he must seek help. This idea was explained earlier by the prison parable.

The Hermit

After The Fool realizes that he doesn’t know himself at all and all the things he considered as his own were mere lies and imaginary picture, he begins studying himself.

“The first reason for man’s inner slavery is his ignorance, and above all, his ignorance of himself. Without self-knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave, and the plaything of the forces acting upon him. This is why in all ancient teachings the first demand at the beginning of the way to liberation was: Know thyself’. ”

G. I. Gurdjieff

To continue developing without deviating from the rules of the Emperor and set a goal for himself, The Fool must know himself. If he does not know himself, he cannot know if something in him functions improperly and what he had to change, correct or replace. The Fool at this point must be honest with himself, he must stop telling himself lies, and he should begin to see the relative truth to the best of his ability. The Fool must utilize all the tools he received so far, and an additional device that he possesses – his conscience.

The function of conscience is to guide what’s right and what can benefit man’s development. The Hermit symbolizes the conscience that lights our way and points us to the right directions. It stands there like a lighthouse and illuminates with his lamp. It will always point towards the truth, even if that truth leads us to a dark and scary place. Without it, we would have never entered that place.

In the card, The Hermit shows us that we must enter the cave. It’s about going deep down, to our own depth: seeing the truth and shattering our imaginary image. When man descends into a cave, he will see his real situation. The Hermit has a clear goal; he shed all forms of life and committed himself to one goal. So is the conscience, which can always be trusted to point out the truth. There is no reason for us to fear it being tempted by something else and leave its post. It will always keep the fire in its lamp burning.

Although conscience is always present and always shines, most of the time The Fool cannot locate the light of the conscience. The light is weak, and The Fool misses and easily confuses it with the rest of the fake, imaginary lights, that might look so impressive and even radiant with greater intensity. In case The Fool learned to notice his conscience, he must try to act according to his conscience. In our case, The Fool must enter the cave to learn about his real situation. The motif of descending into a cave or the underworld exists in most cultures and mythologies.

What is conscience? And how is it different from morality?

Conscience is a state in which a person sees and feels everything he feels at that moment. In other words, there will inevitably be a lot of conflicting emotions such as self-pride, fears, nothingness, self-confidence, and so on… The conscience knows how to overcome the many lies and the many mechanisms that are created over time to preserve our sleep and our lies. It penetrates through all of these and points to the true and correct thing about us, concerning “spiritual” development. Conscience is related to our essence, it is not artificial.

Morality, on the other hand, is an artificial mechanism that created during our lives. It’s not uniform like a conscience and is directly tied to upbringing and ego, that each person develops. Morality is directly influenced by the environment. What’s moral in China is not necessarily moral in Europe and what’s moral in Europe is immoral in Africa, what’s moral in Africa is immoral in Arab countries, what’s moral in one class of society is immoral in another and vice versa. For example, in Arab Countries, a blood feud considered acceptable and moral, while in Europe it is considered extremely immoral.

Morality is an artificial phenomenon, which is built from limitations and various demands, some of which have a point at their base, and some of which are utterly meaningless.


The Fool’s descent down to the underworld or the cave symbolizes the descent down to his own depths. The Fool must study himself thoroughly, and thus he must look into himself and understand his real situation. The Fool is now in a state of self-hypnosis, in this state, he created for himself an entirely imaginary and false picture. It can be said that due to this imaginary picture The Fool completely forgot himself, and while going down to the cave, his real situation will be revealed to him.

To succeed with his descent downward/self-observation, The Fool must give up his illusions, he must give up the false picture that he created for himself. If he keeps holding to them, he will maintain the self-deception and keep believing his own lies, so there is no chance that he will be able to have an honest observation and discover his real situation.

Therefore, The Fool must first awaken from his dream, and then he will have to die in order to be reborn.

While trying to awake, The Fool realizes that this is one of the most challenging things he has ever tried to do. The Fool can’t even remember that he must try to wake up, and he falls asleep over and over again, sinking into his dreams. Sometimes external factors can awaken him for a few short second, but these are exceptional occurrences that happen very rarely. In those seconds of relative wakefulness, The Fool realizes that he must act differently.

At this stage, The Fool’s advance is stopped again, and he reaches another gap. The first gap, as we may recall, was when The Fool tried to advance from the High Priestess to the Empress. In this gap, nothing was required from The Fool. He only needed to begin the second process; that is, to start advancing on the second level, which could have been done without effort or attention. And so the second stage on the second level, The Chariot card, has facilitated the continuation of the progress.

Now The Fool must begin the third process, he must start also advancing on the third level, but this time he must make an effort and divide his attention. The Fool must now learn to divide his attention, or in other words, he must learn to remember himself. If he cannot learn to divide his attention, he cannot descend to the underworld and his work on the second and third level will cease at this phase. (Figure 1).

We’re talking of course about the “Temperance” card, which represents the idea of dividing attention. The character on the card represents equilibrium and balance, one of her legs is on the ground, her other leg is in water, and her wings represent work and division of attention between her physical/moving functions and her emotional and intellectual functions. With her two hands, she pours liquid from one cup to another, which means that she absorbs energy and transfers it into a more gentle form of energy. With her third hand, she points to the sky, which symbolizes the goal to reach a higher state of consciousness. With her fourth hand, she points down to the ground – the source that enables the conditions for her growth. With her right foot, she steps on the snake which symbolizes self-forgetfulness and lack of consciousness.

The “Temperance” card is very much reminiscent of the god “Shiva” who dances while stepping with his right foot on the demon “Apasmara,” which represents the forces which caused forgetfulness and lack of awareness among men. In contrast, Shiva represents self-remembrance, balance, and awareness.

In the Sumerian / Akkadian mythology we can find the god “Enki” who is also reminiscent of the card; from his shoulders or hands he pours water, one of his feet is on the ground, the other in the water, and on his right hand an eagle is seated.

Self-remembering / Divided attention:

“When I observe something, my attention is focused towards what I observe- a line with a single arrowhead. While trying to remember myself, my attention is focused both towards the observed object and towards myself. A second arrow-head appears on the line.”

P.D. Ouspensky

17 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page