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The Emperor and Death in the MRP Fairytale

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The Emperor and Death in the MRP Fairytale


In another sub-forum, I was reading a thread on the Emperor and Death, and it got me to thinking about the Emperor and Death in the MRP Fairytale deck. I had to pull the deck out anyway for a different reason, so I had another look at these two cards.

Every time I use this deck, much as I love it, I am always disappointed by the Emperor. To me, in the Tarot deck, the Emperor should be a card of power and command. Yet the fairytale used, is the Emperor and the Nightingale, a story about a vain ruler on his deathbed at the mercy of his vizier, who hears a bird singing in his garden, and tells the vizier to capture the bird in a cage for his listening pleasure. Of course, the bird pines and doesn't sing, and eventually they set it free. The vizier has a mechanical nightingale built on clockwork principles, but the emperor does not find its mechanical song healing. Messengers are sent out, the length and breadth of the kingdom until the little bird is found, and informed of the Emperors impending death, he flies back and sings outside the window of his sickroom. The emperor dies anyway, but presumably dies happier.

I've known this fairystory since childhood, and to me it has always been sensationally beautiful but also very, very sad - the Emperor never recovers, and the bird flies away never to be seen again. As soon as I saw this card I was thinking: Shouldn't this be the Death card, the transition from illness and pain to death and rest?

So I pulled out the Death card. Its story is Godfather Death, which I originally knew as Death and the Soldier. In the tale, a boy's father accepts Death as the godfather of his last child - in the version I knew, a soldier returning but foot from a battle to his home town met Death in an inn, they had some kind of dialogue, and death ended up in the soldier's debt. Whichever version you are familiar with, Death feels an obligation (of love or debt) to the young man, and looks after him, setting him up as a healer, telling him that if he stands at the head of the bed the person will recover, but if he stands at the foot of the bed, the person will surely die. No one but the soldier/godson can see the figure of Death in the room. He becomes famous as a great healer, able to tell who will recover and who is beyond all help.

And that, too, is a brilliant choice for a Death card. Looking at teh two images, Death has the Grim Reaper escortin g an obviously young and vibrantly healthy man into a subterranean chamber lit with candles that represent human lives - a lovely allegory of the Otherworld and Shamanic journeying, but not really, to my min d, the image of Tarot-Death.

On the other hand, the Emperor shows an ill, pain-wracked and grey-skinned old man in a sumptuous bed obviously dying, a jewelled bird drooping by his bedside, a living bird outside the window singing his heart out to the moon,
with the figure of Death by his bedside, holding the dying stub of a candle (symbolising life) and reaching his skeletal hand out to the forehead of the emperor in a tender embrace.

An image of power? An image of command? No. An image of death and transformation.

I love this deck, I love it a lot. But to me it has two different Death cards (I'm sure Gregory would agree you cannot have too many Death cards!) and no Emperor. Strangely, none of the spreads I've yet done with this deck have needed a conventional Emperor!
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I am currently ploughing through the Grimms Fairytales and H.C. Anderson fairytales and know where you are coming from re the Emperor.

As I am reading the stories, I am keeping an excel sheet of what cards/characters I would assign to a tarot card. It is just for fun, as I know the subject has been done to a death in the tarot world. Tie that in with the fact I have the artistic ability of a gnat, there would be no chance of it ever coming to being.

Have just had a look through my excel sheet, and saw I had allocated death to the H.C. Anderson story of the Angel, where the child and plant are being taken up to heaven and a new life. NOt yet read all the stories yet (not even scratched the surface really) but it is interesting just having my own ideas.

I think I understand where Karen was coming from with her choice, and it does take some lateral thinking on my part. I still find it difficult to correlate to with any ease but I am sure in the right reading, and in the right context, I will get that 'eureka' moment. I know from that point it will make perfect sense, but until then - I do have a bit of a headscratch.
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Oh, look - they both make perfect sense as "Death"! And the Nightingale on his trig outside the window, as a source of pleasure and hope to the old dying man, would make a lovely Star. I'm just wondering where the power and command is in an emperor who is dying.

Perhaps that he can command people to hunt down a single bird hundreds of kilometres away? Or have an exact mechanical replica made by his court engineers? All that power comes to nothing in his illness under the hand of Death, though.
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I always thought that was the point. The Emperor has earthly power to command anything he pleases, but he doesn't always use it wisely and there are also greater powers before which his status is nothing.
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looks like I was to vague in my musings there.

It was the Emperor I had the head scratching over, not Death. I too have had difficulty correlating the imagery and story to how I see the Emperor

Davina
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerin
I always thought that was the point. The Emperor has earthly power to command anything he pleases, but he doesn't always use it wisely and there are also greater powers before which his status is nothing.
The story also raises the question of how the emperor should use his power - should he use it to satisfy his own whims? Is being the emperor about serving your own needs first?

This is one of the things I love about the MRP fairytale, the stories chosen really make you think.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nisaba
The emperor dies anyway, but presumably dies happier.
But the Emperor recovers! What he had to learn is that natural things are sometimes better than artificial/man-made ones. After realising that, he presumably goes on to have a happy, and much more balanced, life.

And as she sung, the emperor fell into a sweet sleep; and how mild and refreshing that slumber was! When he awoke, strengthened and restored, the sun shone brightly through the window; but not one of his servants had returned—they all believed he was dead; only the nightingale still sat beside him, and sang.
http://hca.gilead.org.il/nighting.html

I think this story is a beautiful parable about the problems when rationale/artifice/control-over-nature over-reaches itself. It tells us that we in fact can't cage nature - nature has to be free to go its own way. It's very much a story for our times and to me, it works beautifully as an Emperor card that asks us to think about the sensible and workable limits of power, control and technology.

As with all the cards in this deck, it's really important to read the whole story - the image on the card can only show one scene, but what's represented is the entire tale. I think the deck works at its best when the stories are well understood by the reader (i.e. this is a deck that demands quite a bit of work, but that really does give back if you can put in the reading and study time).
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Quote:
Originally Posted by baba-prague
As with all the cards in this deck, it's really important to read the whole story - the image on the card can only show one scene, but what's represented is the entire tale.
See those threads where people argue entirely intuitive approaches and how you don't need to read anything when working with a deck.

Heck, there are people working with a deck like this and they've never even read the companion book...Moreoever, don't even feel they have to.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nisaba
the Emperor never recovers
Huh? From my vague recollections of this story I think he does survive - I thought the whole point of this story was that he learned that he couldn't control everything, i.e. he could put the bird in a gilded cage but that he couldn't make it sing?

ETA: Hmmm note to self - read whole thread before posting... What Karen said.
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I can't possibly read with this deck effectively without knowing the stories. Maybe that's why some people don't like it?

Of course (??? for me anyhow) different aspects of a story tend to highlight themselves in an actual reading so it is, as ever, a little hard to talk in the abstract. I'm with shadowdancer on that I think.

The story also reminds me of this one in the sense of power and what it is (taken from http://www.valleytraining.co.uk/resources_stories.htm) hence I made the connection I did.

Quote:
The Quarryman
In a quarry, not far from here there is a story told of a quarryman who had calluses on his hands, a bent back and a weathered face. Every day he toiled at his work, yet he was not happy. “Why do I have to be a quarryman” he would say to himself, “if I were rich I would be happy.”

Just then an angel appeared. “What do you want?” she said, “You are rich in all you need,” He thought for a while, then said; “If I were a king I would be rich. Then I would be happy.”

Pouf. The quarryman turned into a king. At first, he spent the days ruling his world, sharing his riches and was happy. After a while though, he began to notice that whatever he did, the sun had the power to change peoples moods. When the sun shone people began to smile, whatever the king did. He began to think, “If I were sun I would be able to control everyone’s mood. Then I would be happy.”

Pouf. He turned into the sun. He enjoyed being the sun very much, bringing warmth to everyone’s back and smiles to their faces. He began to notice however that sometimes cloud would be able to stop suns rays. Cloud was more powerful than sun he thought. “I wish I was cloud”

Pouf. He turned into cloud. Cloud had a good life blocking out the suns rays when he felt like it, bringing rain down and making plants grow, filling lakes up and making snow for people to play in. Eventually he noticed that whatever he did rock just sat there and resisted it. Rock was more powerful than he was and he wished “I wish I was rock”

Pouf. He turned into rock. No matter what happened now, rock sat firm come rain or shine. He was happy and content knowing that he could resist all that cloud could thrown at him. He was indeed the most powerful thing in the world and he was happy.

One day he saw a quarryman approaching…
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