Among the Tarot cards determined by your birth date, I find most intriguing the Constellation of the Emperor, which consists of the Major Arcana cards whose numbers add up to four: the Emperor (4), Death (13), and the Fool (0-22). Many people don’t include the Fool in this set. I made the decision to do so based on teaching stories such as King Lear, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the Sufi Nasruddhin tales, etc. In fairy tales it is often the youngest, most foolish son who ends up solving a problem and marrying the princess to become the king. Death rarely features in these sagas.
However, when the power of the ruler is subverted by madness or the situation becomes untenable by his becoming a puppet or tyrant, it becomes apparent that what is ruling us must die. The result may be a new king or a return to an original state of innocence: a major theme of this Constellation.
These cards depict the principle of life force and realization of power. The constellation encompasses birth and death and the step between: of manifesting oneself on the physical plane. The Emperor is the hallmark of reason and logic. He seeks to own, build and do things that have a lasting impact. Death is the necessity to release and let go for there to be renewal. It cuts away whatever is stagnant or no longer truly vital and alive. The Fool is the soul freed from all constraints. It is said that a new way of perceiving the world never fully takes hold until all adherents to the old way have died.
IN THE MINOR ARCANA FOURS the 4 of Wands points out that community involves rites of passage for each stage/season of life. The 4 of Cups tells us we need to become aware of life’s hidden gifts to relieve stagnation. The 4 of Swords says to stay true to our dreams through stress and afflictions. And the 4 of Pentacles reminds us to find our true center (chi or hara) rather than grasping for material things.
A recent music video provides a modern perspective on this age-old theme by including the Emperor, Fool and Death in a powerful archetypal story.
The music video, “Daechwita” was written, performed and produced by Min Yoongi aka Suga aka Agust D of the Kpop group BTS. It is based on a Korean historical tale that is a perfect expression of the Emperor/Fool constellation. Synchronistically the MV was released on May 22, 2020 – double 22s! Also of significance: the MV refers to Carl Jung’s theory of the Persona, Ego and Shadow, for BTS’s most recent two albums were based on Jung’s “Map of the Soul”.
Furthermore, Min Yoongi, in his BTS Persona Suga, did a solo for the second album named “Interlude: Shadow.”
He sings, “I want to be rich, I want to be famous, I want to be the King” while claiming, like the Fool, “My leap can be my fall.”
He sings, “I want to be rich, I want to be famous, I want to be the King.” While claiming, like the Fool, “My leap can be my fall.”
Regarding the recent explosion of BTS on the world stage, Suga explained that he aspired to reach the 12th floor [of fame] only to find himself on the 60th floor. “The moment I’m flying high as I wished, my shadow grows larger, beat down upon by that light. Please don’t let me shine. Don’t let me down. Don’t let me fly.”
Daechwita by Agust D is a rap song and cinematic music video based on the story of King Gwanghae as portrayed in the S Korean film, Masquerade, and the 2019 TV Kdrama, The Crowned Clown. Daechwita stands for “procession of the king” from words meaning wind and percussion describing the folk instruments used. The film set is one famously used in many historical dramas featuring a real palace and an historically recreated town.
In this story King Gwanghae fears assassination and so murders all his rivals ushering in a reign of terror. He searches for a body double who can take his place if needed. An exact double is found in a peasant street comedian who has been using his resemblance to make fun of the king. The king is poisoned or goes mad and, while recovering, the double takes the place of the King, “the clown with this face is playing as this country’s ruler.” This fool commits himself to be used as bait to bring out the traitors and eventually to die in place of the real king,“If a clown is picky about making his move, that’s the same thing as dying,” but he proves to be a compassionate ruler who truly cares for the people .
In Daechwita Agust D appears as a dark-haired peasant or slave walking through the street and briefly greeting a butcher at a stall. The scene cuts to the courtyard of the palace and a white-haired tyrant king who raps as he leaps on the backs of prostrate subjects. Both the peasant and the king have a scar running down the right eye making it clear that Agust D is both characters. The King is killing his subjects and we see three bagged heads on display that may represent the three major Korean entertainment companies that kept BTS off the airwaves and mistreated them publicly. (They have now achieved a world recognition greater than any prior Asian celebrities.) But where does that leave the pure, innocent and very idealistic underground rapper who headed off to Seoul (Soul) to follow his dream of making his mark in music in the face of the overwhelming odds against him?
As we look further we see that a Jungian interpretation helps to elucidate the Birth Card constellation. It portrays the inner battle among the various parts of oneself. The Fool/Rebel is Agust D’s innocent yet rebellious Self. The King was meant to be a Persona of rulership and success.
But the King becomes a dangerously tyrannical Shadow-figure surrounded by dragon imagery and severed heads. In fact, Min Yoongi comes from a very poor family yet is included in the formal list of direct descendants of the last queen of Korea. He then debuted with an upstart entertainment company that had no resources and was shunned by most media outlets: “Born a slave but now a King.” Like King Gwanghae, who began as a warrior, Yoongi had to overcome struggles with family, disapproving underground rappers, and haters before achieving success. “Rags to riches, that’s the way I live.”
The only girl in the video gives the peasant-rebel a key to a car. She is Jung’s idea of an Anima or inspiratrix/muse and also represents the BTS fans known as ARMY. She supports and encourages him by giving him the key to his destiny and access to his personal development, i.e., the Individuation Process. A sign above has a quote from Confucius: “a classical scholar doesn’t value treasure,” reminding Agust D of the value of knowledge over riches as in the 4 of Pentacles. But his dream turns into a nightmare through the tyrant King: “The Shadow is born out of light” (fame’s shadow grows as the spotlight becomes brighter).
The Peasant is imprisoned and condemned to death by the murderous King: “Who’s the King who’s the Boss. Everyone knows my name.” This scene shows Agust D bound and blindfolded like the figure in the 8 of Swords.
The tension between the idealistic Yoongi, who had to choose between eating or bus fare, and the famous Suga who flies the world in chartered plans and plays to multiple nights in sold out stadiums, is huge but comes at a cost, “my growing shadow swallows me and becomes a monster.” He fears he will forget who he really is, so Yoongi invents yet another Persona in addition to Suga, Agust D, to remind him of his true passion for music with roots in hip hop and rap.
The executioner (who was the butcher in the marketplace) is an aspect of Yoongi’s Ego [Reason] and frees him from prison and death. Yoongi has talked frankly about his own issues with depression and social anxiety. In the lyrics he says he’s putting his past in a rice chest – a reference to a mad prince who was killed by his father by being confined in a rice chest until he starved to death. “I trap the past in a rice chest. I’ll take mine and eat them all.” So Agust D vows to consume his own past trauma and live.
At the moment of death the Executioner frees the Peasant/Fool who rises up against tyranny and shoots the King with an antique pistol known as a “Colt ARMY” (BTS’s fans are called ARMY).
But it isn’t really that simple, for the song “Interlude: Shadow” concludes with the voice of the Shadow, “Yeah, I’m you and you’re me, do you get it now? We’re one body, and sometimes we will crash. You will never be able to take me off of you, you get it, right?…Success or failure, wherever you are, you can’t escape, wherever you go.” At this point it is essential to remember that BTS stands for “Bulletproof Boy Scouts” and, as their early performances of “We Are Bulletproof” depict, they can’t be killed by mere bullets shot by haters.
From a Jungian standpoint the Shadow is not to be killed off. It is an essential part of the Self. A key task of consciousness (the Ego) is to bring the Persona and Shadow (the ideal and repressed selves) into relationship as is beautifully pictured in “Interlude: Shadow”.
For now Min Yoongi has achieved success and has everything he previously desired, yet he still experiences the post-passion let down (Korean Hunyta or Shakespeare’s “little death”) in which one wonders “is that all there is” before picking himself back up and doing what he does best—making music.
For those wanting to understand this Constellation, we see the death of the old King and crowning of the new King in the ever changing cycles of our lives—”The King is dead; long live the King!” We sometimes talk about earlier stages of life as our “past lives” acknowledging that they ran their course until graduation, a move, a marriage or divorce or pandemic ended one way of being and we stepped off a cliff into a new unknown. One of the lessons here is that it is not about being either the Fool or the Emperor but rather about keeping both in our lives: the crazy Fool leaping into the unknown and the responsible King restricting freedom with rules and boundaries in a constant cycle of lives and deaths.
Given the ‘Storming of the U.S. Capitol’ on January 6, 2021 – a day after I posted this – I don’t see how I can continue to avoid the current political dimensions of this archetypal theme. Culturally speaking Trump is the king gone mad. We have so many candidates for the role of Fool, among which are the comic talk-show hosts who regularly point out that Trump is wearing no clothes (there is no widespread election fraud plus all his other lies). Washington D..C. erupts in violence and four die, marking the end of his tenure in office. Meanwhile 3,500 people are dying per day in the U.S. from COVID (5x more than the rate in any other country).
Here’s Suga in Times Square counting down New Year’s 2020 shortly before the global pandemic hit, reminding us all that death is closer than we think, We currently rely on restrictions and laws to keep us safe while we stand on the cliff edge of a new world.