Tarot Talk

December 1st, 2017

The Hanged (or Hanging) Man

We in the Northern Hemisphere are currently in a fallow time, pausing between the Third Harvest of Samhain and the return of the sun at Yule. Since we are in an energetic pause, this might be a good time to look at the Major Arcana card known as The Hanged (or Hanging) Man. First, we should quickly define and describe some terms.

There are 22 Major Arcana cards in a Tarot deck, with numbers from 0 to 21; the Majors usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues, archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives. An archetype (pronounced “ark eh type”) is a generic, idealized model of a person, an object, or a concept which can be copied, patterned, or imitated. The term archetype often refers to one of two concepts: a “stereotype,” a personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of a personality type; stereotypes can be positive or negative, or an “epitome,” which is the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type; epitomes can also be positive or negative.

So archetypes present personality traits that are common enough to be known by us all, through images (rather than words) that contain symbolism that connects with our subconscious in a universal manner. Each of us can understand the symbolism of archetypes and connect with that symbolism because each of us has (or will) personally experienced these archetypes.

Each Major Arcana card corresponds to an archetype, an image, a number, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth. Let’s get to work breaking this one down.

Many Major Arcana cards represent archetypes of people in our lives. The Empress is The Mother, The Emperor is The Father, The Hierophant is The Teacher; we easily understand these archetypes because most of us have them in our lives. Other Tarot Majors represent ideas or feelings or concepts or stories, rather than people. Temperance is one of these cards; it is the archetype of balance, the kind of balance which demonstrates that moderation can be the path to wholeness. Our card this month, The Hanged Man, is seen by many as being similar to Temperance. However, there are differences: The Hanged Man, like the Temperance card, tells of stillness or a pause, but this pause happens due to a sacrifice or a surrender, rather than balance.

The traditional image on The Hanged Man shows a man hanging upside down from one leg (often with the other leg crossed, similar to how The Emperor is often pictured when shown sitting on a throne) which is usually bound to a tree branch or to what appears to be a cross that is sprouting green growth. His arms are often bound behind his back, or they are free and spread to either side. Some card images show The Hanged Man holding a bag of coins; sometimes those coins are spilling away. He is usually wearing a blue shirt and often has a halo around his head. Occasionally he is blindfolded. The image on this card is chock-full of symbolism. The figure is hanging from a branch sprouting new growth, representing activity and new potential, or from two trees, representing a portal or doorway. Being suspended by one foot can symbolize choosing to not move forward, or being prevented from moving forward. Hands tied can symbolize the choice to not think or act. The bent leg shows flexibility, and the ability to bend to the will of a higher consciousness. The halo represents enlightenment or a higher purpose. And of course there is the obvious similarity to the image of Jesus hanging from a cross or when coins or bags of money are present, the image might represent Judas; and the image of Odin hanging from Yggdrasil. The Hanged Man in the Tarot of the New Vision creates a different image: we still see a figure hanging from a cross by one leg with hands bound, but we are viewing from behind the cross so we can see the crowd watching The Hanged Man, a crowd that appears angry and shouting and pointing fingers. Here is the pittura infamante, the common punishment for traitors once used in Italy.

The Hanged Man is numbered 12. The number 12 is very spiritual in nature, and is found within many religions; for example there are the 12 Tribes of Israel found in the Old Testament and the 12 Olympians in the Greek pantheon. We have 12 days of Christmas, 12 jurors on a jury panel, 12 men have walked on the moon, and humans usually have 12 pairs of ribs. The lotus that represents the Anahata (heart) chakra has 12 petals. Some see 12 as a perfect number because of the formula 4 x 3, with 4 representing the four elements and the four cardinal directions and three being a sacred number that represents Deity. The number 12 is divisible by 2, 3, 4 and 6, making it highly composite. The number itself represents imagination, inspiration, exploration individuality and creative self-expression. The number 12 is central to many systems of counting, including the Western calendar and units of time; it can be seen as a number of cosmic order.

The Hanged Man corresponds with the element of Water. In its natural state, Water is cool and wet. When amassed, it has weight, and it tends to gather or pool at the lowest place. Because of this tendency, Water creates its own roadways or channels, and it prefers to use those already-in-place channels if it can. Water also adapts to the shape of the vessel that is holding it. Water is used for cleaning and purifying, and Water can be a carrier for other substances. For instance, we can dissolve salt or sugar into warm Water, and use that concoction for other things. A body of Water can be calm and deep, or it can be dangerously churning and filled with powerful currents.

Feelings and emotions are the main correspondences of the element of Water. Emotions flow and have currents, a powerful wave of emotions can be cleansing, emotions can be hot and expanding or they can be bubbling upward, like steam, or cold and contracting and heavy, like ice, and our emotions can affect our physical bodies (which contain a lot of Water) and our health. Often, tears appear when we feel things strongly through sadness or joy or anger, as physical manifestations of those emotions. Water also represents the Inner Voice and the subconscious, the dark and unknown depths hidden below the smooth reflective surface.

In astrology, The Hanged Man corresponds with the planet Neptune. Neptune, the eighth planet from our sun is not one of the “classic planets” because it is not visible to the naked eye; it is the only planet so far discovered by mathematical prediction rather than by empirical observation. Neptune’s atmosphere has active and visible weather patterns with extremely dynamic storm systems, similar to Saturn, and a faint and fragmented ring system. In Roman mythology, Neptune is the god of the sea, and the deep blue color of the planet Neptune reflects this. Its glyph is taken directly from Neptune’s trident, symbolizing the curve of spirit being pierced by the cross of matter. Kind of similar to our Hanged Man! This planet is associated with dreams, empathy, artistry, enchantment, inspiration, visions, magick, and psychic receptivity, as well as with illusion, vagueness and uncertainty.

In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is connected to the creative forces in the universe. They express themselves on three levels: one level is archetypical and runs from the first to the ninth letter; the second level is one of manifestation and runs from the tenth to the eighteenth letter, and the third is a cosmic level and runs from the nineteenth to the twenty-second letter. The Hanged Man corresponds with the Hebrew letter Mem, the thirteenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet and a member of the manifestation group; this letter represents water, stability and balance, and the reflective quality of thought. Mem represents the waters of wisdom and knowledge and the ability to dive deep into spirit. It is said that every human thirsts for knowledge of the waters of life. Mem also represents humility; after all, water always runs downhill to the lowest place.

On the Tree of Life, Temperance represents Path 23, running between Geburah (the place where forms and structures are challenged or affirmed) and Hod (provides analysis and communication), representing Stable Intelligence. Both of these sephiroth are located on the Pillar of Form, the collection of spheres that represent feminine energies that are passive and subject to being shaped by the forces around them. When moving up the Tree, the 23rd Path is the first of the more abstract paths, and thus its energies manifest in different ways for different people. This path tells of revelations that cause the blossoming of personal power, and the testing of that power order to test our character and ethical codes. This Path also tends to teach us how to submit to a greater power in order to evolve, and to be less focused on the material in order to be uplifted.

The Thoth Hanged Man is pretty traditional. It shows a figure hanging upside down, arms out to either side (reminding us of the crucifixion of Christ), but the Thoth Hanged Man and his body placement remind us of another card: The Emperor. The traditional image on The Emperor shows a kingly man seated on a throne, with one leg crossed over the other, and The Hanged Man is reminding us that often, the structure and order of The Emperor is counterproductive. The Thoth Hanged Man represents sacrifice or loss (either willing or enforced), suffering, defeat, and even death. It also can represent the kind of surrender that happens when we wait for events to unfold with a sense of fatalism. Crowley warns us that the suspension brought by this card can either hint that we are waiting for someone else to take charge, or that we are sacrificing for the benefit of others. Either of those interpretations can either be appropriate or harmful, depending on the situation.

The image on the Wild Unknown card called The Hanging Man is interesting: a bat hanging upside down, wrapped cozily in his wings, with red, glowing eyes. This bat appears at first glance to be totally surrendering to his upside-down pose, but actually he is quite alert, looking around and perceiving all. Perceiving all from a unique perspective, and maybe seeing things that we aren’t seeing from our right-side-up view of the world. The bat is not forced to assume this hanging position; he actually chooses to see the world this way, and is able to benefit from his choice. And when he is ready to move on, all he has to do is let go, and he is immediately, effortlessly, able to soar.

The Legacy of the Divine deck offers a truly interesting Hanging Man. Here is the same figure from The Fool and The Universe (and several other Major Arcana cards), this time he is hanging from a purple ribbon in a graceful arabesque. One knee is bent and raised and the other foot reaches downward; one arm is lifted as he deliberately drops several golden coins; the other arm reaches downward, ready to drop the mask he has removed from his face. An hourglass, also found in several Majors of this deck, is balanced evenly and laying on its side (thus suspending the passage of time) and is reflected in a mirror framed in gold. In the background is a lake with a still surface surrounded by silver pillars (which are reflected in the surface of the lake), and a full moon and starry sky. The Hanging Man in this deck represents a rest for The Fool in his journey through the Majors, and a moment for him to sit back and see things in a new way. The Fool is not so much hanged in this image as he is balanced.

The Hanged Man is a fascinating card. Did the figure present himself to be hanged on the tree, or did circumstances or the will of others string him up unwillingly? The concepts of sacrifice and surrender can be seen as either voluntary or enforced, and still be valid. The Hanged Man can represent someone who is passive rather than proactive, or introverted rather than extroverted. It can tell of someone who would love to move ahead in life but is being held back by events out of his control. It can tell of a seeker who understands that he must suffer in order to evolve. In the end, each of us will have our own unique connection to The Hanged Man, and in order to perceive that connection we just might need to turn things upside down; we just might need to see things in a different and unexpected way.

It is interesting to note the placement of The Hanged Man in the Major Arcana: right before Death, and right after either Strength or Justice, depending on the deck. Here is a midlife crisis or a crisis of identity or a place in the world. Here is the search for balance between opposing forces when we suddenly realize that the answer is beyond our ability to control or activate. Instead of actively solving the problem, we are strung up and humbled, unable to escape.

Also interesting is that the tree or cross from which the figure is hanging is usually alive and growing, rather than dead wood. The figure hanging from this tree, no matter how uncomfortably he is bound, usually has a serene look on his face and does not appear to be struggling or trying to get free. This is not a card of punishment, or even of martyrdom; it hints at new growth and new birth, at discomforts and tests that bring inner strength and evolution. Here is the vigil of the squire on the eve of his investiture as a knight. Here is a powerful spiritual initiation that occurs after we have been aimed downward and inward, the symbolic place of our deepest and darkest secrets, and survived.


About the Author:

Raushanna is a lifetime resident of New Jersey. As well as a professional Tarot reader and teacher, she is a practicing Wiccan (Third Degree, Sacred Mists Coven), a Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, a certified Vedic Thai-Yoga Massage Bodyworker, a 500-hr RYT Yoga Teacher specializing in chair assisted Yoga for movement disorders, and a Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and teacher.  Raushanna bought her first Tarot deck in 2005, and was instantly captivated by the images on the cards and the vast, deep and textured messages to be gleaned from their symbols. She loves reading about, writing about, and talking about the Tarot, and anything occult, mystical, or spiritual, as well as anything connected to the human subtle body. She has published a book, “The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journey To Understanding,” and is currently working on a book about the Tarot, pathworking and the Tree of Life. Raushanna documents her experiences and her daily card throws in her blog, DancingSparkles.blogspot.com, which has been in existence since 2009. She and her husband, her son and step son, and her numerous friends and large extended family can often be found on the beaches, bike paths and hiking trails of the Cape May, NJ area.


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