Comparing 2’s & The Hanging Man
Many Tarot cards can seem similar enough to each other that interpreting them when they both show up in a spread can be challenging. One way to achieve a deeper understanding of a card is to compare it to another card. This month we will compare a Minor Arcana card, the 2 of Swords, with a Major Arcana card, The Hanged Man. We will explore similarities between these two cards, and then we will look at the differences. I will be using card images from the Rider Tarot Deck for this analysis.
First, the similarities. The basic messages or interpretations of these two cards have commonalities. The 2 of Swords usually represents the blocking out of outside influences or the suspension of allowing the effects of outside experiences. The Hanged Man usually tells us to surrender to those influences or experiences by living in the moment. Both cards tell of letting go or giving up control, of pausing to reset our emotions and awareness.
Both cards correspond to a number. The 2’s of the Minors represent some kind of duality, polarity, and opposites: tension and diplomacy, direction and connection, and their comparison with each other (that comparison often contemplates the concept of “distance between” those ideas). These 2’s also represent a balance or temporary pause, a partnership that has creative power, and they also show the first manifestation of the traits of the suit.
The Hanged Man is the number 12 of the Majors, which represents imagination, inspiration, exploration individuality and creative self-expression. The number 12 is found within many systems, both sacred and secular. There are 12 Tribes of Israel, l2 Olympians in the Greek pantheon, and 12 petals on the lotus that represents Anahata, the heart chakra. There are 12 jurors on a jury panel; 12 is a number used in units of time, including the Western calendar.
Both of our cards have correspondences on the Tree of Life. Minor Arcana cards represent a sephira on the Tree of Life. The 2 of Swords (and the other three 2 cards of the Minors) corresponds with the sephira of Chokmah at the top of the Pillar of Force/Expansion. This sephira is seen as representing the essence of the Sacred Masculine (active, outwardly-expressed manifestation), and it represents the first manifestation after the pureness of Kether (which is the cause or catalyst of manifestation). Chokmah is dynamic thrust, the Ultimate Positive, the Great Stimulator and the Great Fertilizer (one of the symbols of Chokmah is the penis), and thus this sephira is connected to the Wheel of the Year. In Chokmah, pure being becomes pure force, and manifests as the purest, most powerful expression of the suit that has not yet been influenced or diluted by any other forces.
Major Arcana cards represent a Path between two sephiroth. The Hanged Man 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. 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, to see our world with new perspective, and to be less focused on the material in order to be uplifted.
Time to explore some differences. The 2 of Swords is a Minor Arcana card. The message offered by this card will most likely be more immediate in nature, or will most likely be connected to more day-to-day issues. Major Arcana cards, on the other hand, usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives because of their universal nature.
There are no real similarities in the traditional images on these cards besides the stillness of both figures. The traditional image on the 2 of Swords shows a blindfolded woman sitting on a bench at the water’s edge, seeming to be unaware of her surroundings and holding two swords before her with her crossed arms creating a barrier. The water behind her is smooth, but there are jagged rocks poking above the surface; in the distance are mountains. The sky is clear, and a waning moon lights the scene. The traditional image on The Hanged Man shows a figure hanging upside down with one foot tied to a T-shaped structure (often with leaves and branches growing from it), with his other leg crossed and knee bent, in the same position as the seated Emperor only upside-down. Sometimes his arms are bound behind his back, or they are spread wide to either side; some cards show coins falling from the man’s pockets. He wears red tights and a blue shirt, he usually has some kind of halo around his head, and he is often shown with his eyes open.
There are differences in the interpretations of these cards. The 2 of Swords can represent avoiding truth, closing your eye to what is happening around you, and staying stuck in a place because you are afraid or refusing to decide. The figure on The Hanged Man is not fighting his situation or refusing to perceive it; he may be hanging upside-down from one foot with his hands tied behind his back and hos physical belongings falling away from him, but he is accepting rather than struggling. His eyes are open, and his foot is securely tied so he does not fear falling on his head. Because he is willingly giving up on urgency, he can see things in a new way.
Our two cards have different elemental correspondences. The suit of Swords corresponds with the element of Air, the Spades of playing cards, and the direction of East. Air adapts; it represents the intelligence that clears away the fog of ignorance so we can clearly see and understand, and it supports communications and sounds of all kinds. Air allows both expression (out from within us) and perception (in from outside of us) to happen. The direction of East corresponds to the season of Spring, sunrise, and the waxing moon, all representations of beginnings, growing, and expanding.
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; thus 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. A body of Water can be calm and deep, or it can be dangerously churning and filled with powerful currents. Feelings and emotions correspond with 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. Water also represents the Inner Voice and the subconscious, the dark and unknown depths hidden below the smooth reflective surface.
The astrological correspondence for the 2 of Swords is the Moon in the constellation Libra, and this offers us a bit more depth of understanding of our card. The Moon, which represents our emotional life, is the brightest object besides the sun in our sky, and besides feelings and emotions and illusion and imagination, it is also associated with a need for security, mainly because of the unease brought by the darkness. Things look different when lit by the light of the Moon; colors change and shadows distort. Libra offers the concept of “we are,” and it is diplomatic, objective, cooperative, and calm, and is about partnerships and balance; Libra can also be vague, distant, indecisive, dependent on others, and can lack confidence. When the Moon is in Libra, it offers adaptability, balance, harmony, and tranquility. It also tells us that conflicts are uncomfortable, and we may do a lot to avoid them because we need stability and predictability, which may be difficult to maintain because standing up for ourselves brings that conflict we are trying to avoid.
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. This planet is associated with dreams, empathy, artistry, enchantment, inspiration, visions, magick, and psychic receptivity, as well as with illusion, vagueness and uncertainty.
Major Arcana cards have correspondences that don’t usually apply to the Minors, but we can still work with them in order to understand both The Hanged Man and the 2 of Swords. The Hanged Man represents two archetypes: Sacrifice and Initiation. Sacrifice is defined as “surrendering a possession as an offering to the Divine”; Self-Sacrifice is defined as “the giving up of one’s own interests or wishes in order to help others.” Initiation is defined as “a right of passage marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society.” To me, initiation does involve some kind of sacrifice as an initiation is in a way a re-birth, and birth is like death in that it is a one-way progression. The sacrifice that creates initiation might not be physically-obvious and often involves using the will in order to change oneself. The 2 of Swords deals with the mind and its perceptions because this card is telling us to shut out those perceptions. With the 2 of Swords, we are relying solely on the intellect and the mind while being blind to the outside world, and that can lead to enlightenment, or dangerous illusion.
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 and cannot hold its shape without the help of a container. There are similarities here with the 2 of Swords, which also tells of balance and the stability achieved through the balance of equals, and which also deals with the workings of the mind, including the process of thought.
So, what have we discovered? The 2 of Swords manifests the potential for thinking and using the intellect presented by the Ace of Swords and the duality, balance and actual use of the intellect and the thinking process presented by the 2 of Swords. It manifests this potential in a pure way because the manifestation is not yet affected by any other force, including any messages from feelings or the senses or the outside world. Because the 2 of Swords is working with the mind and its processes, this card often denies the input of our other senses, including our emotions and our ability to see and perceive (and thus process and use what we see and perceive). We can see the denial of the message of feelings and emotions because the figure has her arms crossed over her heart, the seat of feelings. The 2 of Swords shows us that not choosing is also a choice, and we can certainly avoid for a bit involving ourselves in the situations around us in order to center and regroup, but being blind to facts long-term could create a dangerous illusion, as symbolized by those jagged rocks in the water behind the seated figure in the traditional image. Those rocks could also be indicating that the body of water is shallow, similar to the emotions or feelings being experienced. This card also can represent the intellect being restrained by itself, another pathway into possible illusion.
The Hanged Man is suspending action too, but his eyes are open. He sees where he is, and he sees his surroundings from a new angle so a pause in order to absorb this turn-around is appropriate. He is still and quiet, but he is not shutting out the messages of his senses completely. The Hanged Man also encourages us to not rely on our physical senses; the world looks different from an upside-down position and we become aware of details that we missed when upright. He also encourages us to allow those coins to fall away, to release and surrender the comforts of the physical world for they can dull our senses and encourage lethargy rather than enlightenment. The Hanged Man, the number 12 card of the Majors, can be seen as representing a combination of The Magician, the number 1 card, and The High Priestess, the number 2 card. He asks us to experience opposites, to allow their effects to wash over us and at the same time to remember that discomfort is a huge part of growing and becoming strong.
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 Journal 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.