Card Meaning: XII The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man
Element: Water
Planet: Neptune
Hebrew letter: Mem, ם


   While the Justice card illustrates that we must be careful with our choices, The Hanged Man takes it all a step further. The card is sending a clear message about sacrifices that we must consciously take in order to develop further on the path. It is also about a change of perspective, no wonder  main character on the card is hanging upside down from the tree. His face is smiling one, not a suffering one. Obviously he doesn't have any problem enduring his present state, he voluntarily whitstands his position. The Hanged One is a clear reference to Odin, the primary god in the Norse mythology. Odin hung upside down from the world-tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days to attain wisdom and thereby retrieved the runes from the Well of Wyrd,  the source and end of all sacred mystery and knowledge. The moment he glimpsed the runes, he died, but the knowledge of them was so powerful that he immediately returned to life. More or less we can sum up this card with that legend. Odin carries out his quest without moving, at least in the physical sense. The true quest is seeking within. Each moment of our life is a some kind of sacrifice, if we choose option A we usually must sacrifice option B. If we are to progress we must sacrifice our old beliefs, "knowledge", habits, and in the end, the ego itself in order to attain something more, to become something more. Sacrificing our limited mind to allow the infinitely wiser mind of our Higher Self to take a control of our lives is the choice we will have to take. On the lower level it means just doing something you thought you would never have done it. Every change in thinking allow us to gain the perception of another part of the universe, earlier invisible to us. In order to gain, sooner or later you will have to give. Sometimes in life one must make a leap of fate and just let it go, put one's faith in higher intelligence.


In the earliest known deck with the Trumps, Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis, this card is sometimes known Il Traditore (The Traitor). Hanging a man on one leg was in that times a punishment in Italy for a treason. Antoine Court De Gebelin (1728-1784), French scholar claimed that The Hanged Man was the fourth cardinal virtue - the Prudence among the Strength, Justice and Temperance although today general opinion is that the Prudence card is probably represented by The Hermit. He also argued that the card is wrongly oriented and that around the hanged man's leg is a snake, usually one of the attributes of the Prudence. The Visconti-Sforza Tarot depicts a young man hanging upside down with his hands tied on his back. He is very resigned and peaceful and that composure is also present in the later versions of tarot decks. In the Tarot de Marseille, Le Pendu (The Hanged Man) gallows are in the form of a gateway and each of the vertical poles have six stumps, as if their branches have been cut off, probably indicating twelve signs of the Zodiac. In the Grimaud style of Marseille Tarot, the man’s foot doesn’t seem to be tied, and in the Dodal style of Marseille Tarot, the cord seems to come from the sky itself. Some versions show him sticking out his tongue.  In some older decks this cards is also portrayed as a drawning Phoenician sailor - Drawning Man.


The Hanged Man symbolizes self-sacrifice, whether that be material or emotional. It also represent the need to adapt. Maybe you have been through rough times, inside a limbo where there was a need to give something up before making any kind of progress. The reversal of thought must happen and a point of view must change. Avail yourself of Higher Consciousness. Observe your situation from the new, fresh angle, you might be suprised. If reversed be aware of some kind of attachement or bondage, there are signs of an imprisoned spirit. It is time to let it go.

wisdom gained through a sacrifice, man hanging upside - down, crossed legs

   The young man is hanged upside down on a Tau cross-like tree but he is smiling, it seems that he is in that situation on the voluntary basis, like he is seeking something. We see his hair is white, obviously pointing to the fact that he gained wisdom seeing The World from this kind of perspective of the Universal Law. He seeks wisdom and gains it thanks to his new and, no doubt, to other people, strange and unenviable situation. He is changing his perspective and in the process he is changing himself. There is an obvious reference to Odin when we see that the figure is hung upside down. The detail that the figure is tied by just one leg and that there is a certain content with this situation shows that he is reconciled with the apparent bondage and restriction. One could make an assumption that exactly his evolving attitude towards his restrictions allows him to evolve. It is the attitude in everyday life towards all boring duties and obligations that also makes a difference here. There is an halo behind his head that further underscores our conclusion of the very deep insight of The Hanged Man. His legs forms a fylfot cross but also the number four where we can see the connection with The Emperor card. The Emperor stands for stability, material world and order so we can assume that those are the things that The Hanged One sees from another perspective. This card is associated with element water and planet Neptune, both closely connected with the concept of sacrifice. Neptune also offers possibility of perceiving the world on alternative and unusual, almost transcedental way. The hebrew letter Mem also means water. This is the reference to a sacrifice but also to dissolving our false egos. He is standing still, immovable, but conscious and alive, he realizes that no one ever thinks, moves or acts of himself, but simply expresses the thought, motion and action of the Universal Self.

The gallows from which he is suspended forms a Tau cross, while the figure--from the position of the legs--forms a fylfot cross. There is a nimbus about the head of the seeming martyr. It should be noted (1) that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with leaves thereon; (2) that the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering; (3) that the figure, as a whole, suggests life in suspension, but life and not death. It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled. One of his editors suggests that Éliphas Lévi did not know the meaning, which is unquestionable nor did the editor himself. It has been called falsely a card of martyrdom, a card a of prudence, a card of the Great Work, a card of duty; but we may exhaust all published interpretations and find only vanity. I will say very simply on my own part that it expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the Universe.

He who can understand that the story of his higher nature is imbedded in this symbolism will receive intimations concerning a great awakening that is possible, and will know that after the sacred Mystery of Death there is a glorious Mystery of Resurrection.

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, by A.E. Waite

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