The Hanged Man shows a man suspended, upside-down, from the living World Tree, rooted in the underworld and supporting the heavens. Given the serene expression on his face, it is believed he is hanging on the tree of his own will. His right foot is bound to the tree but his left foot remains free, bent at the knee and tucked in behind his right leg. His arms are bent, with hands held behind his back, forming an inverted triangle. The man is wearing red pants representing human passion and the physical body, a blue coat for knowledge, and yellow shoes representing his high ideals. Around the Hanged Man’s head is a bright yellow halo showing spiritual attainment, with the grey background suggesting invisibility (a good reminder to not flaunt your spirituality). This is the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. This is the archetype to meditate on to help break old patterns of behaviour and bad habits that restrict you.
The Hanged Man’s number is 12 – a higher octave of the number 3, representing careful planning and orderly growth leading to spiritual development. 1 (beginning) + 2 (the reasoning force) = 3 (the product of rebirth). The ruling planet is Neptune, the planet of self-sacrifice and idealism.
With Neptune (or Water) as its planet, the Hanged Man is perhaps the most fascinating card in the deck. At #12, it is the opposite of the World card, #21. With the World card you go infinitely out. With the Hanged Man, you go infinitely in.
Some readers believe the Hanged Man reflects the story of Odin who offered himself as a sacrifice in order to gain knowledge. Hanging from the world tree, wounded by a spear, given no bread or mead, he dangled for nine days. On the last day, he saw on the ground runes that had fallen from the tree, understood their meaning, and, coming down, scooped them up for his own. All knowledge is to be found in these runes.
Other readers like to point out that in older decks the card was known as “The Traitor,” referring to the fact that, historically, some countries hung traitors upsidedown by one foot.
And still other readers like to point out that the Hanged Man is like that moment when a babe in the womb turns upside-down so that it may be born, hanging, as it were, from its umbilical cord.
The Hanged Man is similar to all of these: like Odin, he allows himself to be hung so that he can gain wisdom for the world. Like traitors of old, be sacrifices himself for a cause, and sees things from an “inverted” perspective. What is right to him is wrong to others and vice versa. And like the babe in the womb, the Hanged Man hangs suspended between one world (the womb) and the next (outside the womb).
What is important to remember is that this is a card about suspension, not life or death. The querent might well feel that one thing has ended, yet the next has not begun, and they are stuck in a kind of waiting room. Things will continue on in a moment, but for now, they float, timeless.
This is the symbol which is supposed to represent Prudence, and Eliphas Levi says, in his most shallow and plausible manner, that it is the adept bound by his engagements. The figure of a man is suspended head-downwards from a gibbet, to which he is attached by a rope about one of his ankles. The arms are bound behind him, and one leg is crossed over the other. According to another, and indeed the prevailing interpretation, he signifies sacrifice, but all current meanings attributed to this card are cartomancists’ intuitions, apart from any real value on the symbolical side. The fortune-tellers of the eighteenth century who circulated Tarots, depict a semi-feminine youth in jerkin, poised erect on one foot and loosely attached to a short stake driven into the ground.
The Inner Symbolism of the Tarot Hanged Man Card
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 Eliphas Levi 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.