The Tarot (Marseilles)¶
Description of The Hanged Man Tarot Card Tarot Card¶
This extraordinary symbol is almost unintelligible in the double-headed cards. Properly, it represents a man hung head downwards from a sort of gibbet by one foot (his hands are bound behind his back in such a manner that his body forms a triangle with the point downwards), and his legs a cross above it. (Two sacks or weights are attached to his armpits.) He symbolises Sacrifice.
Divination Meanings of The Hanged Man Tarot Card¶
Self-sacrifice, Sacrifice, Devotion, Bound.
Reversed Meanings of The Hanged Man Tarot Card¶
Selfishness, Unbound, Partial sacrifice.
The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (RWS)¶
Description of The Hanged Man Tarot 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 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 Symbolism of the Tarot (RWS)¶
Description of The Hanged Man Tarot Card¶
And then I saw a man in terrible suffering, hung by one leg, head downward, to a high tree. And I heard the voice:—
Look! This is a man who saw Truth. Suffering awaits the man on earth, who finds the way to eternity and to the understanding of the Endless.
He is still a man, but he already knows much of what is inaccessible even to Gods. And the incommensurableness of the small and the great in his soul constitutes his pain and his golgotha.
In his own soul appears the gallows on which he hangs in suffering, feeling that he is indeed inverted.
He chose this way himself.
For this he went over a long road from trial to trial, from initiation to initiation, through failures and falls.
And now he has found Truth and knows himself.
He knows that it is he who stands before an altar with magic symbols, and reaches from earth to heaven; that he also walks on a dusty road under a scorching sun to a precipice where a crocodile awaits him; that he dwells with his mate in paradise under the shadow of a blessing genius; that he is chained to a black cube under the shadow of deceit; that he stands as a victor for a moment in an illusionary chariot drawn by sphinxes; and that with a lantern in bright sunshine, he seeks for Truth in a desert.
Now he has found Her.
Tarot of the Bohemians (Marseilles)¶
Origin of the Symbolism of The Hanged Man Tarot Card¶
12th Hebrew letter (Lamed, ל)
Hieroglyphically the Lamed designates the arm, and therefore it is connected with anything that stretches, that raises, that unfolds like the arm, and has become the sign of expansive movement. It is applied to all ideas of extension, of occupation, of possession. As a last sign, it is the image of the power derived from elevation.
Divine expansion in humanity is produced by the prophets and revelation, and this inspires the idea of the revealed law. But the revelation of the law involve punishment for him who violates it, or elevation for him who understands it; and here we find the ideas of punishment, of violent death, voluntary or involuntary.
The Lamed, a simple letter, astronomically corresponds with the zodiacal sign of the Balance.
The Hanged Man¶
A man hanging by one foot to a gibbet, resting upon two trees, each bearing six branches, which have been cut off.
The man’s hands are tied behind his back, and the fold of his arms forms the base of a reversed triangle, of which his head forms the point. His eyes are open and his fair hair floats upon the wind. His right leg crosses his left and so forms a cross.
This young man is again the Juggler whose transformations we have already followed in the 1st, 6th, and 7th arcana.
Like the sun placed in the midst of the signs of the Zodiac (six on each side, the lopped branches), our young hero is again suspended between two decisions, from which will spring, no longer his physical future, as in the 6th arcanum, but his spiritual future.
The 12th arcanum fills the centre between the 6th arcanum (Wisdom) and the 15th (Fatality). These arcana represent the two women of the 6th arcanum, regarded in the spiritual sense.
This Hanged Man serves for an example to the presumptuous, and his position indicates discipline, the absolute submission which the human owes to the Divine.
Considered alchemically, the Hanged Man shows the sign of personality.
In the hermetic grade of the Rosy-Cross (18th degree of the Freemasonry of Scotland) one of the signs of recognition consists in crossing the legs like those of the Hanged Man. It is needless to say that the origin and meaning of this sign is quite unknown to the Freemasons.
The twelfth card of the Tarot represents Equilibrist Power. It neutralizes the oppositions of the tenth and eleventh cards.
General Book of the Tarot (RWS)¶
Description of The Hanged Man Tarot Card¶
This twelfth sign of house, closing the cycle of the zodiac, means loss to the outer world, solution, handing over the results of one cycle to the following one, whence comes the meaning of treachery in common astrology. This house contains the things which we have not yet mastered and those whom we have failed to understand or who have failed to understand us. So either this remains for the next cycle, or it will tempt us to waste our last forces. In the eyes of the world it is the sign of waste, spoil, mishap. Viewed from the other side it is the sign of the Golem, in which the outer world loses its importance or even reality, and the consciousness is opened to inner truth. This is the reversing of consciousness, which makes things change their significance in such a way that they appear to turn upside down: the world is now viewed from the other side. And this is the significance of the hanged man.
It is also the sign of Judas, who, as far as the outer world is able to judge, did not understand the significance of Jesus and handed Him over to His enemies, the most mysterious of the disciples and apparently the fiend within the circle. What, however, is his treason or despair when viewed from the other side? It is an act of ‘perversion,’ the result of human nature being too weak to carry on in this world the heavy load of spiritual revelation; or even a mystic message, which till now has never been understood and will never be understood by the profane world. However this may be, we may feel pretty sure, that none of the others who remained in this world to preach the Gospel understood or, let us say rather, underwent the Message like Judas, who hanged himself.
Well may Waite say: “It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled.” Perhaps we might even add: it is the symbol of the veil itself and of everything that is and remains veiled in this world, and, in divination, to the querent, ad hoc.
Papus tries to identify the Hanged Man with the Hebrew letter Lamedwhich “designates the arm” … but fails utterly in his effort to explain this. We should say, if this identification be true, it may be because of the power to embrace and to execute. The arms hang, when not raised. We shall not try to explain it any further here.
The man is shown hanging in a sling on one foot. Astrology teaches that the feet are ruled by the sign Pisces. The crossing of the legs is a symbol of ‘crossing’ in general.
Among the other cards of the Greater Arcana, nine of which symbolise planetary principles and functions, three only are given in full as heavenly bodies: Sun, Moon and the—(eight-pointed)—’Flaming Star,’ while the significance of the others is clothed in allegorical images.
Now the question why only these three and not the other planetary principles should have been given in full, is difficult to answer. In a way the ‘Flaming Star’ stands for the stars in general and so this trinity means: Sun, Moon and Stars. On the other hand, ancient priests and astrologer-initiates appear not to have chosen to communicate more of the significance of the planets than just a few of their apparent effects, while in ‘Sun, Moon and Star’ they strongly expressed the idea of a Heavenly Trinity, viz. that of the positive or masculine creative power, radiating life; that of a feminine or negative power, which rules formation, and of a uniting principle, he it under the name of Law, Love or Union. The latter was always represented as specifically benefic. It is evidently the idea of the planet Venus, the beautiful morning and evening star, which was known to, and adored by, all peoples in all ages.
Tarot Card Information Sources¶
- The Tarot by S. L. MacGregor Mathers, originally published 1888
- The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by Arthur Edward Waite, originally published 1910
- The Symbolism of the Tarot by P. D. Ouspensky, originally published 1913
- The Tarot of the Bohemians by “Papus” (Gérard Encausse), trans. by A. P. Morton, originally published 1892
- General Book of the Tarot by A. E. Thierens, originally published 1930