- English: The Hanged Man
- French: Le Pendu
- Italian: Il Penduto
- Letter: Lamed ל
- Astro: Pisces (Thierens); Libra (Papus)
The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, 1911
The Hanged Man. This is the symbol which is supposed to represent Prudence, and Éliphas Lévi 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.
Behind the Veil¶
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.
Wisdom, circumspection, discernment, trials, sacrifice, intuition, divination, prophecy.
Selfishness, the crowd, body politic.
The Symbolism of the Tarot, 1913
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.
General Book of the Tarot, 1930
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 W. 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.
P. tries to identify the Hanged Man with the Hebrew letter Lamed which “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.
This trinity contains more meaning than a superficial astrological consideration could reveal. From such a standpoint it might even appear more or less arbitrary.
So, for instance, the question might be asked, Why has not Mercury, nearer to the Sun even than Venus, been chosen as a member of the trinity? It would take us too far from our main road if we tried to explain this in detail, but it may be stated that in some respect the Moon represents and conveys the vibrations of Mercury to the Earth.
The astrological symbols for the visible sun and for the planet we know under the name of Mercury, but which could as well have been named Vulcan, should be and respectively instead of ☉ and ☿. I have explained this in another volume. (Cosmology II, Elements of Astrology.)
Further we might point out, that to the Earth and its inhabitants, the Sun, the Moon and Venus are, in fact, of some sort of primary importance; the Sun and the Moon (of the Earth) as the representatives to us of the primary polar powers of the positive and the negative in Cosmos; Venus as the planet representing the first step in evolution next to the Earth, consequently of primary importance to our evolution.
The Sun, Moon and ‘Flaming Star’ are not only one of the most striking and beautiful expressions of the Divine Trinity among our present-day Freemasons, as every handbook on Freemasonry shows us, but have been so for long ages.
The heads of these steles bear a representation of the king and his daughter before a goddess (of Justice?) and above these figures are the images of the Sun, the Moon and the (eight-pointed) Flaming Star, which evidently mean, that the king, eventually for the benefit of his daughter as well, invokes the Heavenly Powers of the Trinity to protect his kingdom against invasion.
So three thousand years ago the three Heavenly Lights appear to have been bearing the same significance and to have been used in this same mutual relation as at present in Freemasonry and in our Tarot system. We may accept this as pretty sure proof of the antiquity of both Freemasonry and Tarot.4
The Tarot, 1888
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.
Self-sacrifice, Sacrifice, Devotion, Bound.
Selfishness, Unbound, Partial sacrifice.
The Tarot of the Bohemians, 1892
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.
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.
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.
[Img of point-down triangle under equilateral cross here; the alchemic symbol of sulphur (🜍) upside-down]
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.
- Equilibrium of Necessity and Liberty—
- (Preserving power of Love.)
- Equilibrium of Power and Courage. Reflex of Prudence—
- ACQUIRED EXPERIENCE.
- Equilibrium of the potential Manifestation (10), and of reflected Life (11). Reflex of the astral Fluid.
- EQUILIBRIST FORCE.
[Transliteration of these has improved substantially in the last century; original text gives “Melichikou” here.] ↩
Musée du Louvre, Paris. ↩
[Original text gives “Nazi-Maraddach” here. Again, the date’s a bit off as well.] ↩
[No, we may fucking not. This is a blatant fallacy. Even were it proved this is why these symbols were on the Kudurru, which has not even been attempted by Thierens, this would imply absolutely nothing regarding Freemasonry or Tarot. An actual history of Tarot is more along these lines. —Ed., who gets annoyed when words like “proof” are casually thrown around.] ↩