The Hanged Man

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The Hanged Man is among the most feared cards in the Tarot, but his bad reputation is entirely undeserved. What our collective fear of the card shows us is our resistance to the energies he represents – surrender, stillness, patience and sacrifice.

The Hanged Man often comes up in Tarot readings when you are at a crossroads in life, but there is no clear path forward yet. Everywhere you look there is a thick, metaphysical fog, and no matter how hard you squint you cannot, from your current viewpoint, see your future. There is a sense of quietude and stillness about the Hanged Man, as if the entire universe is holding its breath waiting for something in the situation to give.

The upright Hanged Man card hints at your innate ability to surrender to the moment, to the uncertainty of it all, and to be comfortable not having a clear roadmap. The reversed Hanged Man pinpoints your resistance, your fear of the unknown, or you stalling and holding up the natural course of your life.

How the Hanged Man reminds you of what is important

The Hanged Man is one of the most iconic Major Arcana Tarot cards. At first glance, the imagery of the Hanged Man appears ominous and threatening, but if you lean in for a closer look you will see that the Hanged Man is in fact serene and utterly at peace with his situation. He reminds us that life is inherently uncontrollable and uncertain. No matter how clearly we are able to formulate a plan on paper or in our heads, our lived realities often turn out very different. The Hanged Man is a vital reminder of the beauty – and indeed the inner poise, peace and balance – that it is possible to find in the midst of the chaos of life.

To fully appreciate and absorb the meaning and Message of the Hanged Man it makes sense to look at him in relation to some of the other Major Arcana Tarot cards.

The Hanged Man – the midpoint of the Major Arcana

The Major Arcana, as a whole, tells an evolutionary story that begins with the Fool (marked with the number 0, the number of pure and open-ended potential) and ends with the World (marked with the number XXI, signifying completion while also offering a gateway into a new beginning).

The Hanged Man Tarot card is found somewhere in the middle and is labeled with the numeral XII, also indicating a liminal space between an ending and a new beginning – with the emphasis, in this case, being on the promise of a new beginning.

The card immediately preceding the Hanged Man in most Tarot decks is the Justice card. Justice, typically ascribed the number XI, represents perfect balance and the impassive nature of higher, cosmic justice. If you consider the Hanged Man the next chapter in terms of your personal and spiritual evolution, the Hanged Man might represent a time of introspection and realignment following the moment of truth and potentially reckoning depicted in the Justice card.

In the Hanged Man card, there is a sense of acceptance of things as they are. This includes an acceptance of your personal responsibilities, your transgressions, and also your gifts.

The Hanged Man is much like a caterpillar in its pupae, not yet able to see his path and purpose clearly, but surrendering to the process of becoming a butterfly. Clarity will come soon enough, in the Star card, once the transformational energies of the Temperance, The Tower and The Devil have been dealt with.

The Hanged Man Tarot card description

Depictions of the Hanged Man Tarot card vary somewhat from deck to deck, but most are based on the traditional Rider-Waite Tarot. It is its symbols we will be taking a closer look at here.

The man

The card’s primary feature is the man hanging upside-down from a tree in the card’s foreground.

The man’s pose is one of ultimate surrender. His right foot is tied to the living wood behind him and his left foot, hanging free, is tucked in behind his leg. His hands are also free, but he is willigly holding them behind his back while forming an inverted triangle with his fingers.

To onlookers the man might appear to be in a bad situation, but he couldn’t care less about what passersby might think. Instead he is fully centred and composed within himself while contemplating the entire cosmos from his new perspective. One obvious advantage of hanging upside-down is that it allows you, forces you, to view things differently.

Dressed in a light blue tunic and red pants, even the man’s outfit suggests liminality. The pale blue colour of the tunic represents spirituality and higher knowledge, while the red pants represents the drives, needs and desires of the physical body.

The tree

The tree that the man is hanging from is is shaped like a cross, bringing to mind religious images and connotations of selfless surrender, self-sacrifice and transcendence.

But when we consider the man’s unusual upside-down pose, we are reminded of mythic connotations that are even older than Christianity. In Norse mythology, the king of the gods, Odin, obtained his wisdom by hanging himself upside down from the branches of Yggdrasil.

In Buddhism, too, the symbol of the tree is associated with higher spiritual knowledge; Guatama Buddha was sat under a bodhi tree when he became enlightened.

The halo

A halo of soft light shines around the man’s serene face.

Whatever alchemical process is taking place as he hangs extrapolated from his living cross, the result is burgeoning enlightenment, a growing inner light and awareness.

The landscape

The landscape behind the man on the cross is greyed out, perhaps lost in the fog.

The effect is one of absolute focus on what is happening in the card’s foreground, of being completely present in the moment.

The Hanged Man Tarot card meanings

Every Tarot card contains multiple layers of meaning and significance. Here are some of the most significant upright Hanged Man Tarot card meanings.

Surrender, acceptance

Surrender and acceptance are, perhaps, the primary meanings of this card.

There is a sense of you surrendering completely to what is, and allowing the world and your life to be what they are without resting, fighting or pushing against reality. You recognise that there are things that you cannot control, things that are out of your hands. You accept this, and focus on what you can control instead; yourself.

Letting go

Closely related to the significance of surrender and acceptance is letting go.

So much of our collective suffering stems from the inability to let go, whether this means letting go of unrealistic or toxic expectations, plans we made long ago but now no longer feel inspired or excited by, or relationships and friendships that have long since outlived their purpose. When you let go of what no longer serves or honours you, you simultaneously make space for something or someone new to come into your life.

Waiting

Like the figure depicted hanging upside down in the card you too are in a waiting position.

Whether you are awaiting a specific phone call or news or a sign from the universe, you are currently at an impasse, at a crossroads, waiting. You cannot yet make your move and have to wait for the mist to begin to clear before you can move forward.

An alternative perspective

Hanging upside-down you are bound to view your life from a different point of view.

From your remote vantage point you are inevitably going to be forming a new perspective. The insights that come to you while you are hanging from the branches of Yggdrasil are likely to bring you lasting wisdom and impact your overall destiny.

Inner transformation

Inner transformation is an inevitable result of deep contemplation and and a new and different perspective.

Nothing much may be going on on the surface level of your life, but underneath the surface a profound alchemical transformation is taking place. When you step down from your cross and return to the world, nothing is going to be the same.

The Hanged Man Reversed Tarot card meanings

When Tarot cards appears in their reversed positions, their meaning becomes distorted, inverted or exacerbated. Here are the key meanings of the reversed Hanged Man.

Resistance

You are at odds with your current reality, resisting, fighting, berating and pushing up against it.

You may think that blunt force is going to make the universe yield and bend to your wishes, but this is not the case. Sometimes no action is the best course of action – this is one of those times.

Standstill, delays

Knowing when to act and when not to act is an underrated virtue. But sometimes, whether you act or don’t act and whether you push or don’t push, the situation is simply locked at a standstill.

Seemingly endless delays appear on your path, making any progress glacial and strenuous. Nothing flows, and every step forward is hard-won.

Stalling

Occasionally the cause of all of the delays and prolonged sense of standstill can be you.

Whether you are feeling indecisive or unprepared, you are simply holding back from throwing yourself fully into the thick of life. When this is the case, the Hanged Man reversed is telling you to get up and get at it. Your retreat is supposed to be a temporary timeout, a chance for you to rest and explore new perspectives – standstill is not meant to become a permanent state of stasis.

The Hanged Man Tarot card interpretations

Which layer or facet of a Tarot card’s meaning is most relevant in a specific Tarot reading is always going to depend on a few things, most notably on the individual Tarot reader’s take on the card, as well as on any surrounding cards in the spread. Here are a couple of examples of how the Hanged Man couldt be interpreted in the context of different Tarot readings.

What the Hanged Man means in a love Tarot reading

Upright

Right now there is nothing for you to do but wait. You might be unsure of the future of an existing relationship, or unclear on whether you are even on the right path. Don’t rush into any important decisions. Wait for the fog to clear and soon enough the answers and clarity you crave will come to you.

Reversed

You are feeling stuck and frustrated with your romantic situation. Whether it is because nothing is happening or because an existing relationship is not progressing as you had hoped and envisioned, the result is that you are unsure of what your next step forward should be. You might be so afraid of making the wrong move that you end up making no move at all.

What the Hanged Man means in a career Tarot reading

Upright

You are at an impasse, at a crossroads where nothing much is happening. Right now you are finding it impossible to envision or plan your future. When in doubt, remain quiet and watchful, like a snake in the grass watching for prey – sooner or later something juicy is bound to move.

Reversed

You are feeling struck and restrained. Right now, you are not in a place in your career where you have much autonomy or input. Conversely, you may have been out of a job for a while and are finding it difficult trying to get back in.

Lucius Nothing

Lucius has been slinging tarot cards professionally since 2014. He’s taken the tarot to places most wouldn’t think of: His best-known patrons include Torture Garden, The Dark Circus Party, Handel & Hendrix, A Curious Invitation and The Candlelight Club, where he has been resident tarot reader for the past half-decade. His writing on divination, magic and creativity has been published in Sabbat Magazine and on Medium.

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