The Hanged Man


The Hanged Man – Tarot 12

By James Donahue

People cringe when The Hanged Man tarot card comes up in divination. The way this man hangs, from one foot with the second leg bent to make his body form the number 4, signifies hardship. It is, indeed, a shock to see a man hanging in such a position. It implies discomfort. Pain. Trouble. Yet look more closely.

There is a look of serenity on the face of this man. His right leg is bound but the left leg is bent as are his arms to suggest the Hebrew Star of David. There is a halo of light from the eternal soul shining brightly around his head. This is not a scene of torture. So what is this card saying?

Notice that the figure is hanging from branches that look like a Tau cross. The sign for this card is Neptune, which suggests the story of Odin who offered himself as a sacrifice to gain knowledge. He hung from the world tree, without food or drink for nine days. On the last day he looked down and saw runes that had fallen from the tree. He suddenly understood their meaning, came down, took the runes for his own, and understood that all knowledge was to be found in them. To this day runes are used in the occult for divination, just as are cards in the tarot deck.

As the story is told, the Fool continues his journey until he comes to a rest under a tree. There he stops to reflect on his spiritual self. He remains there for nine days without eating or drinking, barely moving. The world passes him by. On the ninth day he climbs to a branch and hangs upside down like a child, forgetting for a moment all that he is, wants, knows or cares about. Coins fall from his pockets and as he looks down at them, he sees them not as money but as tiny round bits of metal. His perspective changes. He finds himself hanging between the mundane world below and the spiritual world above, able to see both. It is a dazzling epiphany in which he reaches an understanding of great mysteries, now revealed to him for the first time.

This little story helps explain the meaning of this interesting card. It is a card about suspension, meditation, and understanding sometimes through trial and personal sacrifice. It is not about life or death. By reaching this mental state we come to illumination about our place in the spiritual world that surrounds us. The personal problems of this earthly world are put in their perspective when compared to the entire picture. Answers to personal problems suddenly become clear.  

This card in a spread might predict a time when everything stands still. We are about to enter a time of rest and reflection before continuing our journey.

The Hanged Man is is the number 12, the opposite of the World card, 21. With the World card you go infinitely outward. With the Hanged Man you look infinitely inward.

When we add the two numbers in 12, 1 plus 2, we get 3, The Empress card, which in many mythologies is the mother or perhaps the wife of the hanging man. His number also associates him with the Knights of the Minor Arcana, all of them heroes and willing to die for their mission.

Some say his number links this card to the Sun and the solar year which has 12 months.

When Key 21, The World, is placed above the Hanged Man card, it makes an ankh, the Egyptian symbol of life and another association with The Empress. The Egyptian goddess Isis was the mother of Horus, the Egyptian sun god.


The Mind of James Donahue