The Hanged Man (tarot card): Wikis


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The Hanged Man (XII)

The Hanged Man (XII) is the twelfth trump or Major Arcana card in most traditional Tarot decks. It is used in game playing as well as in divination. It may also be known as The Traitor, particularly in older decks.[1]


Description and symbolism

Modern versions of the tarot deck depict a man hanging upside-down by one foot. The figure is most often suspended from a wooden beam (as in a cross or gallows) or a tree. Ambiguity results from the fact that the card itself may be viewed inverted. Is the man or the world upside-down?

In his book The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, A. E. Waite, the designer of the Rider-Waite tarot deck, wrote of The Hanged Man :

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 has been called falsely a card of martyrdom, a card a of prudence, a card of the Great Work, a card of duty [...] 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.[1] He who can understand that the story of his higher nature is imbedded [sic] 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.[2]

Students of the tarot, such as A.E Waite, creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot, suggest this card carries the following meanings or keywords:

  • Sacrifice ----- Letting go ----- Surrendering ----- Passivity
  • Suspension ----- Acceptance ----- Renunciation ----- Patience
  • New point of view ----- Contemplation ----- Inner harmony
  • Conformism ----- Nonaction ----- Waiting ----- Giving up

Divination usage


The crucifixion of Saint Peter is shown in this French stained glass window. Peter is conventionally shown as having been crucified upside down.

The Hanged Man is a card of profound but veiled significance. Its symbolism points to divinity, linking it to the Passion of Christ in Christianity, especially The Crucifixion; to the narratives of Osiris (Egyptian mythology) and Mithras (Roman mythology). In all of these archetypal stories, the destruction of self brings life to humanity; on the card, these are symbolized respectively by the person of the hanged man and the living tree from which he hangs bound. Its relationship to the other cards usually involves the sacrifice that makes sacred; personal loss for a greater good or a greater gain.

Serenely dangling upside-down, the Hanged Man has let go of worldly attachments. He has sacrificed a desire for control over his circumstances in order to gain an understanding of, and communion with, creative energies far greater than his individual self. In letting go, the hero gains a profound perspective accessible only to someone free from everyday conceptual, dualistic reality.

The Hanged Man is often associated with Odin, the primary god of the Norse Pantheon. Odin hung upside down from the world-tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days to attain wisdom and thereby retrieved The Runes from the Well of Wyrd, which the Norse cosmology regarded as the source and end of all Mystery and all knowledge. The moment he glimpsed the runes, he died, but the knowledge of them was so powerful that he immediately returned to life. This interpretation highlights the necessity of undertaking acts of personal sacrifice in order to achieve one's own higher spiritual good.

Another meaning resides in the journey of life. Certain aspects of life--for example, sex--are viewed one way by children and a different way by adults. The Hanged Man is the initiate into mysteries. He understands the Truth because he sees it from a different angle.

The most common interpretation of the card is of an outcast of society that appears to be a fool, but is in actuality completely in alignment and integrated. The inversion of the Hanged Man furnishes an advantage opaque and impenetrable to others.

Mythopoetic approach

He is closely associated through his cross sum (the sum of the digits) with The Empress, which in many mythologies is his mother or wife. He is the Dying God who dies each year, whose rebirth renews the world. Ideally, he is a willing sacrifice, though life sometimes demands sacrifices of the unwilling.

He is also associated with The Knights of the Minor Arcana; all these heroes are willing to die for their mission.

His cross sum makes him a solar hero. There are 12 months in a solar year (as opposed to 13 months in the lunar year). In some way he represents the solar cults who rode down and vanquished the old goddess cults (metaphorically or otherwise), though some accommodations were reached.

When Key 21 (The World) is placed above The Hanged Man, it makes an ankh, the Egyptian symbol of life, another association with The Empress. He represents the deal life made with death; that in return for reproduction, we are mortal. This is illustrated by the death of Osiris; even though Isis brings him back again and again, in the end, she has to be satisfied with leaving him in the underworld and using her arts to conceive a child with him. Their child, Horus, is a sun god, and in some sense, Osiris reborn.

The Hanged Man is every hero committed enough to the adventure to die for it.

The Hanged Man's association with the Empress can be ennobling or pathological. If the Empress is the object of desire, the Hanged Man is the one who desires. That desire can be destructively consuming or defining. If the Hanged Man appears with the Empress, it can signal consuming longing.

When he appears in a throw, he often signals a past sacrifice (of the Querent or otherwise) whose energy is either still enriching the Querent's life or being misspent. He can also represent a sacrifice the Querent is being set up to make. That can be a good thing (initiating the Querent into the mysteries, saving the world) or not so much (duping the Querent into an unwise sacrifice). He may also signal something about the person's relationship with their partner or parent.

In literature and popular stories

The image of The Hanged Man, like other Tarot images, appears in a number of creative works.

  • Tarot images, including The Hanged Man, appear in T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. Eliot also invented a card of his own for the poem: The Phoenician Sailor.
  • Several Tarot cards, including the Hanged Man, appear in Stephen King's Dark Tower series, most notably in The Gunslinger. The Hanged Man symbolises the main character - Roland - as well as his quest.
  • Anne Tyler drew upon the image for a scene in her novel Searching for Caleb (1975). Duncan Peck, the future husband of a fortune teller, frightens his family by suspending himself from a tree branch by one foot.
  • Tarot images are an organizing element in François Girard's 1998 film Le violon rouge (The Red Violin). The Hanged Man introduces the episode of Kaspar Weiss, a young prodigy.
  • In the X/1999 Tarot version made by CLAMP, The Hanged Man is Subaru Sumeragi.
  • The Jeffery Deaver book, The Twelfth Card, includes a character who leaves the card "The Hanged Man" at the crime scene.
  • American psychotherapist Sheldon Kopp used The Hanged Man as a title to one of his books, sub-titled Psychotherapy and the Forces of Darkness (ISBN 0-8314-0036-6) as a metaphor for a stage in life felt to be comprised primarily of stagnation and despair and rebirth into a renewed life.
  • British novelist Lindsay Clarke used The Hanged Man as a chapter title in his novel The Chymical Wedding: A Romance (ISBN 0-330-30968-4). The Chymical Wedding won the Whitbred award for best novel in 1989. John Fowles wrote 'The best reason to read The Chymical Wedding is ... it offers us: keen insights into human characters and a vital rendering of the perilous bliss and darkest imaginings of our fragile world.'
  • An image almost identical to The Hanged Man is one of the nine images appearing in the book The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows by Aristide Torchia in the film The Ninth Gate. The plot of the movie revolves around interpretation of these images.
  • The Hanged Man is the name of the second boss in The House of the Dead, produced by Sega and is depicted as a gargoyle. It should be mentioned that all of the bosses in the House of the Dead are named for cards from the Major Arcana.
  • The final appearance of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight (2008) evokes the image of The Hanged Man. The camera work echoes the card's ambiguity: is the person or the world upside-down?
  • J. Geil, a villain from the third series of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure possesses a light based Stand called The Hanged Man that can attack people through mirrors.
  • In the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona video game series, the Hanged Man Arcana features various mythological figures associated with enduring and pain, such as Vasuki, Attis, and Medea. Also, the Persona 3 characters Chidori Yoshino and Maiko are represented by this arcana. In Persona 4, this tarot card is represented by Naoki Konishi, the younger brother of the murdered Saki Konishi.
  • The Hanged Man is one of the Arcana Force cards used by Sartorius in the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX anime. He uses it to convince Chazz Princeton to join the Society of Light.
  • The Tarot image of the Hanged Man also appears in the Iron Maiden song "Revelations" on their 1983 album Piece of Mind. The relevant lines of this partially Crowley-influenced songs are "An easy way for the blind to go, a clever path for the fools who know the secret of the Hanged Man - the smile of his lips."
  • Both the tarot card and the idea of a man being hanged appear in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
  • In episode 2 of the Doctor Who story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Morgana shows the Doctor this card as a symbolism of himself. In episode 4, we subsequently see the Doctor hung upside-down while attempting to entertain the transdimensional Gods of Ragnarok. The card itself can symbolise such moments of suspension between physical and mystical worlds in much the same way the Doctor has travelled between the 'real' world and the 'dark' world of the gods. The card can also imply a time when everything just stands still, a time of pause in the action of life before moving on - indeed, there is a moment in the episode when 'time' seems to stop and prepare itself for the final fight against the Gods- the Doctor brandishes a sword and 'miraculously' the medallion which is instrumental in defeating the Gods is kicked between the dimensions and appears on the sword blade.
  • In The Hunger episode "The Seductress," the image of The Hanged Man can be seen as a poster in Alexander's room.
  • In the Terry Gilliam film "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" Heath Ledger plays the character of Tony who is discovered hanging upon a divination by Doctor Parnassus involving the hanged man tarot card.
  • The Roman Polanski film The Ninth Gate contains a scene wherein a murdered character is left suspended upside down by his ankle and posed in such a way as to reference the image on the Tarot card.

See also


  1. ^ according to The Hermitage
  • A. E. Waite's 1910 Pictorial Key to the Tarot
  • Hajo Banzhaf, Tarot and the Journey of the Hero (2000)
  • Most works of Joseph Campbell
  • Juliette Wood, Folklore 109 (1998):15-24, The Celtic Tarot and the Secret Tradition: A Study in Modern Legend Making (1998)
  • T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land
  • Francesca Lia Block, The Hanged Man (1999)

External links

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