Andrea has a background in Myers-Briggs and Western astrology. She mostly writes about relationships.
The Hanged Man in Tarot
In league with the Death, Devil, and Tower cards, the Hanged Man often gives people the creeps. This card is the 12th trump of the Major Arcana, which has 22 cards. The cards in the Major Arcana depict the major events, places, circumstances, and figures that most people will run into in their lifetime.
Card Description and Deck Location
The card depicts a pittura infamante, which is an image of a man hanging upside-down by one ankle. This was a common form of punishment for traitors in Italy. With this imagery, the Hanged Man card suggests ultimate surrender, sacrifice, or a suspension in time.
The solemn face of the man suggests he is hanging from the tree of his own accord. His expression has been interpreted to mean that he has sacrificed himself for someone else. So the card doesn't necessarily connect to punishment or criminality and can actually be interpreted as the card of the martyr.
The Hanged Man in most decks is either hanging from a tree or a cross. Trees play a central part in several myths throughout the world.
In some decks, the Hanged Man has a halo around his head, which signals spiritual enlightenment. This symbolism would be appropriate for an interpretation of the card as that of the martyr.
His right foot is bound to the tree while his left foot hangs loose. This could represent that the Hanged Man is feeling stuck because his conscious and subconscious are not working together. However, he still has a chance to break free.
This card appears after either the Justice or Strength cards, depending on which deck you are using. However, it always appears before the Death card.
Connections to Myths and Legends
This card could be interpreted differently depending on a person's cultural identity.
In some decks, the man holds bags of silver in his hands and portrays Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus for silver. This trade ultimately leads to the crucifixion of Jesus. The Hanged Man could also represent the Cross of St. Peter, a disciple who was crucified upside-down.
In The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, A.E. Waite, the designer of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, wrote about the Hanged Man's formation.
In short, the gallows from which he is suspended looks like the Tau cross. It's a T-shaped cross and looks like the Greek letter tau. It is also called Saint Anthony's cross.
From the position of the legs, the Hanged Man forms a fylfot cross, which is an English symbol. It is a cross with truncated limbs. The symbol might get confused with a Nazi image, though the fylfot cross is a much older symbol.
According to Waite, the card suggests life in suspension. He argues it isn't a card of martyrdom or prudence but of getting stuck between the Divine and the plain.
Even though he argues it isn't about martyrdom, the card is generally seen as representing qualities of the zodiac Pisces, which is a sign traditionally seen as a martyr. Jesus and the way he interacted with others is generally seen as an expression of the Pisces' ideals.
In some depictions, the Hanged Man is the Norse god Odin, who suspended himself on a tree in order to gain knowledge.
In the Lo Scarabeo African American Tarot deck, the card is the Observer and represents the Nigerian god, Ifa.
Card Alignments and Their Meanings
Conscious vs. subconscious
Upright Hanged Man in a Reading
This card has a thousand different interpretations. In the upright position, it could mean that you need to make a large sacrifice. You may have to give up something that you wanted, or you need to do something huge for another person.
The upright Hanged Man is in limbo and is caught between two choices. While upside-down, he gains insight into his situation. He may have been wrongly accused and could be paying for crimes he didn't commit.
The interpretation depends on determining whether the Hanged Man has control of his situation or if he is being punished.
The key to the card is that the Hanged Man must resign to his fate. He needs to surrender. If he adds stress to himself now, he could make his situation worse. If he wants to get off the tree, he has to do so carefully without getting more tangled.
The Hanged Man encourages the querent to release their old thoughts and old behaviors. It's time to let go of old behavioral patterns and opt for something else. If you let go of your old self, you can embrace new opportunities.
The Hanged Man card offers reminders about change:
- Hanging onto your old self will tangle you up.
- You can't stay the same way forever. You have to change. You have to evolve.
- If you refuse to change, you will meet yourself at rock bottom. Change is inevitable.
- It's better to learn to manage change than to refuse it.
Pause Breaks Are Necessary
A pause can be voluntary or involuntary. If you're in tune with your intuition, you'll have a sense of when you need to hit the brakes or the gas. If you're not in alignment with your intuition, the Universe may have to put you on hold until you learn your lessons.
It's better to give in to the pause than to fight it. Otherwise, the Universe may throw even more stuff at you until you are finally forced to pause.
You must give yourself time for introspection. When you refuse introspection and working on your inner strength, then the only way you'll end up dealing with your issues is at rock bottom. Use introspection to avoid a total meltdown.
Use Breaks to Reassess Your Goals
When the Hanged Man appears, your projects may abruptly get put on pause. You might have to be on hiatus for a long time. During this pause is the time to assess your goals. If you don't want to feel stuck, then you have to do the necessary work to understand your position and how you got there in the first place.
It's important to remember that the Hanged Man isn't a phase you can stay in forever. You will eventually have to come out of this limbo. You'll need to shift your energy if you want to get off the tree, but you have to do so mindfully or else risk coming into the next numbered card: Death (XIII).
Reversed Hanged Man in a Reading
The reversed Hanged Man is in an entirely different position. Instead of hanging from the tree, he looks like he is leaning against the tree with his arms behind his back. He looks relaxed—almost as though he is up to something. While the upright Hanged Man could be a martyr or someone given harsh punishment, the reversed Hanged Man is a traitor who has avoided punishment.
The traitor resists putting a pause on life to consider his actions. This is someone who fills up their day with tasks, projects, business, etc. and distracts themselves from the real work of actually knowing themselves. This is dangerous. Essentially, busybodies distract themselves from reality because they don't want to know themselves.
We live in a world that rewards people for being overly busy. We're supposed to chase after money, but at what cost? We become superficial when we only define ourselves by money and material possessions. The traitor is someone who is superficial.
Look at Judas. He traded his spirit for bags of silver. He betrayed Christ, his spiritual mentor, for money. He wasn't just a traitor to Christ but to himself as well.
Take Time to Know Your Own Thoughts
You must stop what you're doing and give yourself time to think. You need to know your own thoughts. If you keep ignoring the Universe, you will only make things worse. If you ignore the signs that you need to rest, you may become a force of disruption and disaster. Instead of a free person, you become a fugitive.
Learn to Let Go
You may already be in a position where things have been put on hold, and you may feel as though you're losing your mind. You want things to move, but you're not getting any momentum. In this situation, you need to let go of something.
Things you might need to let go of:
- Old thought patterns
- Things that no longer serve you
- Things in your house you no longer need
- Old dreams and goals
Surrender yourself from bad attachments so that you can be free. If you have a tight grip on something, know that you may lose it. Relinquish the goal of winning at any cost, as this attitude will ultimately make you the loser. It will make you the traitor, the bully, or the accuser. Allow yourself to have breakthroughs. Don't prevent breakthroughs because you're afraid of them.
Don't Resist Change
If you know what you need to do, do it. Consider why you're struggling with indecision. Don't stall and stand in your own way.
Ways to invite yourself to change:
- Try going to new places.
- Talk with new people.
- Look up different things online.
- Change your patterns by doing things out of the ordinary.
- Try new foods.
- Build up new skills.
Feeling Stuck Is Uncomfortable
Getting stuck can be an unpleasant situation. It can make you feel like you're falling into a pit of quicksand. When you find yourself in this situation, it's generally better to first accept that you're stuck, rather than to try and force yourself out of a situation and make things worse. If you're feeling stuck, I encourage you to really think things through and to remember that your actions and words have an effect on others.
References and Further Reading
- A Modern Catholic Looks at the Tarot, Pre-Gebelin Tarot History
- Francesca Lia Block, The Hanged Man (1999)
- Gray, Eden. "Complete Guide to the Tarot." 1970. Crown Publishers, New York, NY.
- Hajo Banzhaf, Tarot and the Journey of the Hero (2000)
- Larry W. Hurtado, "The Staurogram in Early Christian Manuscripts: the earliest visual reference to the crucified Jesus?" in Thomas J. Kraus, Tobias Nicklas (editors), New Testament Manuscripts: Their Text and Their World (Brill, Leiden, 2006), pp. 207–226
- Taylor, Stephen (2006). The Fylfot File: Studies in the origin and significance of the Fylfot-Cross and allied symbolism within the British Isles. Cambridge: Perfect Publishers. pp. 37–40.
- Waite, A. E. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, ill. by Pamela Colman Smith 
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2021 Andrea Lawrence