"The Hanged Man is one of the most mysterious cards in the tarot deck. It is simple, but complex. It attracts, but also disturbs. It contradicts itself in countless ways. The Hanged Man is unsettling because it symbolizes the action of paradox in our lives. A paradox is something that appears contradictory, and yet is true. The Hanged Man presents to us certain truths, but they are hidden in their opposites.
The main lesson of the Hanged Man is that we "control" by letting go - we "win" by surrendering. The figure on Card 12 has made the ultimate surrender - to die on the cross of his own travails - yet he shines with the glory of divine understanding. He has sacrificed himself, but he emerges the victor. The Hanged Man also tells us that we can "move forward" by standing still. By suspending time, we can have all the time in the world.
In readings, the Hanged Man reminds us that the best approach to a problem is not always the most obvious. When we most want to force our will on someone, that is when we should release. When we most want to have our own way, that is when we should sacrifice. When we most want to act, that is when we should wait. The irony is that by making these contradictory moves, we find what we are looking for."
Basic Card Symbols
A man hanging by one foot from a Tau cross - sometimes from a bar or tree. His free leg is always bent to form a "4," his face is always peaceful, never suffering. Sometimes his hands are bound, sometimes they dangle. Sometimes coins fall out of his pockets or hands.
Basic Tarot Story
The Fool settles beneath a tree, intent on finding his spiritual self. There he stays for nine days, without eating, barely moving. People pass by him, animals, clouds, the wind, the rain, the stars, sun and moon. On the ninth day, with no conscious thought of why, he climbs a branch and dangles upside down like a child, giving up for a moment, all that he is, wants, knows or cares about. Coins fall from his pockets and as he gazes down on them - seeing them not as money but only as round bits of metal - everything suddenly changes perspective. It is as if he's hanging between the mundane world and the spiritual world, able to see both. It is a dazzling moment, dreamlike yet crystal clear. Connections he never understood before are made, mysteries are revealed.
But timeless as this moment of clarity seems, he realizes that it will not last. Very soon, he must right himself, and when he does, things will be different. He will have to act on what he's learned. For now, however, he just hangs, weightless as if underwater, observing, absorbing, seeing.
Basic Tarot Meaning
With Neptune (or Water) as its planet, the Hanged Man is perhaps the most fascinating card in the deck. It reflects the story of Odin who offered himself as a sacrifice in order to gain knowledge. Hanging from the world tree, wounded by a spear, given no bread or mead, he hung for nine days. On the last day, he saw on the ground runes that had fallen from the tree, understood their meaning, and, coming down, scooped them up for his own. All knowledge is to be found in these runes.
The Hanged Man, in similar fashion, is a card about suspension, not life or death. This is a time of trial or meditation, selflessness, sacrifice, prophecy. The Querent stops resisting; instead he makes himself vulnerable, sacrifices his position or opposition, and in doing so, gains illumination. Answers that eluded him come clear, solutions to problems are found. He sees the world differently, has almost mystical insights. This card can also imply a time when everything just stands still, a time of rest and reflection before moving on. Things will continue on in a moment, but for now, they float, timeless.
Neptune is spirituality, dreams, psychic abilities, and the Hanged Man is afloat in these. He is also 12, the opposite of the World card, 21. With the World card you go infinitely out. With the Hanged Man, you go infinitely in.
This card signifies a time of insight so deep that, for a moment, nothing but that insight exists. All Tarot readers have such moments when we see, with absolute clarity, the whole picture, the entire message offered by a spread. The Hanged Man symbolizes such moments of suspension between physical and mystical worlds. Such moments don't last, and they usually require some kind of sacrifice. Sacrifice of a belief or perspective, a wish, dream, hope, money, time or even selfhood. In order to gain, you must give. Sometimes you need to sacrifice cherished positions, open yourself to other truths, other perspectives in order to find solutions, in order to bring about change. One thing is certain, whether the insight is great or small, spiritual or mundane, once you have been the Hanged Man you never see things quite the same.