XII. The Hanged Man

paris-12

Meaning: You may pass a test of strength but they will ask to see your endurance tested next.  When you persevere you outlast critics and opponents.  While revealing painful truths will only win you punishment, real sacrifices yield real knowledge.


Reversed:  What you have chosen is unacceptable to others, accept what is due with humility.  Step back, collect up your resources and return another time when you are ready.  You have a life to progress through at your own chosen speed, there will be better times.

Marseilles

Cary Yale Visconti

Charles VI

In the tradition of fortune telling, this grim image really represents the sunniest of things to the seasoned reader.  The occult has long since elected to match this card to the theme of sacrifice, namely, that which is required to obtain spiritual knowledge.  The Hanged Man becomes a sort of shaman then, hung from a simple, free standing scaffold by one foot, an awkward posture. The calm demeanor of the man (sometimes interpreted as entranced) point to using a difficult physical technique, or deprivation, or ascetic means, to achieve spiritual knowledge.  This is the endurance, of time or difficulty, needed to get this difficult knowledge, and it involves turning yourself upside down.  Whatever knowledge the hanged man can scrabble up before their blood goes to their head and they pass out anyway, it’s worth the price.  This card is the crossover, the game changer, and for a Humanist deck, as close to the conception of the Christ as the original creator possessed.


Andrea-del-Sarto-15 Cent., Florence
Andrea-del-Sarto-15 Cent., Florence

To the North Italians that cooked up the original order of the Tarot, however, the Hanged Man, especially distinguished by the one-foot posture, meant something very specific.  Whether the card commemorates an individual or not, the image is that of a Pittura Infamante, or effigy.  In the more free cities of the North they had become quite popular in public squares, office buildings, and anywhere else people wished to shame and humiliate a public figure, particularly the corrupt.

Schandbild, 1490
Schandbild, 1490

This very particular reason to hang a person upside down is to deprive them even of the dignity of a normal hanging.  It would take much longer to die in this way.  For his reason, the card is perhaps not so much for spiritual reflection, but as a warning or threat to someone who is particularly corrupt.  This meaning for the card was forgotten early on, as Hanged Man replaced the another early name for the card, the Traitor.  In the Roman tradition, Infamy was a legal crime having to do with immorality, and this was carried into Catholic law as immoral behavior or reputation that prevents an individual from being ordained into the church, however legal.

Alsatian or Southern German, The Hanging of Judas, c 1520.  Some saw Judas as the Traitor in the card, but the original story specifies he hung by the neck.
Alsatian or Southern German, The Hanging of Judas, c 1520. Some saw Judas as the Traitor in the card, but the original story specifies he hung by the neck.

This makes the card a reference to a second layer of law that can impose upon the prevailing one.  And it may be the case that such an example might be common law protesting its rulers, as with the public display of an effigy or infamy painting.  As it may be the case of the heretic, a possible link to the sacrifice meaning, doing as they wish despite moral reprobation.  As it may point out the absurdity of the Vatican’s rules of infamy, as with the pre-condemned status of a woman, ever unable to be ordained, from birth.

Alejandro Jodorowski, Scene from The Holy Mountain
Alejandro Jodorowski, Scene from The Holy Mountain

Among all the other changes of art, and print, the public spectacles, plays and songs that the Renaissance exhibited outwardly, the effigy also served public expression.  In German language known as a Schandbild, the Hanged Man is an effigy, a caricature, a public outcry involving one who is literally overturned.  I see in this card also more of a concern for rebellious Humanism warning those who abuse power of their fates.


 

Mandrake, Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th Cent.
Mandrake, Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th Cent.

On a related note, my personal favorite story linked to this card is that it carries something of the pre-Christian story of the Green Man, and the regeneration of life in general.  Something of the money bags and the sacrificial posture suggests the old stories of the ceremonial Kings dying, to be reborn, as part of the Solar cycle of Winter to Summer and back.  That would make this card, in another sense entirely, an emblem of fertility.  The seed returning to the soil, accompanied with blood, was the old and forbidden magic.  During the Dark Ages the close similarity between Christ and their own self-sacrificing father figure, Odin or Wotan, was noted.  Odin hung upside-down from their Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, and divined the alphabet.  In this case there is no vestige of the Italian association with shaming a person.  And the discovery of the alphabet is a role that runs parallel to Hermes, who appears in various forms throughout the Tarot deck with apparent intent.

Ludlow Green Man
Ludlow Green Man
St. Michel d'Entraygues
St. Michel d’Entraygues
Southwell Chapter House
Southwell Chapter House
Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral

The Romans remarked that the empire which they occluded, that of the Celts, held as its highest god what to them was Mercury, or Hermes.  Known variously to the faded peoples as Luru, Lugus, Lugh, Lleu Llaw, Lugaid and believed to have his match, among the Germans (who by distinction the Romans said held Mars or Tyr first), knew Lugh to have inspired Odin.  Given that Hermes was also a fundament of fertility, the mile marker, the phallus, the standing stone, we can find that the Green Man of continuing, unbroken fame, is a face of Hermes as well.  In this third perspective on the Hanged Man, we have a visualization of the Green Man, whose wealth is to return again as new growth.

Luigi Valadier, Bacchusherme, 18th C.
Luigi Valadier, Bacchusherme, 18th C.