Today we’ll cover the meaning of The Hanged Man tarot card. This is a part of a deep dive series on the tarot.
The Hanged Man card has long been one that most fascinated me. It has a lot of references in popular culture, and the traditional Rider-Waite image is so unexpected.
Rather than a man hanged by his neck, he’s hanging by his ankle. Moreover, his posture is that of a bent knee and arms behind his back. It’s almost a relaxed or whimsical posture.
Then I started finding how other decks represented the card and got even more curious.
Let’s explore the various meanings and interpretations of The Hanged Man.
The classical meaning of The Hanged Man can be seen in the Rider-Waite deck.
The tree forms a tau cross (in other words a T). This is a significant choice when contrasted with an outstretched branch. The man himself is in the given position to give the illusion of a fylfot cross (in other words a swastika).
If you look carefully you’ll see this. Remember, the fylfot cross had a different meaning before the Nazi use. The symbol can be found on ancient bells, because it represented thunder. The bells were used to dispel thunderstorms.
The man has a halo of enlightenment on his head.
All these symbol show just how complex this card is and why it has been the cause for much speculation and study over the years.
Upright The Hanged Man Meaning
Here are two things two remember about the upright Hanged Man. First, the upright card has the man upside-down. If you’re starting out, it’s easy to look at the reversed Hanged Man and see an upright figure and get confused.
The second is that the man is suspended but not dying.
The meaning is easy to remember by just reading some of the upright card keywords off of the symbols:
- Letting go
The halo shows the enlightenment. He gets to enlightenment by hanging there and thinking and introspection. The enlightenment brings about a transformation.
Lastly, he has clearly resigned himself to this situation. He has let go of the struggle to get free and is enjoying and making the most of being stuck there.
If you get in the habit of telling yourself this story, the classical meaning of the card should be easy to remember.
Reversed The Hanged Man Meaning
The most standard reversed meaning is that you are struggling. You deny that you’re stuck and yet you’re still trying to get out of the situation.
Instead of letting go and turning inward during this period of your life, you want to move on too quickly. You’re grasping at external fixes, and they all seem to be wasting your time.
In fact, you could be making a needless sacrifice or have a fear of making a sacrifice that is necessary. This will depend on the cards position and question asked.
I always like to examine other, modern decks to see what can be read into their symbolism.
The reason for this is that every person will have different decks, and so it’s good to learn how to go with your gut on what you see. This is the best way to have a good interpretation for the moment.
Too many people stick to a learned reading instead of going with the flow. Remember, each reading, deck, person, position, and question is different. Reading the cards is an art, not a science.
We’ll use a different deck for every one of these. Today’s is the Ghosts and Spirits Tarot.
Let’s notice several of the differences. The first major difference is the inclusion of a skeleton. This emphasizes the idea that you’re stuck based on death.
It could mean that fear of death is keeping you in place, but it could also mean that dwelling on something beyond the grave is the problem. Maybe you’re not moving on from a deceased loved one or relationship.
I like the subtle swirls implying an infinity sign. It reminds us that this could go on forever. Stop looking for a way to end it and embrace the stasis.
If someone died, they are gone forever. There is no such thing as getting out of that situation. The best thing to do is to embrace it. Struggling against permanence is a cause of so much of our suffering.
The next major change that jumps out is that the halo has moved from his head to his hand. This shifts the emphasis from current enlightenment to future enlightenment.
You have physical power now due to this situation. This power is going in or out of his arm with those lightning streaks. Don’t forget that being stuck in place gives you a lot of power you wouldn’t have if you were moving.
The Hanged Man in Context
Context matters a lot when reading the cards. Here are some particularly strong things to look out for.
I think the meaning should be clear in the past/present/future positions. It will indicate being stuck in those parts of your life.
It should also be easy for physical topics:
- Hobbies: you feel you’re not making any progress
- Relationships: it has come to a standstill
- Career: stuck in your job
If the position indicates you were stuck in the past but now have moved on, it is indicating that you should now turn inward and reflect on the experience.
What did you learn?
How can you grow now from that experience?
You may need to let go of something from that time to properly move on.
If the position indicates you will be stuck in the future, you shouldn’t fear moving toward it and making whatever sacrifice is required.
Remember, embrace it. Do not struggle to move past the moment too much. You have much you can learn from it. All great journeys come to an end.
One way to embrace it is to change the narrative. You aren’t really stuck. You’re choosing to stay put and get the most out of it.
If the card position indicates something specific like your job, the same still applies. Life always goes in waves. Sometimes you’re going up, sometimes down, sometimes it all stays the same.
By not struggling against this, you’ll be able to move through it faster.