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Meaning of the Tarot card The Hanged Man

Description and symbolism

Some frequent keywords are:

Sacrifice ----- Letting go ----- Surrending ----- Passivity

Suspension ----- Acceptance ----- Renounce ----- Patience

New point of view ----- Contemplation ----- Inner harmony

Conformism ----- Nonaction ----- Waiting ----- Giving up

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, and life overturned but not death. A more common interpretation of this card is that the man appears to be upside down (an outcast to society) but has inner harmony (the fact that his body is in complete alignment). The twist on this card is that the hanged man's upside downness may eventually destroy him in later cards (such as death or the tower). Receiving the hanged man should be a warning to look out for excessive indepence at the expense of a person's own well being.


It is a card of profound but veiled significance. Its symbolism points to divinity, linking it to the death of Christ in Christianity and the stories of Osiris (Egyptian mythology) and Mithras (Roman mythology). In all of these stories, the destruction of self brings life to humanity; on the card, these are symbolized respectively by the hanged man and the living tree from which he swings. Its relationship to the other cards usually involves personal loss for a greater gain. It can also be interpreted as Odin, the primary god of the Norse Pantheon, who hung from a tree in order to gain wisom and enlightenment. A simpler but deeper meaning resides in the journey of life. Consider how 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 actually in complete alignment. The upside downness of the hanged man gives him an advantage that outsiders are unable to see or understand.

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 [insert mission here]. He is 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, taking us back to The Empress. He represents the deal life made with death; that in return for reproduction, we are mortal. This is beautifully 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, despite the fact he was dead. Their child, Horus, is a sun god, and in some sense, Osiris reborn. The Hanged Man is every hxero 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 Querant into the mysteries, saving the world) or not so much (duping the Querent into an unwise sacrifice). He may also signal something (usually not cheery) about the person's relationship with their partner or parent.

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