The hanged man tarot card is just like an onion, with multiple layers of meaning and intent. Many tarot scholars have debated the subtle differences in meaning that can be found in this card over the course of the centuries.
Keywords associated with the Hanged Man Card
Upright: Letting go, sacrifice, inner wisdom, and challenges
Reversed: Helplessness, being stuck in a dead-end, and selfishness
Traditional Representation and Description of the Hanged Man Card
It depicts a pittura infamante (pronounced [pitˈtuːra iɱfaˈmante]), an image of a man being hanged upside-down by one ankle (the only exception being the Tarocco Siciliano, which depicts the man hanged by the neck instead). This method of hanging was a common punishment at the time for traitors in Italy. However, the solemn expression on his face traditionally suggests that he is there by his own accord, and the card is meant to represent self-sacrifice more so than it does corporal punishment or criminality.
In other interpretations, The Hanged Man is a depiction of the Norse god Odin, who suspended himself from a tree in order to gain knowledge. There is also a Christian interpretation that portrays Judas Iscariot and includes the bags of silver in his hands. In the Lo Scarabeo African-American Tarot deck the 12th card of the major arcana is the Observer, depicting the Nigerian god “Ifa”, of fate and destiny, blindfolded and surrounded by eyes.
Modern Representations of the Hanged Man Card
Complex, layered, but ultimately a great source of wisdom and knowledge, the Hanged Man card can teach a great lesson, and offer wisdom and initially hidden solutions to many problems through a deliberate sacrifice of the self. When you have to lose something in order to gain something greater, the value of the latter is made even more important in retrospect and helps you find your place in the greater scheme of things.
The Mythic Tarot (1986)
The Haindl Tarot (1990)
Osho Zen Tarot (1995)
Law of Attraction Tarot (2011)
Spellcaster Tarot (2016)
Ostara Tarot (2017)
Upright Hanged Man Card Meaning
The main figure in the Hanged Man card is, as the name implies, a man hanging down from a branch. But contrary to the traditional image that comes to mind when you try to think about a Hanged Man (you most likely imagine a thick rope around the neck, used as a form of punitive justice in many medieval or American Western movies), here the character is hanging upside down, tied by one ankle (usually the right foot) with his other leg crossing the first one perpendicularly. In most decks, this character also has a bright halo around his head.
As mentioned above, the meaning of the Hanged Man card has been heavily debated throughout the centuries among tarot readers and scholars of the occult. However, the main two elements that are often brought forth are wisdom and sacrifice.
It is often implied that the Hanged Man card does not represent the victim of punitive justice, but a seeker of wisdom who deliberately hanged himself to acquire knowledge, wisdom, or clarity, like Odin deliberately hanging himself from the world tree Yggdrasil to acquire knowledge of the runes. In another interpretation, the hanging is also deliberate, but the result of selfless sacrifice, a way to solve a dispute by deliberately suffering someone else’s penance or punishment.
Regardless, this is a very introspective card, and usually a trigger for some greater enlightenment represented by the halo around the Hanged Man’s head.
In a Question about Love and Relationship
The number 12 card of the Major Arcana, the Hanged Man, represents the sacrifices you need to make for love and relationship. When was the last time you spent time looking into the depths of your relationship or your beliefs about relationships (whether you are in one or not)? This card involves understanding the sacrifices necessary for a long-lasting partnership.
If you are single, this card will ask you to address your “singleness” as a state of being and question what it means in particular for you to be single at this time in your life. Is your single status necessary for some reason, are your beliefs about how relationships should work a healthy or unhealthy cause of your singleness?
If you are in a relationship, this card encourages you to step outside the normal flow and really question your current relationship to see what sacrifices have been and will need to be made to keep it safe and enduring. If you disengage from the current flow, the day-to-day, and “step back” in order to see what the relationship means for you, now, in the past, and what you hope it will be in the future, what do you see? Are you truly happy, or just going through a habit that you pass off as happiness when it is really comfortable complacency, but nowhere near true happiness?
In a Question about Career and Work
Career encompasses school and education if that is your current stage; work that is necessary, but not what you would consider a career path; and your actual career path. Regardless of your current stage of development, the Hanged Man represents a period of soul-searching about your purpose in life and how that purpose will secure your value and help you be a productive member of society.
If you are a student and this is your card, then you may realize that something about your chosen course of study or degree needs you to dig down and confirm that you have made the right choice for yourself. After serious consideration, hopefully, you will conclude that you are, indeed, studying what you want and pursuing the degree you want. However, it is possible that you may also discover that your passion or interest has waned and you really need to change direction.
If you are working, but not doing something you would consider a career, then this card will really ask if you are helping the world in some useful way or doing something that will one day, maybe soon, be obsolete. It is worthwhile to do meaningful work that helps society function without trying to “save the world” or “change the world”, but we do need to feel we are contributing and that our work has recognizable emotional and practical value.
If you are in a career path, then this card can push to you question your purpose, your devotion to your purpose, and the value of your purpose based on the reactions and feedback of the world around you. It would be wonderful if our relationship and career could persist with happy consistency but rarely does that happen. It is more likely that we will face some doubts and this card wants you to determine if the doubts are there to help you reinforce your love and appreciation for your career or those doubts are present to get you out of a rut and a career that has become stagnant.
Reversed Hanged Man Card Meaning
The Hanged Man card is far less positive when it is reversed. While it does not necessarily mean that bad things are afoot for the Querent, it does showcase a rather negative outlook on his or her part, highlighting the selfishness inherent to their current course of action. While not necessarily bad in strict terms, when analyzing cause and consequences, it clearly means that the Querent is not on the right side of any argument or struggle the reading focuses on.
In a Question about Love and Relationship
Reversed, this card certainly can indicate a feeling of helplessness regarding the relationship, perhaps you are “being hung out to dry”. It could also let you know that one of you is behaving selfishly or narcissistically, which will be very harmful to your partnership. Or, making a sacrifice will not bring long-term benefit, so you are “sacrificing for nothing”.
In a Question about Career and Work
When this card appears reversed in a question about work or career, then you want to make sure you are not being set up as the “sacrificial lamb” or the scapegoat regarding something to do with your work or career. You probably need to establish some new boundaries to avoid being taken advantage of. Your sacrifices for your job are “in vain” and you are wasting your time, not building credit.
The Fool’s Journey
The lesson held within this card is an age-old one, as the Fool’s journey becomes an echo of the famous “Hero’s Journey” found in various myths and used excessively in works of fiction and various Hollywood movies. After experiencing themselves and the world, seeing the great tapestry, and humbly discovering their ultimate place in it, the Fool now has to face their first great obstacles.
Finding the inner strength required to face these obstacles head on is what defines those who have the potential to be fully awake and proactive in life. Usually, the first great trial challenges the Fool to let go of something that matters to them, to learn to go with the flow when needed instead of spending all of their time pushing their willpower onto the world. Every former lesson is turned upside down like the figure in the iconography, but ultimately the Fool must understand that this is but another step on the same path of enlightenment.
Meditating with the Hanged Man
This meditation session should be done in complete silence, maybe even in the dark (this is optional). Try to imagine yourself letting go of everything irrelevant to that problem, strip your mind clear of any stray thought, and as you imagine yourself in your mind hanging upside down from a tree, try to look at your problem from various angles and points of view, opening options and understanding that were not readily apparent.
If the solution to your problem is not clearly accessible right away, try to see how different things might be if you deliberately sacrificed something relevant to the problem, and how it might change things and open doors leading to its ultimate conclusion and solution.