Today the tarot deck sits in front of me and I ask it to show me some of the secrets of the path that I am trying to learn. What can a simple card teach me of Aikido? Where is the art of Judo in this card? The card of hanged man appears and appears again. Superficially it is seen through the laymen's eyes as a dark omen. But look deeper in the hanged man and he will begin to whisper his secrets.
The traditions of the hanged man cross time and cultures. It is a human archetype. An archetype (pronounced /ˈɑrkɪtaɪp/) is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all. Interestingly, peoples from all over the world have found some ritual use of the idea of the hanged man.
The Mandan, who were not hunters and gatherers, lived in villages and cities along the Missouri River in what is now South and North Dakota. The primary Mandan suspension ritual was called the O-Kee-Pa. It was both a rite of passage for all young men and also a repeated practice for a vision-seeking shaman.
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. (1)
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. (1)
Students of the tarot, such as A.E Waite, creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot, suggest this card carries the following meanings or keywords:
* Sacrifice ----- Letting go ----- Surrendering ----- Passivity
* Suspension ----- Acceptance ----- Renunciation ----- Patience
* New point of view ----- Contemplation ----- Inner harmony
* Conformism ----- Nonaction ----- Waiting ----- Giving up
Serenely dangling upside-down, the Hanged Man has let go of worldly attachments. He has sacrificed a desire for control over his circumstances in order to gain an understanding of, and communion with, creative energies far greater than his individual self. In letting go, the hero gains a profound perspective accessible only to someone free from everyday conceptual, dualistic reality.
The Hanged Man is a card of profound but veiled significance. Its symbolism points to divinity, linking it to the Passion of Christ in Christianity, especially The Crucifixion; to the narratives of Osiris (Egyptian mythology) and Mithras (Roman mythology). In all of these archetypal stories, the destruction of self brings life to humanity; on the card, these are symbolized respectively by the person of the hanged man and the living tree from which he hangs bound. Its relationship to the other cards usually involves the sacrifice that makes sacred; personal loss for a greater good or a greater gain. (2)
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.
The most common interpretation of the card is of an outcast of society that appears to be a fool, but is in actuality completely in alignment and integrated. The inversion of the Hanged Man furnishes an advantage opaque and impenetrable to others.(2)
The Hanged Man is every hero committed enough to the adventure to die for it.(2)
The sacrifice the Hanged Man asks us to make is in the form of giving up things in our lives that do not serve us.