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The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man That's what learning is, after all; not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we've changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way, is winning.
Richard Bach

The Hanged Man is the only Tarot card visibly based on a mythological figure. He is Odin, the Norse god who hung from the World Tree for nine days to earn the knowledge of the Runes. Of all the cultures who embody the search for knowledge in their myths, only Odin carries out his quest without moving, at least in the physical sense. The true quest is seeking within, not without. This may be confusing at first, but only because the Hanged Man is the card of the paradox. The Hanged Man's mysteries are some of the oddest yet most enlightening the Tarot has to offer, and they cannot be learned by searching for lessons in the physical world - you must turn within.

Even the appearance of the card is paradoxical. Simple in design, it is one of the more complex Arcana. The lessons it offers are easy to understand but hard to accept when they apply to you. The most obvious answer to a problem may be the simplest, but it is rarely the best. To admit that you are afraid will give you the strength to conquer your fear. When you relinquish your desire for control, everything begins to work as it should. In a world in which you must run as fast as you can to stay where you are, the Hanged Man tells you to stop struggling - and you can move forward. Tell this to others and it seems obvious; try to do it yourself and it will become impossible.

Why is this? Telling others that they have to hang from a tree is simple, but no one wants to hang himself. The Hanged Man, however, has hung himself, and see how much wisdom he has found! Despite his obviously uncomfortable position, he is often pictured as smiling, and with a golden halo around his head to show divine inspiration and power. He is totally vulnerable to the world, and in his vulnerability he has found strength. The sacrifice he has made is his own freedom and power in the physical world; in exchange, he is granted real freedom and power on the spiritual plane. He gives up his old ways of looking at things and is blessed with new eyes.

Not all sacrifices have to be like this, of course. Each moment of your life you make sacrifices. By choosing to eat with a friend rather than eating alone, you sacrifice your solitude. Choosing to play a sport professionally means that you cannot play another as frequently. Choosing one job means that you have to sacrifice any desires for another job, at least for the time being. The only thing in common between all sacrifices is that you give up something you have in exchange for something you want, of equal value. The sacrifice is meaningless unless there is balance and purpose behind it. To give without intent is worse than giving too much or too little.

As the card of the paradox, the Hanged Man also urges you to look at things in a new and different way. If your mind is yelling at you to do something, then doing nothing could be the best thing to do. If something is important to you emotionally but it no longer serves a purpose, you might want to think about letting go of it. And don't try to force anything to happen while the Hanged Man is about. By trying to force changes, you ensure that they never happen. Relax and let things happen instead of trying to interfere. Instead of fighting against the current, let it take you wherever it is flowing.

When the Hanged Man appears, know that greater wisdom and happiness is at hand, but only if you are prepared to sacrifice something for that wisdom. Sometimes it is something physical you must be deprived of, but in most cases it is a perspective or a viewpoint that must be left behind. For example, a fantasy that you can never fulfill, or a crush on someone who's out of your reach. Inevitably, sacrificing something you value will always lead you to something even more valuable. In the wake of an unattainable dream you will find something else within your reach. Forgetting about one love will allow your heart to open to someone else.

Copyright 2000 James Rioux