Hangin’ Out


It has always seemed to me that the Hanged Man gets a bad rap. After all, patience is a virtue and in my experience the “sacrifice” almost universally applied to interpretation of this card often means relinquishing time or initiative rather than irretrievable loss of anything more concrete. Inaction can even be the most prudent response in situations where premature or ill-considered action would preclude looking at a situation from more than one angle. I sometimes think of the Hanged Man in terms of the old Coca-Cola slogan: “The pause that refreshes.” It provides an opportunity for contemplation before acting, which in almost all cases is a beneficial posture. It interrupts the impulsive “fight or flight” reaction in favor of an impassive “wait and see” attitude. In fact, I now take any reversed card in a reading as “having a Hanged-Man moment,” deferring its active expression to let further deliberation occur. The main challenge with the Hanged Man in a reading is knowing “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.” Not all situations improve through procrastination, however advisable in the short term.

In the Golden Dawn system of correspondences, the Hanged Man has no zodiacal or planetary association, and relates to the primal element of Water (although modern thinking has connected it to Neptune). Water can be benign, but it can also be implacable, penetrating almost any surface if given enough time. The Hanged Man has a leg up on that process by already having his head “where the sun don’t shine,” which is also where the most interesting stuff usually happens. Aleister Crowley considered this a card of initiation; the Hanged Man is descending into the Unconscious and will emerge with unique knowledge not otherwise obtainable. But he has no timetable and works at his own pace. The impression it gives is of a cocoon swinging from a twig, slowly metamorphosing from caterpillar to butterfly.

I actually prefer to see this card reversed, which in the Thoth version reminds me of Richard Nixon flashing his twin “victory” signs. The Hanged Man is back with his head to the sky, rejoining the world and ready to impart what he has learned. The course of his meditations may be a shade more precipitous, creating the risk of entertaining half-baked notions or going off half-cocked. He “gets off the pot,” and out the door a half-step ahead of his upright self, which is good strategy when Death comes along looking for “low-hanging fruit.” Self-initiated transformation is typically preferable to the vagaries of fate.

One thought on “Hangin’ Out

  1. Pingback: Tarot 101, My Way – Major Arcana: The Hanged Man and Death | Parsifal's Wheel Tarot & Astrology

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