I said in my original definition of The Hanged Man that having this archetype blow through your life is a lot like getting hit in the face with a two by four. It involves an experience that is so painful, so truly devastating that you have to totally reevaluate how you relate to life and the souls around you.
In other words, you have to have a new framework for your existence.
We tend to focus on the central figure of The Hanged Man – the individual hanging from one foot with his hands tied behind him – and not see the background of the picture which includes the frame from which he is hanging. The frame, though, is every bit as important as the person.
A.E. Waite chose to design the frame in a shape which is very much like a cross and evocative of Jesus, but that’s not how the frame was shown in the older cards. It normally consisted of two living trees, one on each side, with a beam laid across their tops. It wasn’t a cross and had zippity doo dah to do with Jesus.
We can, perhaps, get a better grasp of what the inventors of the Tarot were getting at if we look at The Hanged Man from the old Marseille deck.
The name is Le Pendu, the hanging one. It’s related to a slew of our modern words such as pendant, pendulum, dependent, and depend. The commonality is that they all describe something that hangs from something else.
We all have a central point that our worlds (as we perceive them) hang from. You might call it your, “identity.” Or perhaps your, “social fabric.” It’s made up of a myriad of factors that, blended together, make up the way that we see the world and our places in it.
“I’m a conservative hispanic catholic from New Mexico.”
“I’m a liberal jew from Marin County.”
“I’m an african american wiccan from Alabama.”
There are literally millions upon millions of variations, with each of us picking out and identifying with the things that make us feel unique and influence the way we perceive the world and our lives. “This is who I am.”
The Hanged Man has had a forced realization that everything he believed in, everything he thought of as, “myself,” was an illusion. Maybe it was a divorce that caused him to see that. Maybe it was the death of a child. Maybe it was an illness. Whatever it was he KNOWS that his previous life wasn’t real.
No, you aren’t your sports car because that can be taken away from you.
And you aren’t your house.
Or your brand new computer.
Or your family.
Or your religion.
Or even the color of your skin because, in case you haven’t noticed, you’re not taking that with you when you leave this beautiful world.
The Hanged Man has had that kind of a shocking realization. That none of it’s really REAL. Everything he dePENDED on can vanish in the blink of an eye. Everything he hung his identity from was an illusion. He’ll never see the world in the same way again.
And now he has to put himself back together, only this time in a way that IS real and that can’t be taken away from him. He needs to reclaim his soul.
When you look at the trees in the old Marseille card it’s obvious that the branches have been cut off. Everything that was once his life has been pruned away. BUT . . . the tips of the branches also look very much like buds in the Spring. Full of life and ready to grow again.
Here’s how Eckhart Tole put it:
“Ego is no more than identification with form, which primarily means thought forms . . . What a liberation to realize that, ‘the voice in my head,’ is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.”
The Hanged Man.