The Hanged Man

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Depictions of the Hanged Man from various Tarot decks

The Hanged Man is the 12th card in the Major Arcana in most traditional Tarot decks.


Most decks depict this card as a man hanging by one foot from a gibbet, resting upon two trees, each bearing six branches, which have been cut off. The man's hands are tied behind his back, and the fold of his arms forms the base of a reversed triangle, of which his head forms the point. His eyes are open and his fair hair floats upon the wind. His right leg crosses his left and so forms a cross.


The gallows from which he is suspended forms a Tau cross, while the figure— from the position of the legs—forms a hooked cross (a swastika). There is a nimbus around his head in the style of a martyr. It should be noted that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with leaves thereon; that the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering; and that the figure, as a whole, suggests life in suspension.

It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled. Like the sun placed in the midst of the signs of the Zodiac (six signs on each side represented by the lopped branches), our young hero is suspended between two decisions, from which will spring his spiritual future. This Hanged Man serves for an example to the presumptuous, and his position indicates discipline, the absolute submission which the human owes to the Divine. Divine expansion in humanity is produced by the prophets and revelation, and this inspires the idea of the revealed law. But the revelation of the law involves punishment for him who violates it, or elevation for him who understands it; and here we find the ideas of punishment, of violent death, voluntary or involuntary.

Astrologically, the card indicates things which we have not yet mastered and those whom we have failed to understand or who have failed to understand us. In the eyes of the world it is the sign of waste, spoil, mishap. Viewed from the other side, the outer world loses its importance or even reality, and the consciousness is opened to inner truth. This is the reversing of consciousness, which makes things change their significance in such a way that they appear to turn upside down: the world is now viewed from the other side. And this is the significance of the hanged man.

Italian punishment of hanging

A 1393 decree for Milan and Lombardy of the punishment for traitors: “Let him be drug [dragged] on a [wooden] plank at a horse’s tail to the place of execution, and there be suspended by one foot to the gallows, and be left there until he is dead. As long as he lives let him be given food and drink.” This was considered an ideal way to punish and defame the victim.

Divinatory meaning

In divination, this card usually indicates wisdom, seeing all possibilities, knowledge of the divine, trials and sacrifice. Knowledge that ultimately injures the hearer.

In reversed position, it means: Selfishness and the crowd.

Tarot Topics
Major Arcana The FoolThe MagicianThe High PriestessThe EmpressThe EmperorThe HierophantThe LoversThe ChariotStrengthThe HermitWheel of FortuneJusticeThe Hanged ManDeathTemperanceThe DevilThe TowerThe StarThe MoonThe SunJudgementThe World
Minor Arcana Pentacles AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Wands AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Cups AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Swords AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Decks Visconti-Sforza TarotTarot of MarseillesRider-Waite TarotThoth TarotOccult TarotAngel TarotVlad Dracula TarotHieronymus Bosch Tarot