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My Journey with the Hanged One: Reflections


This week the Tarot of Marseille image of Le Pendu captured my attention as I prepared to journey with The Hanged Man.  Sally Nichols in her Jung and the Tarot pointed me in this direction.  Unusual directionality is the key feature of the Hanged Man and as you might image journeying with the card offered twists and new perspective.

In the Marseille image a man is suspended by one leg from a cross bar held up by trees with their branches cut.  The other leg hangs bent at the knee.  Hands are hidden but it is easy to imagine that they are tied behind his back.  The facial expression is enigmatic, but not the look of someone who is suffering or in pain.  This Hanged Man almost looks comfortable in this new position.

The detail that sends internal sparks of excitement flying for me is that he is dangling into an opening in the earth.  His head is below the level of the earth’s surface.  I see him as being received by the earth and his hair (or in the Rider-Waite-Smith card a halo) is reaching down to the earth.   This reaching invites me to think of this card as indicating a time for the consciousness of the human to commune with the consciousness of the earth.

This is a new perspective, particularly for us in Western culture where the head has been the location of consciousness and higher thinking, abilities that set us apart from all else on the planet.  The Celts saw the head as the place of the soul.  In the Tree of Life of Jewish mysticism’s Kabbalah, the top or Crown is closest to God and the bottom brings the limitless energy into earth form. The Tree of Life can be traced upon the human body with the crown at the head and feet at the bottom.

We have been oriented to keep the superior part of ourselves pointed toward the sky or heaven and away from earth.  In the process, earth has become less than and many aspects of Western religious belief and tradition has fostered a split between the spiritual and the earthly.

But the Hanged One brings us a prophetic message for these times of global climate chaos and the message is given through his body.

In the center of the picture, we have an absence of hands.  Hands are the most frequently used parts of the body in symbolism according to The Dictionary of Symbols by Hans Biederman.  From Paleolithic cave paintings to modern Freemasonry, the hand appears to represent humanity and the individual, postures of supplication and healing, and our ability to act and create.  They are the powerful doers and shapers of human culture.  And they are absent, perhaps even tied up, for the serene Hanged One.  It is a time to give up doing and striving, to surrender to a different rhythm.

While the hands are missing, the feet are in the exulted position.  There is no entry for feet in The Dictionary of Symbols nor is there any information in my Dictionary of Dreams.  The feet that connect us to earth, that carry us faithfully, that most of us take for granted don’t seem to merit much mention.  But for the Hanged One the feet are freed from their usual work to commune with the heavens.

The crossed legs are reminiscent of the Marseille Emperor, but contrary to the Emperor’s posture the right leg is now crossed behind the left.  The conscious, willed action of the Emperor here gives way to a more intuitive and accepting approach.  In her book on the Haindl Tarot, Rachel Pollack writes, The Hanged Man “sacrifices the Emperor’s desire to dominate the Earth, and he reverses his previous beliefs.”  With the world turned upside down, there is no longer a need to maintain what seemed important under upright rules and structures.

The head, of course, is now surrounded and received by the earth.  And with the Emperor energy of building and domination at rest, the crown can open up to receive the wisdom of earth.  Heaven is no longer the ultimate goal, but rather a deep listening to the earth we walk over every day.

I’ve been having a little Facebook conversation with James Wells on his Tarot for Manifestation page about how the Tarot’s nature is integrative and keeps calling us to pay attention to our whole selves.  The Hanged Man teaches us this integration through inversion and the subsequent re-orienting of perspective and importance.  It is a bit of trickster way of teaching that Tarot so frequently offers us.

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