Arcana in Balance: The Hanged Man

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When I very first learned there was a Tarot card called the “Hanged Man”, my first thought was a neck-hanging gallows type from wild west movies. I was expecting morbid and dark and something akin to the Death card. But when I look at the RWS artwork it doesn’t give me that feeling at all. It reminds more of one of those circus performers that climb and hang from those long cloths or velvet ropes. It looks and feels more like an acrobat than an execution.

I think that might speak to it being a stage or transition more than a final sentence.

One traditional meaning for the Hanged Man is “sacrifice” or “fearless sacrifice”. Again that has a finality about that I don’t sense…but different people get different things from the same card…hence the Tarot’s endless versatility and utility as a tool for reaching our intuition. I’ll tell you what I get from it, and you can formulate your own meaning…both are valid, both just as good.

Another classic meaning for this card is “stagnation”…stuck in a rut. That is where the action is at with this card, ironically enough.

It seems in modern culture we have bias toward activity. No matter what situation comes up, the first impulse is to have somebody do something. We seem to forget that watching, waiting, observing, thinking IS doing something. Deciding not to decide, at least not right now, IS a decision in and of itself.

There is a little more to it in the case of the Hanged Man than than with the Queen of Cups that urges stillness to hear within, or the 2 of Wands urging “actionless action” to let things take their course …there is a balance in the major arcana card of internal vs external, action vs stillness, stagnation vs restfulness. Perception is the pivot point of that balance.

Sometimes the Hanged Man comes along…upside down to our expectations of it…when we need to get a little stagnated. Stress and fatigue decrease our physical immunity, when can allow us to pick up a cold, which in an upside down kind of way gives the rest and de-stressing time that was needed in the first place. The Hanged Man might have a little bit of the same function. If it turns up in a reading, think about both level of activity and perception together. If you are feeling stressed, the card might be suggesting a time of inactivity…hang out and relax for a while. If you are feeling stuck, like you can’t move forward, then look at things from another, very different angle which might suggest a way out.

On the other hand, stagnation can apply to thought-habits and entrenched thinking as much as literal activity levels. In fact, that may well be the key to the whole thing….stubborn thinking and expectations can make the physical realm issues seems stagnant. Think about career goals, as an example. If you aren’t meeting certain expectations you’ve set for yourself, are you really “stagnant” or just being asked to re-evaluate your goals and expectations? Sure, progress in one direction may be at a prolonged stop, but another direction may be wide open. If we remain stubbornly focused one set of goals and expectations…we stagnate. But if you allow yourself to re-evaluate, look at things anew, then the more literal stagnation can be lifted or avoided.

If you’ve been going the speed of sound and extremely active, then a moment of reflection, thought, patience might seem like stagnation by comparison. It isn’t . It is your view of the world being turned upside down, yes, but in this case the so-called “stagnation” is a needed and good thing, just like a sniffle giving you a good excuse to rest and take better care of yourself.

Perception is the key…are you stuck because you won’t look at things any differently? Do you need to be stuck so you can take a moment to look at all? Being stuck can be stagnation or vacation depending on perception and individual circumstance…”One man’s stuck in the mud is another’s day at a spa”.