Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Hanged Man/Person: Time-out

Are you “hung up?” How many of us have been “hung up” on something, or to use the expression, “have your hands tied?” Have you ever been “left hanging?” There seems to be two concepts to examine here about the man hanging upside-down. The first is a warning to stop whatever you are doing and take a “time-out.” It is obvious The Hanged Man is not dead. Taking time to pause in one’s daily life and to reflect on things, gives you an opportunity to analyze and re-evaluate where you are in the present, and to determine what’s next.

The second concept is the violence indicated in hanging someone as a form of punishment, torture, or in the case of suicide—confronting despair. In the 1500’s in Europe, images of disreputable persons were publicly displayed (painted like graffiti on fences) as upside-down hanged effigies called “shame paintings.” It was a form of exposing and shunning a person who was in disgrace for deceitful or criminal behavior.

Usually the meaning implied by The Hanged Man card in a Tarot reading is the first concept—a pause, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to take time to think things over. It is a time to reconsider how one’s life is going; perhaps to make changes, and prepare to go in another direction. Richard Roberts in “Tarot Revelations” (Vernal Equinox Press, 1979) describes The Hanged Man as an “inversion of the celestial order.” I have painted "The Hanged Person" in Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness over a background of the Qabbalah Tree of Life Diagram. In this sense, mankind is seen as a mirror image of the cosmic Mind much like the upside-down mirror-image of a tree reflected in water.

There are many opinions concerning the meaning of The Hanged Man. Often called “the traitor,” persons are seen hanging upside down from one foot (as the man in the Tarot card) in frescos of the Last Judgment in old European cathedrals. One of the earliest depictions is in Giotto’s fresco of the Last Judgment in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. It was painted around 1305. We see two figures in Hell hanging upside down with their hands tied behind their backs and both legs bent(upper far right corner) A later version of this same scene is seen in a fresco by Giovanni da Modena in the San Petronio Basilica in Bologna, painted around 1410. These two hanging figures are shown front and back with one leg bent. Giotto’s painting of “Despair,” also in the Arena Chapel, shows a decrepit woman hanging by the neck.

One further note, in Norse mythology, Odin (Wotan) hung upside down on Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for 9 nights in order to gain enlightenment and learn the magical Runes. He was postponing a future doomsday when heaven and earth would be destroyed. This has been interpreted as self-sacrifice, of “myself to myself,” as a form of dealing with one’s inflated ego (See “The Golden Bough,” James Frazer, Macmillan, 1967). When you get this card in a reading, it’s time to stop everything and reflect on your life so far. Take time to examine what you have accomplished. Ask yourself, what was done right? What went wrong? What is your next step in moving forward to a new phase of your life? What are your options for improvement or change?