The Hanged Man is an often-misunderstood figure. The name sounds forbidding — when we hear “hanged man,” it immediately conjured up images of an execution.
The Hanged Man figure in tarot, then, doesn’t make much sense to modern eyes. He hangs by one foot, not his neck, and doesn’t appear distressed at all. Why is this, and what does he really mean?
About The Hanged Man
- Keywords: Confinement, stasis, uncertainty, a lack of direction
- Keywords (Reversed): Impatience, stagnation, frustration, impulsiveness
- Yes or No: Maybe
- Yes or No (Reversed): Maybe
- Element: Water
- Zodiac Sign: Pisces
The Hanged Man is a fascinating card with a deep (and sometimes confusing) symbolism. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, he’s depicted as a figure clad in red and blue, hanging upside down by one ankle.
His expression is calm, his hands are clasped behind his back, and a halo encircles his head. The bough from which he hangs is alive — lush green leaves spill over its bark, just like the fall of blonde hair from the man’s head.
According to A.E. Waite, the gallows from which the man hangs forms a tau cross. This is associated with punishment — specifically, execution. The bent leg of the hanging figure is intended to invoke a fylfot cross, or left-facing swastika. The figure appears to be a martyr, but isn’t one. The situation suggests a life in suspension, but not death.
The halo around The Hanged Man’s head is said to represent enlightenment. He isn’t distressed here because he has chosen — or at least accepts — this suspension. Like the Norse deity Odin, who hung from a tree in order to gain knowledge, the hanged figure is here for a purpose, not a punishment.
Some historians have also drawn parallels between the depiction of The Hanged Man and an ancient punishment for traitors. They would be drawn to the gallows, there to be hanged by one foot until dead. While they hanged, they’d still be given food and water. It was intended to be a much longer, torturous death than a quick hanging by the neck.
Others point out the association with sensory deprivation. Some meditative techniques involve the use of inversions, as with certain asanas in yoga. These increase blood flow to the head, which is said to increase internal awareness and enhance mindfulness.
The Hanged Man Meaning (Upright)
In a general reading, The Hanged Man appears when you are in a period of stasis. You may feel that some aspects of your life aren’t progressing as quickly as you’d like — you may even feel trapped, or as though you lack guidance or direction.
Remember, The Hanged Man has the freedom to release himself whenever he wishes. He’s not upset by his position, and there’s no indication that he can’t reach up and untie himself whenever he needs to. If you need to walk away from a situation, do so. You have the power.
You may also encounter him when you’re faced with a dilemma. In this case, it might be advisable to take a look at things from a different perspective in order to gain wisdom here.
After all, The Hanged Man literally turned himself upside-down to do so. Avoid making impulsive decisions here — suspend your actions, and make sure you’re making the wisest choice you can.
The Hanged Man Meaning (Reversed)
When reversed, The Hanged Man can indicate feelings of impulsivity. You might not want to slow down, even if you know that’s what you should do. You may feel that doing this will just waste your time and give you nothing in return.
You may even feel like you’ve been left hanging but aren’t receiving the wisdom and perspective you expected to get. This can indicate some kind of inner turmoil or indecisiveness.
You may want to take action in order to distract yourself from it, but will that really help you in the long run? You need to take time to stop, breathe, and sort things out, even if that seems like the last thing you want to do.
See also: Check out alternate Tarot decks here.
The Hanged Man Meaning – Love & Relationships (Upright)
The Hanged Man is seldom a good sign in a love reading. When he shows up, you might feel like your relationship (or the search for one) isn’t going anywhere.
You may even feel that you need to take some time away in order to figure out what you really want from life. The important thing here is to avoid trying to rush things.
In either case, The Hanged Man appears as a reminder that you have the power to change your situation. You can’t rush things along, but if you feel constrained, you can release yourself.
Let go of the negative behavioral patterns holding you here. If you really need to, you can even release yourself from your relationship.
The Hanged Man Meaning – Love & Relationships (Reversed)
When reversed in a love reading, The Hanged Man can indicate that you’ve been repeating the same mistakes over and over, without learning from them.
You may rebound from one relationship to another, or go from one argument to the next, without stopping to recognize the patterns in them.
Now’s the time to take action to stop this cycle from recurring. It’s time to adopt a new perspective and let go of your old beliefs. Until you do, nothing else will change.
The Hanged Man Meaning – Careers, Business & Money (Upright)
In a career reading, The Hanged Man upright appears during times of doubt, uncertainty, and frustration. You might find that your career path no longer excites you, or doesn’t offer you an opportunity for growth.
You might be between projects right now, or even between jobs. No matter whether you’re currently employed or not, you feel caught in a kind of limbo. In this case, time is on your side. You may have to simply wait for more options and information to emerge before you can act on them.
When it comes to money, The Hanged Man upright can point out a poverty mindset. You might need to get a new perspective here. If you’ve been having anxiety about money, it can keep you from making good investments or buying the things you really need.
There’s no reason to go wild with spending right now, but it will be helpful for you to reevaluate the way you think about your finances.
The Hanged Man Meaning – Careers, Business & Money (Reversed)
Reversed, The Hanged Man indicates that you’ve been spending your time, effort, and ingenuity on a career that you feel isn’t doing anything for you. It’s possible that it even leaves you feeling drained, without the time or energy to try to change your situation.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about that — sometimes, you just need to take the reins and regain control of your life. Even if you don’t feel that you have enough resources to do so, now’s the time to pursue what you want. If you don’t do this for you, who will?
Financially, The Hanged Man reversed can indicate a fear of financial hardship. Its meaning is similar to The Hanged Man upright, but more intensely so. It might be time to ask for help from a professional financial planner to help alleviate some of your fears.
The Hanged Man: Yes or No?
The Hanged Man is neither positive nor negative. He represents looking at things from another angel, or entering a necessary (if frustrating) waiting period. If he appears upright in a “Yes or No” reading, he usually means “No” or “Maybe.”
As things stand right now, you aren’t going to get the outcome that you want. This situation may require more patience or a different tactic for that to happen.
If The Hanged Man is reversed, this meaning doesn’t really change. The answer is still a “Maybe” or “No.” Again, it’s best to interpret it as an indicator that this isn’t the proper time or process for getting the outcome that you want. You need to reconsider how you’re approaching this situation.
The Hanged Man raises a lot of questions — is he a traitor, or a seeker of wisdom? Does he herald a fresh perspective, or stagnation?
For the most part, this card appears during times when we’re suffering from stasis. Sometimes, that downtime is exactly what we need. Other times, it’s a yoke around our necks that only we can free ourselves from.
Remember, you always have the power to choose to free yourself.
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