The Hanged Man and Good Friday
Today, in recognition of Good Friday, I changed my Facebook profile picture to be the Hanged Man card. The association is obvious, of course, but it also lead me to consider closely one particular aspect of this card, that of sacrifice.
Most world religions have included accounts of the sacrifice of a god or hero, often placing him in a position reminiscent of the Hanged Man. A few examples are Christ (nailed to a wooden cross), Prometheus (chained to a rock), and Odin (hanged from a tree). As a result, this card may be understood in light of any of those tales.
For example, the Hanged Man may represent Odin, the god of Norse mythology who, through the sacrifice of hanging himself from the tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights, acquired the magic runes that symbolized the wisdom he sought. (Odin also sacrificed one eye at Mimir’s spring in order to gain “the Wisdom of Ages.”)
Consider also the Greek god, Prometheus, who was sacrificed for giving humankind fire. (He was bound to a rock where an eagle ate his liver every day only to have it grow back at night to be eaten again the next day). It is instructive here to note that fire is associated with the birth of civilization as well as being a common symbol of divine spirit. For more about this god in the context of the Hanged Man, the following is an extract from a post on the discussion list Tarot-L made over a decade ago by the late Brian Williams.
“… although the historical evidence points to the Hanged Man in the earliest Tarot decks as a traitor, I always saw the Hanged Man as a kind of saint or shaman. This may seem a contradiction, but a mythological parallel with Prometheus may explain this. This god was a ‘class traitor’, defying the explicit command of Zeus that mortals be denied the divine gift of fire. Prometheus breaks the law, and is severely punished for it, but his violation is a moral and loving act.”
We can attribute various meanings to this card within this context of a divine sacrifice. The Hanged Man can indicate a willing self-sacrifice to attain something of greater value, especially in the area of spiritual enlightenment or for the good of others. In the current draft of my book, “Tarot and Your Spiritual Path” I said this about the Hanged Man:
“The Hanged Man does represent sacrifice and surrender, but it emphasizes that when such acts are undertaken willingly and for a greater good or a higher purpose, they are transformed into a means of enlightenment rather than of loss and suffering. … Sometimes we are called upon to make a sacrifice for the greater good of others, and such acts, in and of themselves, indicate a level of spiritual enlightenment insofar as they are acts of selfless, unconditional love.”
Similarly, spiritual liberation means having to “die” to this world in order to “awaken” to the next. Or as Eckhart Tolle says in his book A New Earth: “… when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up.”
In his Book of Thoth Crowley called the Hanged Man “…the descent of the light into the darkness in order to redeem it.” So this card can also deal with the theme of redemption, a willing sacrifice to absolve or atone for past sins.
I hope this post has brought you to any new insights into this card. If so, feel free to leave a comment as I would be interested to hear them.