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The Hanged Man Art and Meaning

Rider Waite Smith Tarot Deck

The gallows from which he is suspended forms a Tau cross, while the figure--from the position of the legs--forms a fylfot cross. There is a nimbus about the head of the seeming martyr. It should be noted (1) that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with leaves thereon; (2) that the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering; (3) that the figure, as a whole, suggests life in suspension, but life and not death. It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled. One of his editors suggests that Eliphas Levi did not know the meaning, which is unquestionable nor did the editor himself. It has been called falsely a card of martyrdom, a card a of prudence, a card of the Great Work, a card of duty; but we may exhaust all published interpretations and find only vanity. I will say very simply on my own part that it expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the Universe. He who can understand that the story of his higher nature is imbedded in this symbolism will receive intimations concerning a great awakening that is possible, and will know that after the sacred Mystery of Death there is a glorious Mystery of Resurrection.

About the Deck

Pivotal and canonical, this deck defined a new pattern that would be followed up to the present.

Provenance

Designed by A.E. Waite and Illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith. England, 1911.

Meaning of The Hanged Man from the Rider Waite Smith Tarot Deck

Upright

Wisdom, circumspection, discernment, trials, sacrifice, intuition, divination, prophecy.

Reversed

Selfishness, the crowd, body politic.

According to Many Schools of Thought

A. E. Waite's Secondary Meanings

The Hanged Man. This is the symbol which is supposed to represent Prudence, and Eliphas Levi says, in his most shallow and plausible manner, that it is the adept bound by his engagements. The figure of a man is suspended head-downwards from a gibbet, to which he is attached by a rope about one of his ankles. The arms are bound behind him, and one leg is crossed over the other. According to another, and indeed the prevailing interpretation, he signifies sacrifice, but all current meanings attributed to this card are cartomancists' intuitions, apart from any real value on the symbolical side. The fortune-tellers of the eighteenth century who circulated Tarots, depict a semi-feminine youth in jerkin, poised erect on one foot and loosely attached to a short stake driven into the ground.

S. L. MacGregor Mathers's Divinatory Meanings

Upright

Self-sacrifice, Sacrifice, Devotion, Bound

Reversed

Selfishness, Unbound, Partial sacrifice.

Papus's Divinatory Meanings

Trials. Sacrifice.