Did you draw the Hanged Man tarot card? Discover the spiritual meaning behind this often-misunderstood symbol.
The Hanged Man tarot card depicts a figure hanging upside down from one foot, usually by a tree or some sort of wooden cross. Despite the explicitly uncomfortable position, the figure often looks peaceful and at rest, sometimes even with a halo around their head. The general interpretation of this card is to rest within chaos, confusion, or uncertainty. To allow yourself to learn from being stuck somewhere you never wanted to be.
The Mythology of the Hanged Man
Mythologically, the Hanged Man has a relationship with Odin, the Norse Allfather. Odin hung himself from Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for nine days and nine nights after cutting out one of his eyes to gain the wisdom of the universe. He partially blinded himself in order to gain “sight,” to be able to see further than what’s on the surface.
The card also recalls Jesus, who hung from a cross and was dead for three days before being resurrected, which essentially created a new world. Take comfort, this card tells us. Slow down. See what there is to learn in the suspension.
The Hanged Man as Sleeping Beauty
In Yoshi Yoshitani’s Tarot of the Divine deck, the Hanged Man is represented by Sleeping Beauty, the tale popularized by the Disney movie in 1959. Certainly, the story is a bit problematic—namely because you can’t give consent in your sleep—but there are some fascinating aspects to this story, especially when we connect it with the Hanged Man.
In the film, the baby Princess Aurora is cursed by the witch Maleficent. She is destined to prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her sixteenth birthday and fall into a coma until she experiences true love’s kiss. Aurora is sent to the forest to be raised by fairies who try to protect her from this fate. While in hiding, she meets and falls in love with Prince Philip. Inevitably, her finger is pricked, she falls asleep, and Maleficent locks her in a high tower surrounded by briars. The fairies give Prince Philip the Sword of Truth and Shield of Virtue and send him off to rescue her.
Maleficent is an interesting villain, clearly full of rage and revenge, but the movie never tells us why. Earlier versions of the fairy tale have the sleeping beauty raped by a king who is already married, and his wife reacts with (perhaps justified) maleficence. If we look at the story symbolically, however, Maleficent could also be understood as an inner protector.
When we are traumatized or in grief, we are suspended like the Hanged Man. Our sweet, openhearted, innocent parts go to sleep somewhere deep inside our hearts as we try to figure out how to navigate a world that has changed for us forever. Prince Philip is the steady lover, the caring parent, the stout therapist, or even the journeying self on a rescue mission. In order to wake the sleeping parts, he must face the inner protectors who show up as fire-breathing dragons, trying to ensure our vulnerable parts are never “pricked” again.
Prince Philip’s Sword of Truth resonates with the lessons of the suit of swords in the Tarot deck. Swords relate to thought and worry, and in order to master them, we need to learn discernment and understand the difference between our perceptions of reality (which may very well be colored by trauma) and our actual reality. Prince Philip cuts through the briars, Maleficent’s first line of defense, then he must pierce her heart in her chosen form of a fire-breathing dragon to save the princess.
Learning From the Hanged Man
When we draw the Hanged Man, our suspension may be chosen, like Odin’s, or it may be because we’ve been “pricked” like the Sleeping Beauty. Either way, there is a reason for the suspension; there is some healing in the pause. We may need help exploring the inner world and figuring out how to slay (or gently reason with) our inner dragons, helping us to allow our innocent selves to return to the world.
When Princess Aurora wakes, she is no longer the peasant girl she was raised as. She is, suddenly, a royal and a lover, and soon will be a wife and queen (and mother, no doubt). She went to sleep as one person and woke up another. As the Hanged Man, she rests suspended between two realities; not one, not yet the next.
When we find ourselves in this upside-down place, it’s helpful to remember that we won’t be here forever. When we learn the lessons we need from this place, we will make our way out of it. But we will never be the same again. And that may very well be a good thing.
Watch a video with me discussing this card on YouTube.
Explore how to read process-oriented tarot.