The Hanging Man

Alt names: The Hanged One
Keywords: Enlightenment, sacrifice, perspective, suspension, reversals
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Range of meanings

Light: Seeing growth opportunities in unpleasant events. Experiencing a dramatic change in personal perspective. Making the best of an unforeseen change in your life or work. Suspending disbelief. Making sacrifices.

Shadow: Being untrue to yourself and your values. Refusing to make sacrifices when appropriate. Refusing to adapt to new situations. Blaming others. Profiting at the expense of others.

Questions to ask

  1. Are you bound to any old habits that, in this situation, betray you?
  2. What have your own trials taught you? How might those lessons apply now?
  3. How can I radically alter my perspective?
  4. How might being stuck actually be a blessing in disguise?
  5. How can I help myself see the glass as half full?


Personal Growth: One sign of maturity is your ability to deal effectively with the unexpected. Rather than be decimated, look for the lesson. If you’re true to your own values, no disaster will get the best of you.

Work: Occasionally, no amount of effort will move a project to completion; progress simply isn’t the cards, despite your best efforts. Learn from setbacks; turn disappointment into opportunity.

Relationships: What doesn’t move forward isn’t growing. If you’re hanging by a thread, it might be time to grab the scissors. If you can learn from what’s not working, do so, but don’t equate learning with having to stay.

Spirituality: Sometimes the best action is no action at all. Suspend your need to have a hand in things. Consider, too, the value of small sacrifices. What you give away will come back to you greatly multiplied.

Fortune-Telling: A traitor is revealed. One of your friends is working against you. Change your ways or suffer the consequences.


Element: Water

Hebrew: Mem/Water/40

Archetype: The Traitor

Religions: The Crucified Christ. Isaac as a sacrifice. Prometheus bound. Jonah and the whale. Lazarus. Any hanged or sacrificed god. Judas.

Fool's Journey: One of the main character’s allies is discovered to be working secretly for the antagonist.

The Number 3: Getting Results: expression, productivity, output.

Inverted Traitor: Renaissance audiences would immediately recognize a hanged man as a traitor because hanging traitors by one foot was a common practice.

Serpent: An expert at manipulating loopholes, the Biblical serpent tempted Eve. In some versions of the Hanged Man, the figure is hanging by one foot held by a serpent, representing the traitorous crime that led him to this situation.

Halo of Enlightenment: The Marseilles Hanged Man is clearly being punished. As they mapped concepts of sacrificial enlightenment to this card, occultists added the halo.

Content generously licensed from Mark McElroy via