12. The Hanged Man

Rider-Waite Alchemical Tarot
Thoth Tarot of the Sephiroth

Number: 12
Card Title: The Hanged Man
Esoteric Title: The Spirit of the Mighty Waters
Astrological Atttribution: Neptune (modern)
Elemental Attribution: Water (cold, wet)
Dates & Timing: Season of Fall
Hebrew Letter: Mem Water 40
Color: Blue
Intelligence: Stable Intelligence
Esoteric Function: Waters of Creation
Qabalistic Path: Path 23: 5 Geburah to 8 Hod
Translation of Path: The Severity of Splendor

Keywords: Letting Go, Completion, Binding Time, Spiritual Limbo, Surrender, Willing sacrifice, Suspension, Martyrdom, Accept Destiny, Devotion.

Ill-Dignified:Thaw, Overcoming, Enforced Sacrifice.

Interpretation: Self surrender to higher wisdom. Waiting Period. Complete reversal of affairs. New way of looking at life. Moving beyond limited consciousness. Breaking old patterns. Complete and unexpected change is looming. Salvation through sacrifice (make sacred) Loss of ego. I let go and realize. Follow and accept the will of divine in my life that reveals it self to me step by step. Sacrifice of one thing for another. Ability to delay gratification. (Draw another card to see what to surrender to)

Reversed Interpretation: End of suspended animation. Ready for decisive action. Over developed sense of duty. Pre-occupation with self. Represents seeing things from a narrow or limited perspective. It suggests A stubborn, unwillingness to change, or a refusal to understand other people’s points of view. Inability to change and adapt. Unwillingness to try for something new for fear of risking what he already has. Prefers the known to the unknown. Efforts on projects are wasted. Loss of something you want or need.


Rider-Waite Imagery

The Hanged Man represents the concept of suspension and suspended mind. In this deck a man is hanging upside down on a T-shaped Tree. His hands are behind his back and his left leg is bent at the knee and extends behind is right leg. His leggings are red (the color of fire). His tunic is blue (the color of water). He is bringing fire/water, activity/passivity, yin/yang into balance. The spiritual concept behind the hanged man is self-sacrifice for a spiritual cause which is also referred to as surrendering to a divine cause.

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by Arthur Edward Waite (1911)

12. The Hanged Man. This is the symbol which is supposed to represent Prudence, and Éliphas Lévi 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.

Part II: The Doctrine Behind the Veil

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 Éliphas Lévi 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.

The Tarot of the Bohemians by Papus; tr. A. P Morton, [1896]

Chapter X. The Symbolical Tarot

12. 12th Hebrew letter (Lamed).


Hieroglyphically the Lamed designates the arm, and therefore it is connected with anything that stretches, that raises, that unfolds like the arm, and has become the sign of expansive movement. It is applied to all ideas of extension, of occupation, of possession. As a last sign, it is the image of the power derived from elevation.

Divine expansion in humanity is produced by the prophets and revelation, and this inspires the idea of the revealed law. But the revelation of the law involve punishment for him who violates it, or elevation for him who understands it; and here we find the ideas of punishment, of violent death, voluntary or involuntary.

The Lamed, a simple letter, astronomically corresponds with the zodiacal sign of the Balance.


A man hanging by one foot to a gibbet, resting upon two trees, each bearing six branches, which have been cut off.

The man’s hands are tied behind his back, and the fold of his arms forms the base of a reversed triangle, of which his head forms the point. His eyes are open and his fair hair floats upon the wind. His right leg crosses his left and so forms a cross.

This young man is again the Juggler whose transformations we have already followed in the 1st, 6th, and 7th arcana.

Like the sun placed in the midst of the signs of the Zodiac (six on each side, the lopped branches), our young hero is again suspended between two decisions, from which will spring, no longer his physical future, as in the 6th arcanum, but his spiritual future.

The 12th arcanum fills the centre between the 6th arcanum (Wisdom) and the 15th (Fatality). These arcana represent the two women of the 6th arcanum, regarded in the spiritual sense. This Hanged Man serves for an example to the presumptuous, and his position indicates discipline, the absolute submission which the human owes to the Divine.

Considered alchemically, the Hanged Man shows the sign of personality.

In the hermetic grade of the Rosy-Cross (18th degree of the Freemasonry of Scotland) one of the signs of recognition consists in crossing the legs like those of the Hanged Man. It is needless to say that the origin and meaning of this sign is quite unknown to the Freemasons.

The twelfth card of the Tarot represents Equilibrist Power. It neutralizes the oppositions of the tenth and eleventh cards.

  • Equilibrium of Necessity and Liberty–CHARITY.–Grace. (Preserving power of Love.)
  • 2. Equilibrium of Power and Courage. Reflex of Prudence–ACQUIRED EXPERIENCE (Knowledge.)
  • 3. Equilibrium of the potential Manifestation (10), and of reflected Life (11). Reflex of the astral Fluid. EQUILIBRIST FORCE.

12.The Hanged Man.


  • Primitive Hieroglyphic: The Arm outstretched
  • Astronomy: The Balance
  • Month: September
  • Hebrew Letter: Lamed (Simple)


  • CHARITY: Grace

Modifying force is the last term of the 2nd septenary. By it the Astral will realize itself to pass into the physical, from the world of preservation and reception (2nd septenary) into the world of transformation (3rd septenary).

Major Arcana Signification from the Divining Point of View

12. The Hanged Man signifies TRIALS. SACRIFICE.

The Tarot by S.L. MacGregor Mathers [1888]

Symbolism of Each Key

12. The Hanged Man. This extraordinary symbol is almost unintelligible in the double-headed cards. Properly, it represents a man hung head downwards from a sort of gibbet by one foot (his hands are bound behind his back in such a manner that his body forms a triangle with the point downwards), and his legs a cross above it. (Two sacks or weights are attached to his armpits.) He symbolizes Sacrifice.

Meanings of the Cards

12. The Hanged Man.–Self-sacrifice, Sacrifice, Devotion, Bound; R. Selfishness, Unbound, Partial sacrifice.

The Symbolism of the Tarot by P. D. Ouspensky [1913]

What is the Tarot? Card XII.–”The Hanged Man”.

“Man”. The Pain of the higher consciousness bound by the limitations of the body and mind. Superman in the separate man.


And then I saw a man in terrible suffering, hung by one leg, head downward, to a high tree. And I heard the voice:–

“Look! This is a man who saw Truth. Suffering awaits the man on earth, who finds the way to eternity and to the understanding of the Endless.

“He is still a man, but he already knows much of what is inaccessible even to Gods. And the incommensurableness of the small and the great in his soul constitutes his pain and his golgotha.

“In his own soul appears the gallows on which he hangs in suffering, feeling that he is indeed inverted.

“He chose this way himself.

“For this he went over a long road from trial to trial, from initiation to initiation, through failures and falls.

“And now he has found Truth and knows himself.

“He knows that it is he who stands before an altar with magic symbols, and reaches from earth to heaven; that he also walks on a dusty road under a scorching sun to a precipice where a crocodile awaits him; that he dwells with his mate in paradise under the shadow of a blessing genius; that he is chained to a black cube under the shadow of deceit; that he stands as a victor for a moment in an illusionary chariot drawn by sphinxes; and that with a lantern in bright sunshine, he seeks for Truth in a desert.

“Now he has found Her”.

The Tarot Trumps by G. H. Soror, Q.L.

An elusive, because a profoundly significant symbol. It is sacrifice – the submergence of the higher in the lower in order to sublimate the lower. It is the descent of the Spirit into Matter, the incarnation of God in man, the submission to the nods of matter that the material may be transcended and transmuted. The colors are deep blue, white, and black intermingled but not merged, olive, green, and greenish fawn.

Book “T” The Tarot

Brief Meanings of Twenty-Two Keys

12. Courage, strength, fortitude, power passing on to action. Obstinacy.