The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed. — Ernest Hemingway
So many of the cards of the Tarot possess dual meaning, ambiguity, and intrigue, but perhaps none embody paradox more than the Hanged Man. Just hearing about a hanging evokes fear, condemnation, punishment, but the Hanged Man is a card of mystery, sacrifice, and grace. The Hanged Man is number XII of the Major Arcana, and on the Fool's Journey, the card that resides between Justice and Death. But the judgment and punishment of the Hanged Man is truly a self-imposed experience, which is precisely what makes this card so rich in symbolism.
The Hanged Man shows a man, presumably the Fool (for he wears the same clothes as the 0 card of the Tarot,) hanging by one foot. Leaves grow around the edges of the gallows. His face is downright serene, still, calm. There is no suffering here. His arms are behind his back, and his head is radiating with light. A symbol of enlightenment. This position, most Tarot readers assume, is a loose hanging, one from which he could easily escape. But the Hanged Man has no such design, he is there for a reason.
The themes of the Hanged Man are sacrifice, perspective, and transition. The Hanged Man relinquishes his control to gain new insight. If he has put himself in this position, he can remove himself, but he doesn't. This is his path to enlightenment, to see things from not only from a different perspective, but also from one that is based on his absolute acceptance of himself. It's terribly important to remember that you surrender to win here. And in this way, you are asked to sacrifice the quick fix, the impermanent feeling for the long term spiritual growth. In this way, what the Hanged Man reminds us is that we must move into suffering, rather than out of it.
We allow ourselves to be seen as vulnerable, to accept our imperfection, to embrace vulnerability as the starting point of spiritual growth, and further to enlightenment. This reminds me of the teachings of Pema Chodron about learning to sit in emotions that make us uncomfortable, and get curious about them. This is the punishment, if we can even call it that. As humans, we are constantly trying to shift out of emotions we have deemed negative, or wrong. We are constantly trying to shift out of suffering. Suffering is the first noble truth of our human existence. It is, dare I say, why we are here. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, and the core of that human experience is weathering suffering. We will suffer.
In the same way, we are asked to look at things from a new perspective and get immensely curious about ourselves. Another paradox here, I suppose, is that this curiosity about ourselves actually creates connection with other people. We first gain compassion for ourselves, then for others, which ultimately helps alleviate our suffering. We surrender to win again, or rather we suffer to alleviate suffering. I think in this way, we must shoot our hostage, as they say. We must take the piece we have been using as our excuse OUT of the equation. We must expose our vulnerability and embrace who we authentically are. This is where the gallows come in. We put ourselves up to scrutiny. We do it in front of others by embracing our own imperfections as PART of what makes us human.
As they say, suffering is mandatory, but misery is optional. The Hanged Man asks you to sacrifice temporary comfort for long term contentment and enlightenment. The word "sacrifice" means "to make sacred." And so, the Hanged Man asks you to make ALL your experiences sacred, even the ones that evoke the most shame. All are lessons, opportunities for growth, and in that way, we begin to live in the present, and we live in gratitude for each experience, even the one where you are hanging upside down by one foot.
What stands at the center of this card is the Hanged Man's spiritual enlightenment. This is the core of this card. How are you doing to get there? If you pull the Hanged Man, you are asked to be vulnerable, to look at yourself differently than you ever have. Let Go and Let God. Stop controlling and predicting, as Brene Brown says, because vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love. And further, I say, of enlightenment. I love what she says, because it perfectly encapsulates the Hanged man--we cannot numb just the hard feelings in our life. We end up numbing them all. So, the Hanged Man asks you to feel the hard feelings. To sit in them. To get curious about them. And remember that though it is not comfortable, it is also less suffering than not feeling them.
A great affirmation for the Hanged Man might be:
I embrace my vulnerability as my greatest strength. I trust in my Divine path.
Let me know what you think of this Tarot of the Week, or of the Hanged Man, or anything else on your mind.