Michael Tsarion

THE HANGED MAN
Emptying One of Oneself


The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering – Carl Jung 

This enigmatic card is numbered 12. It is ruled by the planet-archetype of Neptune and corresponds to the astrological sign of Scorpio. The card represents the descent of the sun into the winter months and in mythological terms the descent of the solar-hero into the “Nekyia” or underworld. This subterranean realm of testing and maturation was a staple motif in the great myths and mystery plays of the ancient world. The figure seen is Tiresius, Odysseus, Odin, Samson, Daniel and King Arthur. He is Christ harrowing hell. In the Egyptian canon he is Osiris enduring dismemberment and death. The body of Osiris was cut into 12 pieces by his evil brother Set. In the Stellar Epoch, before the myths took on their mundane dialectical contexts, such tales merely represented the rising and setting of the physical sun as well as the various physical and spiritual rituals and rites that accompanied the stations of the luminaries in their passage through the 12 houses of the zodiac. The eastern horizon, or Zone of Horus, was named after the falcon-headed god of light with the western horizon being named after the god of darkness Set. This is why the sun, upon reaching this hemisphere, is said to be setting. Many decks show a corona around the figure's inverted head to illustrate this annual phenomenon.

The sun entering the underworld or “Duat” was considered by the ancient mythographers and adepts as a fitting symbol for the inner yogic journey. In fact, the posture of the Hanged Man is meant to represent a yogic asana. As the physical sunlight recedes, so does the external intentionality of the practicing adept. His impalement is not necessarily compelled or inflicted by anything or anyone externally but is self-imposed. In certain decks the figure is depicted smiling and in most his demeanor is composed. He is undergoing a conscious oblation, willingly turning his "light" inward. That the Hanged Man card illustrates internal psychic processes is further suggested by the inclusion of the 3-4 (triangle and square) geometry which is encoded into the artwork. Additionally, the card's number 12, is made from 3 times 4. This card, like that of the Magician, represents the Pyramid of Giza which is designed upon this ratio. This great edifice is also situated between the third and fourth of the great nomes (mystery school centers) of the Nile. The number 12 relates to cycles and closure. There are 12 divisions of the clock, of the year and of the zodiac.

In Alchemical terms the image denotes both the "Squaring the Circle" and the stage known as Solutio when the ego (king-hero) is immersed in the protean, uroboric waters of the unconscious. The diminution of solar consciousness is emphasized by the presence of two crescent moons which are often drawn onto the Hanged Man’s pied costume. These lunar emblems imply the occlusion of extravert motivations and external achievement and the willing immersion in realities beyond the drives of the persona and lower appetites.

And the slumber of the body seems to be but the awakening of the soul - Sir Thomas Browne 

The tree from which the figure is shown hanging is another prominent device in mythology. Many legends and tales speak of the mystic or yogi and the tree of mortification and enlightenment. We read of Christ's impalement in the Christian saga, but also in Norse mythology of Odin on the "Windy Tree." We also have Lord Buddha going through his trials at the Bodhi Tree, and Saint Peter being hung on an inverted cross. Some Tarot artists design the Tree to resemble the esoteric letter Pi. This mathematical formula is termed “irrational” since it has no definite solution. The Hanged Man teaches us that rational thought and constructs are not sufficient to circumscribe life's mysterium terribile et fascinans. In some decks the inverted figure's hair transforms into roots and shoots, as if he is becoming one with the earth. This "Earthing" leitmotif emphasizes the main theme of the 12th card. To know true enlightenment the seeker must dine at the table of the gods of the earth (or Hades), as well as at that of the gods of heaven (or Olympus). Like Odin, his wisdom will derive not from abandoning earth, but in returning to it in humility. As the dead are interned beneath the ground, so must the dying ego experience a sojourn in Terra, for nothing grows without firmly planted roots. The Oak or Ash which ascends straight and strong toward the skies has its roots reciprocally descending into the dark, wet, cold soil below. Though so many are loathe to accept it, this is the unavoidable law of life. And the same science which applies to the organic applies to the spiritual. Knowing this, the ancients routinely utilized internment initiations, and habitually used the symbolism of a great Tree to portray spiritual ascent. This "Tree of Life," was also called the World Ash Tree (Yggdrasil), and was shown with its branches in the heavens and its roots in the hells.

Your eyes will become the sun and your breath the wind. In your turn you will go to the sky and the earth and the waters. Your limbs will become the roots of plants - (The Rig Veda)

One interesting correspondence of card 12 concerns the act of birth. When a baby is born, in a conventional western setting, it is forced to experience a series of inexplicably traumatic violations to its person which frequently have a very negative effect on motivation, self-esteem, individuality and will. Our graceless introduction to life consists of being violently drawn from the mother's dark interior, being blinded by fluorescence, held upside-down by the ankles and slapped, literally spanked as if we have done something wrong by being born. We have our life-line cut before we naturally breathe by the lungs and then, in many cases, we have to endure the primitive and unnecessary rite of circumcision (dismemberment). We also endure having our existential and legal sovereignty sold by our well-meaning but mis-informed mothers. From the very moment that she signs the so-called "Birth Certificate" we become, in legal terms, nothing more than a "human resource," an indentured slave, quite literally a "subject" of the state which considers all that is bestowed upon us to be a privilege rather than a true right. Being so physically, legally, and economically impaled, we each may get to the point, during our long slave to the grind, of exacerbated wonder as to why we are so psychologically and emotionally unfulfilled by our monotonous and inauthentic lives.

Just look at us. Everything is backwards. Everything is upside-down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the major media destroy information, and religion destroys spirituality - Michael Ellner

Due to the absence of coherent rites of passage in our mechanistic societies, we often fair no better during our second birth, the process of becoming a teenager. This time can be just as traumatic as our first physical emergence. As far as society is concerned, our childhood ends when puberty begins, on average, about the age of 12. It may be an interesting test, but should we ask the average modern teen to pick a card from the Tarot's Major Arcana which encapsulates how he or she feels existentially, or in relation to the people and world around them, odds are that the Hanged Man is the one that they will readily go for. As pubescent teens we each undergo a veritable "second birth," a mutation and genetic metamorphosis. The fact that such altered states are completely beyond our physical control adds to their strangeness and to our systemic malaise. As pubescent "hanged" men and women, we are not so gently instructed as to our subservience to nature and its peculiar inviolate rhythms.

Psychologically, the Hanged Man pertains to the differences between ourselves and other individuals. We know what makes us similar to others of our species - biology, gender, class, status, ideologies, preferences or even appearance, etc,. But what is it that makes a child or adult really unique? And what is society's response to the free expression of that uniqueness? When our societies suppress the essence of an individual by demanding conformity, do they not induce pathological symptoms? What is the price we each pay to coexist in a world that is becoming more diverse yet less awakened, more mechanistic and less human? As our knowledge grows our wisdom diminishes. Our senses have been so indulged and overloaded with stimuli that we have lost the sensitivity to experience the essence of ourselves, of another or of the living, vibrant Earth. Such an immediate rapport was known to those indigenous peoples that we contemptuously call primitive. Perhaps we still have a long ways to go before we understand again the profundity in the words of Nez Perce Indian Chief Joseph who declared: The Earth and myself are of one mind. The Indian Shamans, like the Druids and Pharaonic Priests, knew that there is no essential difference between the physical world and the psychical world. They understood that the microcosm and the macrocosm are the same thing seen from different perspectives by the dualistic ego of men.

When this Arcanum falls for us in a normal divination style reading it signifies reversals, sacrifice, altered states, emotional transformation and regeneration. It is connected to stamina, patience and seeing from new perspectives. It frequently appears when we are going through disturbing and trying times, for it is the card of the "Underworld Cycle." It can denote physical, emotional or even spiritual sickness and malady. On a lower octave it represents eccentricity and bizarrity and occasionally even perversity, addiction and insanity. On the higher octave it represents cleaving to a greater sense of self and resisting the conditioning influences of society. It falls when we even come to question the fixed concepts of gender that we compliantly accept, when we begin asking if our assumed gender roles are yet more illusions on the path of self-actualization and whether they can be transcended, at least philosophically. In most instances the Hanged Man asks us to think, and act, in accordance with our true natures and to endure the hardships necessary when striving to find authentic voice. As psychologist Carl Gustav Jung warned, such hardships are not to be avoided, especially in the cunning, gratuitous and self-destructive ways we have become familiar with today. Adversity, of any kind, does not come at the behest of a punitive force but a loving one that seeks to rectify our recalcitrant habitudes and narcissistic attitudes. Hurts and harangues, losses and bereavements, personal ennui and social anomie are all part of our quixotic experience and metanoia. They are our lot until we return to direct communion with the Natural Order, the Universal Intelligence, which can only occur after we have each experienced our own descent into purgatory, our own underworld cycle. It is there, and only there, that true wisdom is found.

We don’t receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us – Marcel Proust

When we have this card as a permanent, or temporary, significator we receive powerful numinous dreams and begin to see through the veil of reality with greater ease. We may not understand or even enjoy many of the experiences that this Neptunian archetype embodies and when they pass we may not even be able to account too lucidly for where we have been and for what we have learned. Regardless of the severity of the personal underworld descent we may falsely believe that we are losing more than we are gaining. The external events which precipitate our sojourn in Hades, or which occur while we are in the midst of this shadow realm, cannot easily be predicted and are certainly not negotiated in the accustomed way. Friends are likely to be few and resources and landmarks scarce. Nothing will be what it seems. During this period of reversals, the pauper and the prince may exchange roles or, at least, occupy the same abyss. Now, it is the quality of one's being that matters and not worldly status or intellectual prowess. For some, it can feel as if time stands still, as if experiences are compressed, like one has become a spiritual gymnast hurdling one obstacle after the other in some kind of bizarre phantasmagoric arena. In the symbolic darkness of "Nekyia," we experience what the ancients referred to as palingenesis, that is "self-birth." In Jungian terms the "Underworld Cycle" brings the integration of those aspects of our being which threaten the normal everyday conscious self, the ego, which has a vested interest in maintaining its autonomy. 

The domain of the gods begins where consciousness leaves off - Carl Jung

The illustration of the inverted man on a tree fascinates those who gaze upon it. The strange imagery draws our attention to the 12th path of the Kabalistic Tree of Life which corresponds to this Tarot trump. This “path” falls between the Sephiroth numbers 5 (Geburah) and 8 (Hod) on the so-called “Pillar of Severity.” According to the Kabalists, this halfway locus on the Tree is the place where the energy of spirit first comes in contact with the material realms and when the energy of creation is most polarized and unstable. This Kabalistic analysis helps to understand the card’s bizarre imagery, and why the head of the hanging man is positioned towards the earth plane. His apparent inversion symbolizes that which our own spirit experiences when it leaves the supernal realms. Interestingly, if the 22 cards of the Major Arcana are placed sequentially on two Kabalistic “Trees of Life” the Hanged Man will fall in the position of Kether, the Sephiroth (zone) reserved for the supreme intelligence and creative power. This esoteric correspondence was one of the reasons why the archetype of Neptune was assigned to the Arcanum. 

Ultimately, this card represents spiritual maturation, androgyny, the investigation of the deep mysteries and penetration into the truth of the connection between being and the universe. The posture of the figure connotes yogic Prathyahara (withdrawal of the senses). The mystic or adept goes within himself to experience the numinous, that which is outside of time and space. In the Thoth deck a specific tree is not shown, as it is in most other decks. Instead, the great Ankh of life is shown. In the lower portion of the card we see a coiled serpent. This serpent represents the latent libido and the unawakened Kundalini energy. When the vivific force of the Kundalini "Serpent" is awakened we embark on the real journey of the underworld at the end of which masculine energy merges completely with its feminine antipode. For the adept who reaches this state, the subject-object dichotomy is destroyed, and all antinomies are nucleated. This experience was referred to by the Alchemists as the Chemycal Wedding and symbolically depicted by the mating of the gods and goddesses Shiva and Shakti, Geb and Nuith, Osiris and Isis, etc,. However, during the period of the Stellar Cult, the favored image representing this state was the female goddess (Taurt, Nuith, Sophia, Eurynome, etc.,) communing or dancing with the Uraeus (wise and good) Serpent. Later, the patriarchal, chauvinistic Solar Cults rescripted this goddess and serpent relationship into the more ambiguous myth of the Hermaphrodite, and eventually into that of the purely male god or hero, who actually has the serpent as a nemesis rather than daemon (guardian). Thus, his antagonism to, and combat with, the "evil" serpent serves as a metaphor epitomizing the rejection and chronic suppression of his own inherent femininity.

The descent into the underworld represents the acquisition of the "serpent wisdom," which we have defined as an essentially feminine wisdom - Ariel Guttman and Kenneth Johnson (Mythic Astrology)

The Hebrews follow the Babylonians in confusing the Uraeus Serpent with the serpent of death - Gerald Massey (Egypt Light of the World)

It is therefore incumbent on the male magician to cultivate those female virtues in which he is deficient…It will then be lawful for a magician to invoke Isis, and identify himself with her; if he fail to do this, his apprehension of the Universe when he attains Samadhi will lack the conception of maternity. The result will be a metaphysical and – by corollary – ethical limitation in the Religion which he founds. Judaism and Islam are striking examples of this failure - Aleister Crowley (Magick in Theory and Practice)

The Serpent of Wisdom (Knepf, Ophion) is seen in cards 12 and 21 (Thoth Deck). These two cards, and those in between, encapsulate the sequential stages in the cycle of spiritual awakening, and demarcate the journey toward the state of psychic androgyny, which the image of the serpent has symbolized for millennia. This purgatorial descent is not for everyone, and few who dare to awaken and ride the “serpent” exit in one piece. The journey into Hades is, in modern parlance, a journey into the recesses of one’s own psyche, into the dark places of the interior far from the light of the ego, to the place where consciousness began. Ruin awaits for those whose motives are impure and whose Magickal Will is not commensurate with that of the universe. Those sullied by self-interest and power mania will be plagued, deceived and finally devoured by their own shadows. The Hanged Man must confront and conquer his own avariciousness before his quest can even begin. To reach his destination he must have neither fear of hell nor desire for heaven. He must want nothing, possess nothing, and advocate nothing. He must overcome both his vices and his virtues, turn himself inside-out and upside-down, break all the rules and contradict every one of this own thoughts and opinions. He must enter the fire that freezes, and bathe in the water that burns, must laugh in the face of tragedy, and weep over the death of the gods he himself must slay and bury. Then, when his gods and adversaries are no more, when his sword has fallen from his hand into the abyss above which he stands, when his eyes close to all that exists, will his dispassion eventually lead him to the still-point, to the “zero degrees longitude,” “zero degrees latitude” of his own consciousness, to the wellspring from which his being arose. There, in that place, when the inner luminaries rise to their zenith, he will find both his grave and his marriage chamber prepared by the secret one who long awaited his arrival.

A great mind must be androgynous  - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The message of the Hanged Man is that from the moment of our birth we are each suspended from the great Tree which grows between heaven and hell. His wisdom declares that it is okay to be different and to partake of all that life has to offer, for communing with the gods will mean dining at the table of both Apollo and Dionysus. It is okay, he says, to test ourselves and to examine what lies in the shadows of our minds and hearts. It is a necessary part of life to walk without rhythm and to get lost in the thickets of the wild for a season or two. He reminds us that though the unexamined life may indeed not be worth living, the unlived life is surely not worth examining. He reminds us also that death is no more an enemy than life is a friend and that the greatest obstacle in our journey toward realization is in our delusion that we are separate from the life of the universe and of nature. 

In this great symphony of existence, the universe and all its content (including the individual), age at the very same rate, the existence of all being just as fixed or precarious. Each atom and each individual at the same time and from the same precipice inherit and enter tomorrow. Therefore, it is not experiences that need to be constantly fresh and new only the mind of the experiencer which does. It must be incarnating anew each second, each minute and each day for there to be a true everlasting rapport with the Real.

Each morning, like a scholar at his first class, I prepare a blank mind for the day to write upon - Bruce Lee (The Silent Flute)

Do not forget, whispers the Hanged Man - the tapestry of existence has many threads and colors, and to know the Weaver is to be enlightened yet thought mad by the consensus of the world. And should you stand too close or too far away from the tapestry you may miss something important, something which you have come so far to see and which may remain invisible until you learn the art of seeing. While you learn this art take heed O Man, that before you turn the world upside-down you make sure that you yourself are not...standing upon your head.

Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world – Arthur Schopenhauer



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