Key 12: The Hanged Man
The Spirit of the Mighty Waters
“The Twenty-third Path is the Stable Intelligence, and it is so called because it has the virtue of consistency among all numerations.” (Sepher Yetzirah)
The 23rd Path between Hod and Geburah has always held a certain mystery for me. On the one hand it is an image of punishment or enforced sacrifice yet on the other hand it is an image of enlightenment and of the Adept. It has the element of water attributed to it and the Hebrew letter Mem. If the Hebrews ever had a symbol for the Goddess it would be found in this letter – its shape suggests a womb, with an opening at the bottom for conception and the passage of birth, and it doesn’t take much imagination to turn the letter Mem into the Egyptian goddess Nuit. So we can find in this card powerful feminine currents of bringing forth new life, and yet this new life is veiled by the dark recesses of the cave from which a giant hangs.
In the Golden Dawn the secret meaning of this card was the “drowned giant,” referring to the wars between the gods and the giants in Greek myth. Poseidon, god of the sea, broke off a sizable chunk of the island of Kos with his trident and hurled it at one of the giant’s Polybutes. The giant lay buried underneath this islet of Kos, ever since then called Nisyros.
The cave symbolises the passageway between the conscious and subconscious mind, the astral realm, the Spirit of the Mighty Waters. The Hanged Man has his head underwater, his hair spreading out like tentacles exploring this new realm of consciousness. He is listening to the inner voice of intuition and becoming aware of deeper feelings – he has become active in the realm of the subconscious, the plane where things are created and birthed. He has become aware that some things are destined, some are created and some require physical effort.
He wears a leopard-skin, acknowledging his animal self, but it is slowly falling off. His legs form a cross and his arms a triangle, symbolising the power of the spirit of life rising above the triangle of water. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)
The Hanged Man, held by a gold thread suspended from the Barque of Isis, hints at Osiris slain and risen. “Poverty torture and death have ye passed through. They have been but the purification of the Gold.” (from the 5=6 ritual)
This Key also hints that sometimes to overcome our problems we must take the reverse course or sometimes no action at all.
A.E. Waite in The Pictorial Key to the Tarot says of The Hanged Man:
“It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled….It has been called falsely a card of martyrdom, a card 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 simple 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.”
Baptism by water. The descent of Spirit into matter. Sacrifice and loss. Putrification. Dissolution. Punishment. Restriction, restraint. Spiritual growth through suffering. Stilling the mind. Deep spiritual insights. Awakening of the higher nature. Out of the darkness let the light arise. In material matters, a reversal.