Tarot: Symbolism of the Hanged Man

Hermit’s View on Crow as the Hanged Man

Trump 12 in the Revenant Tarot deck.
Trump 12 in the Revenant Tarot deck.

The Hanged Man is a card of stillness, and between times. It is a card whose meaning is suspended somewhere between life and death, and so is Crow. He’s a Revenant, and the most undead-looking of them all. He’s let the skin on his cheeks and neck rot away, and hasn’t repaired his mantle in ages. He lives, yes, but carries death with him wherever he goes.

This card in general has much in common with the story of Odin and the Runes. He hung himself by his spear on Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for nine days, dying on the last day when he finally grasped the runes. Their power brought him back to life again. Crow has been brought back to life as well, though not by the power of runes.

Just like the classical Hanged Man, Crow is hanging upside-down by one foot, his other leg crossing to make a fylfot cross, which is another reference to Odin, and Odinic symbolism. The fylfot cross is a symbol of cycles, both vast and miniscule, and key points in those cycles. The Hanged Man is at a key point, the merging of many cycles, the still point before the next phase begins. It is also a symbol of Yggdrasil, which then references the main figure as Odin, again.

Unlike the Rider-Waite Hanged Man, Crow is handing from the crossing point of two tree branches, as opposed to a beam of wood. While the wood classically was living, the trees are even more so, and echo the trees in the Revenant deck’s Hierophant card. They symbolize Order and Chaos, making Crow a point between the two, suspended between two states, perfectly in balance. Indeed, if you flip the card upside down, it looks like he is standing, balanced, on two tree’s roots. It is a position of reflection, and living in the moment, feeling the ebb and flow of the Wyrd. Knowing that it does flow, if sometimes slowly, and being suspended in that knowing.

Another interpretation of this posture is that the Hanged Man is a traitor, given that traitors used to be hanged upside-down by one foot in some countries. In Crow’s case, this is true, on a few levels. He is a traitor to the living, being a kind of undertaker for the Raven Queen, but he is also a traitor to the dead, in the end, by having been brought back, though he did not ask for it. In fact, one of the ways the Hanged Man is usually interpreted is as a martyr, or a sacrifice. Crow actually did this, using up all of his power in one spell to bind away a powerful demon. He and this card teach us to put the ego aside and in order to achieve something greater, even though we might be seen as backwards for it.

But, the Hanged Man isn’t a card of suffering or torture, usually. It is a card of inward seeking and meditation, as is revealed by the calm expression on the Rider-Waite card’s face. Crow is in an almost-obvious state of meditation, himself, with closed eyes and relaxed hands that hang outward at his sides, almost as though he’s laying on the ground, instead of hanging from a tree. His hair falls outward around his face, like the halo on the classical Hanged Man. The entire pose is one of acceptance, letting go, and being open to whatever answers may come in this time of meditation.

The planet Neptune rules this card, and while the symbol itself is not physically on the card, it does lend its energy to it. Neptune is the deepest parts of the human mind, that one can only reach in a state of suspended thought. Dreams, spirituality, and psychic abilities are ruled by this planet, and indicate the gifts to be gathered when one stops, like the Hanged Man, to be still for a while.

The rune on this card is Nauthiz, the need-fire. Its shape echoes the shape that the Hanged Man’s legs make, an almost-cross. It highlights the darker aspects of this card: transformation through trial, unwanted or unexpected insights, and the desperation of wanting to be free from this state of inversion. It is a rune of being alone, which is exactly what Crow is, in more than one sense. It is a rune that helps people carry on in spite of emotional, physical, or spiritual trauma, reinforcing the need to just let it be, as everything in the card does. It restrains the frantic motion of life down to a single moment, a single need, and in the case of Crow and the Hanged Man, that is the need to be still, reflect, see things from a different perspective, and let the universe go for a while.

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