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The Hanged Man
by Kiama

Artistic Media
Artist's Bio


Ever since I began studying Tarot nine years ago, I have felt strangely drawn to the Hanged Man card. Why on Earth has he been hanged the wrong way up? Does he actually want to be there? I asked myself, getting no answers but knowing that there was something more to this card that wasn't being shown by the image. It wasn't until last year however that I finally got some answers, and they came from where I least expected them: My studies of religious experience and mysticism.

To me, the Hanged Man is a mystic, a spiritual seeker, the archetypal Wounded-Healer. He has placed himself in a position whereby he can gain new insights into himself and the Universe, and he has chosen the mystic's path: The path that willingly accepts the challenges and sacrifices in order to gain something better, something sublime, something wholly spiritual. Throughout the world we find stories and myths relating to these mystics: Stories of Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, St John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila, and Odin. Mysticism transcends all religions and provides a wonderful link between them, despite their often-conflicting opinions on other things.

As shown by the 19th-century philosopher, William James, in his book 'The Varieties of Religious Experience', the mystic experience distinct stages in their mystical experience, all of which have certain features to them. The final stage of the mystical experiences is the attainment of Nirvana, to use the Buddhist term or the realisation of the Universe, achieving 'Oneness' or some form of ecstatic union with God. But before this joyous stage of the experience, the mystic must first enter what St John of the Cross so beautifully called the 'Dark Night of the Soul': The challenging, fearful stage, which ultimately tests the mystic. Thelemites call it 'Crossing the Abyss', for Buddha it was the temptations during his meditation at the Bodhi tree, for the Christ is was his suffering and humiliation on the cross, and for Odin it was when he hung from the World Tree for nine nights, as told in the Havamal:

"Wounded I hung on a windswept gallows
For nine long night,
Pierced by a spear, pledged to Odin,
Offered myself to myself.
The wisest know not from whence spring
The roots of that ancient rood (Tree)

They gave me no bread,
They gave me no mead,
I looked down;
with a loud cry I took up the Runes,
From that tree I fell."

As the Havamal shows, Odin's 'Dark Night of the Soul' culminated in his attainment of the complete knowledge of the Runes. Christ's ended in his resurrection and attainment of a place in heaven at his Father's right hand, and Buddha's ended with his enlightenment.


When creating this Hanged Man card, I tried to symbolically and pictorially portray the three aforementioned 'Dark Nights' of Buddha, Christ, and Odin, simply because their stories epitomise one of the main meanings of this card: Sacrificing something in order to gain something better. Often this gain is in the spiritual realm, but when concerning mundane matters it indicates a more material gain. This is shown symbolically in the card by the red rose which has blossomed in the heart of the person who is meditating: He/she has put themselves into the situation where they can experience the ‘Dark Night’ which they hope will lead to something greater, and by doing so, they have indeed achieved what they set out to do. The fact that the person is meditating is a reference to the Buddha, and the tree by which he/she sits is an Ash tree: A reference to the fact that it is a long-held tradition that the tree Odin hung from, the World Tree, was an Ash. Upon this tree you will see an inscription carved in Runes, another nod towards the Odinic tradition, and if you were to translate it into our alphabet you would read the Hebrew words:

“Eloi, eloi, lama sabacthani,” – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”- The words spoken by Christ on the cross during his Dark Night of the soul.

Another reason why the person in the card is meditating is because it represents contemplation, and a suspension of action. The suspension could be forced upon an individual by external conditions, but ultimately it gives them opportunity for thought, which leads to the finding of the solution to the inaction. Indeed, Buddha chosen to simply sit and meditate non-stop until he got a conclusion to his problem: Enlightenment.

Card Meaning

You may have noticed by this time that the background of the card is upside down, and in fact the only thing in the card that is the right way up is the mystic. This has many connotations, and it is not just by accident that the background is upside down: Another meaning of the Hanged Man card is the seeing of things in a different light, from a whole new perspective. The upside-down-ness of the card shows how the Hanged Man has changed the way he perceives everything. It is not really the external world, which has changed however: Only his perception of it.

Throughout the ages, mystics have been viewed as outsiders, weirdoes, as well as very spiritually aware people. One thing I have put into the deeper meaning behind the upside down background is the wondering: ‘Who is seeing reality the right way up: The mystic, or those who see the mystic as topsy-turvy?’ It begs the question of what one needs to do in order to see things straight, in order to uncover the true nature of reality… One of the possible answers to that question is given in the meaning of this card: Search within yourself.

This may seem very similar to the ninth card of the Tarot deck, the Hermit, as both contain elements of the spiritual search. The difference is however, that the Hanged Man searches wholly within himself (Hence the red rose in the otherwise uncoloured man) whilst the Hermit’s search continues to the outside world, hence the shining lantern being held out by the Hermit in traditional Tarot decks.

When Aleister Crowley wrote his ‘Book of Thoth’, a handbook for use alongside his famous deck, the Thoth deck, painted by Lady Frieda Harris, he made a point of talking about the nature of sacrifice in his description of the Hanged Man card. It is worth mentioning this, since there can be big misunderstandings about the nature of sacrifice, especially amongst people who understand it in the Biblical sense of the term. Sacrifice in the Hanged Man card is not redemptive: It is not the offering of something to a supreme deity in order to gain favour with the deity or receive something in return. Sacrifice here is simply the cutting away of the un-necessary bits from life, the bits that hold one back from attaining what one wants to attain. Most people do not want to attain anything like the Hanged Man, but for people like the Hanged Man, it is important to cut away the more animal side of one’s nature so that one isn’t distracted from one’s spiritual purpose. So in essence, this sacrifice is less giving something up, and more getting rid of the unwanted bits. As such, the Hanged Man card can also be seen as a re-evaluation of life: The sudden need to stop what you are doing and sit still for a while and work out what on Earth is going on here.

It’s basically a spiritual coffee break.

Artistic Media

The card was created on paper, using colored pencils and fine liner.

Artist's Bio

Kiama is an 18-year-old Pagan, currently studying for a Philosophy degree at Cardiff University in Wales. She has been studying Tarot since the age of nine, and has recently been giving Tarot talks and running workshops for the Cardiff University Pagan Society, as well as trying to write two books on the subject of Tarot. Kiama has also been studying various divination systems from around the world since the age of 12, ranging from Runes and tealeaves to chocolate divination and palmistry. She writes articles on Pagan and occult subjects for the Cardiff Pagan Society magazine, and has also written a couple of articles for an online magazine, Body Mind Spirit, as well as a Pagan Parenting magazine, Triple Spiral. She collects Tarot decks and has nearly 110 in her collection at the moment; with more on the way, and when she finds time, she writes reviews of decks for Kiama lives with her wonderful boyfriend Simon, who she has been with for two years, and she is quite aware that she talks too much, especially if the talk is about her.

Oh, and she plans to marry Stuart Kaplan* in order to have all his money and get a stupidly huge Tarot deck collection. What’s that? He’s already married? Damn.

*Or other famous rich man with lots of Tarot decks.

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