The greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender.
— William Booth
This week, we are graced for only the second time by this powerful Major Arcana image. The Hanged Man is one of the most misunderstood cards by novices to the Tarot. In a recent class I taught, he was picked by several as the most unpleasant of the Majors. This is a perfect example, I think, of why it is vital to study the Tarot, instead of just flying by the seat of your pants, and relying purely on personal, uneducated responses to the cards.
For as grim as the Hanged Man may sound or even appear at first glance, look closely and you may see that it is not a card about death or punishment. Instead, the Hanged Man has a halo around his face, his eyes are open, and he is at peace. It becomes clear that he has chosen to hang in this way upon the T-shaped Tau cross.
His legs are in an odd position, one crossed behind the other, like the number four, which is symbolic of Earth, and stability. So although he is hanging upside down, he is still grounded, in a non-ordinary way. His position even looks like a dancer‘s pose.
In fact, if you reverse the Hanged Man, you will see he is in the same pose as the World Dancer figure in the World card. However, unlike the World figure, who extends the magic wands she holds, the Hanged Man has his arms behind his back; his power is not yet revealed, but withdrawn, or still in the process of being understood.
This week, we celebrate the Sabbat named for the Celtic God, Lugh. This festival marks the beginning of the harvest season. In many cultures, tradition required the king to sacrifice himself for the land. In the Celtic practice, this happened at Lughnasadh. At one time, this was a literal human sacrifice, later it became a ritual death.
It was performed as an act of devotion. This was the king’s surrender to an authority higher than himself, to the divine order, and because his ultimate purpose was to serve the good of his people. His surrender of himself was given willingly, that the land would remain fertile through the coming Winter, and be reborn in the Springtime.
Like this ancient wisdom, the Hanged Man advises us to leave our comfort zone. Be willing to be led by a higher power or truth that has called to you. Take time out to listen and receive the insight that you have needed. Let go of your props and the insulated safety of your ordinary routines.
There is deep wisdom awaiting you, but like an initiate, you must surrender control of the situation, and allow Mystery to guide you.