History and Iconography
In the earliest known list of the Trumps (Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis), this card is called Lo Impichato (The Hanged Man). At other times, he is referred to in Italian as Il Traditore (The Traitor) – hanging a man from his feet was, in fact, a way of punishing traitors in Italy, one particularly painful and humiliating.
Starting with Court de Gébelin, this card is thought by some to correspond to the fourth cardinal virtue, Prudence. Court de Gébelin argued that the card was originally reversed and that the rope around the man’s foot was initially a snake (one of the more common attributes of Prudence). The other three cardinal virtues – Justice, Strength and Temperance – are unquestionably identified by their titles and iconographical representations.
The Visconti-Sforza Tarot depicts the card as a young man hanging upside-down from gallows that are set up in the form of a doorway. His feet are crossed and his hands held (or tied) behind his back. His expression is remarkably peaceful considering the predicament he is in; an odd sense of calm and acceptance emanates from later versions as well.
On the Cary Sheet, only the bottom right corner of the card is preserved: one of the vertical sticks in the ground can be seen and a shape that vaguely resembles wings, which is probably part of the man's ragged clothing. The Rosenwald Sheet shows a man hanging from a horizontal stick that is placed between two vertical poles. His feet are again crossed, but now he holds a bag (of money?) in each hand.
In the Tarot de Marseille, Le Pendu (The Hanged Man) is yet again portrayed hanging upside-down with crossed feet and hands behind his back. Similar to the Cary Sheet, the vertical poles each have six stumps, as if their branches have been cut off. There’s something unreal about the card: in the Grimaud, the man’s foot doesn’t seem to be tied, and in the Dodal, the cord seems to come from the sky itself. Some versions show him sticking out his tongue and depict the top of something similar to that on the Cary Sheet behind his shoulders.
In the Waite-Smith Tarot, The Hanged Man depicts a man hanging from a tree that is shaped like a Tau cross. As on previous representations, his feet are crossed and his hands held behind his back. His head is now encircled by a radiant nimbus to show his enlightenment and spiritual profanity.
Suggested Divinatory Meanings
Although The Hanged Man would once most likely have been interpreted as a punishment, somewhere along the way it came to symbolise a change of perspective, new points of view and spiritual revelations – the card shows physical immobility and restrictions, but freedom and power of the mind. Other than that, the Hanged Man may signify a sense of being caught in between two opposites and a time of suspension, when you don’t really feel you have your two feet on the ground.
These are not accepted outside of those who follow such attributions
Golden Dawn oriented (and derivatives)
Numeral : XII; 12
In other languages
- Dutch: Gehangene
- French: Le Pendu
- German: Der Gehängte
- Hungarian: Akasztott Ember, Felfüggesztett
- Italian: L'Appeso
- Portuguese: O Enforcado, O Dependurado
- Spanish: El Colgado