Slow it right down – The Hanged Man

This week, Emma pulled a card for herself, and then later on, asked me to explain it.

It was The Hanged Man. And I totally had one of those ‘drawing a blank’ moments. If you read for other people regularly, you’ll know what I mean – you sort of stutter out keywords that you learned years ago, off half-baked ideas you can’t connect to the person, lots of ums and ahs. There are always going to be cards which you know inside out, and cards you have less of a bond with. The Hanged Man rarely comes up in my readings and I’ve never had that ‘special connection’ that I have with other cards.

I pulled The Hanged Man from four of my tarot decks, to compare ideas. What a difference, especially between these two:

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The Hanged Man tarot card, from the Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Piu-Mun Law

The Hanged Man tarot card, from the Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Piu-Mun Law

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The Hanged Man tarot card, from the Anna K Tarot by Anna Klaffinger
The Hanged Man tarot card, from the Anna K Tarot by Anna Klaffinger


This is one of those cards where the image usually shows the same thing no matter what deck you are using – just as Strength almost always depicts a lion, The High Priestess always shows a moon, The Hanged Man is pretty much always a man, hanging. Upside down.

But beyond this, there are some big differences, and maybe that’s why I find this card such a tricky one.

The Shadowscapes version is serene, yogic, self-assured, deliberate. The hanging fella looks to be loving this position, using it for a good old stretch and a think. No ropes hold him here – he hangs by his knees. Perhaps he is meditating. Perhaps he is communing with the forest. Perhaps he is just performing circus tricks for fun. Whatever he’s up to, I want to do it to.

Anna K’s is grumpy, and wouldn’t you be if you were in his position? Strung up on a post in the middle of nowhere, under a stormy sky, rain pouring down upon him. Not fun. It looks like he is being punished for something. Waiting to be released.

So what on earth do you make of this card when faced with such differing takes?

Let’s break down the different ideas present in this card.

1) Limbo

Strung up (or simply hanging) like that, you ain’t going nowhere fast. Either you are waiting to be released by something external, or else for the time to be right so you can climb down, but at this very moment, you’re in a position where you are forced to be still.

2) Waiting

More than just limbo, there is a sense that something might change soon. Just not right yet.

3) Meditation

Serene expression or grumpy face, there’s no denying that hanging out like this forces you to think, to be with yourself, to just be.

4) Alternate perspectives

You’re hanging upside down for heaven’s sake. So you’re gonna be seeing the world from a very different view to normal.

5) Response

Are you happy in this situation? Have you chosen to be here, or are you at the mercy of circumstance? Is it pissing you off or are you enjoying the enforced thinking time? Are you in a rush to get down or feeling calm and serene?

Stringing this all together, your reading of this card might depend on the deck you’re using. If I drew the Shadowscapes version for a querent, the story is empowering – some kind of exile, a retreat, a conscious decision to meditate each morning, a wise choice to slow life down, quiet the mind and allow space for new perspectives to emerge.

Whereas if I drew the Anna K version, I’d be more inclined to think that the querent was resisting a period of stillness – that perhaps they resented being made to wait. In this case the advice might be to surrender to this ‘limbo time’, and see how it can be used productively. I might question where that resentment or anger was coming from, or what the querent is in such a rush to get to.

Both interpretations come back to number five on the list above, and bounce a question right back to the querent. So you’re in suspense. What are you going to do with this time? Waste it feeling grumpy? Or take advantage of the fact that life just slowed down for a moment, surrender control, and see what you can learn from looking at everything upside-down.

Another post I wrote about The Hanged Man a few years ago

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  1. Emma says:

    Hey Beth, thanks this is great and really fits with exactly how I am feeling. On the night I pulled the card I was grumpy and waiting for something external to change. Not embracing the opportunity to slow down but instead frustratingly waiting. Then last night I stopped and started to sit in the moment, the lull before the crazy storm and change which is about it happen. I was really grateful to have the time to hang upside down and have a look at things from a different perspective. Thanks babes!

    • Little Red says:

      Sorry Emma, I mean hurrah!
      Yes, once I started to really think about the card, it started to make sense, far more so than the other night. Except yours was the ‘bat’ from the Wild Unknown Tarot… I wonder if she is grumpy or serene. Her face looks pretty grumpy to me… 😉

  2. Ellen says:

    Often when I am puzzled with a card I too compare it with his siblings from other decks. That works most of the time for me
    I have this haze sometimes with Judgement 🙂

  3. I love this post! I’ve noticed that throughout the various decks I own, the Hanged Man is definitely one that seems to have a different feel depending on the artist. That’s probably why it’s a bit of an iffy card for me as well. I tend to associate this card with your 3rd and 4th meanings: meditation or a change in perspective. I’m glad you pointed out the Limbo and Waiting interpretations, though, because that was clearly something I’ve been missing and now it seems rather obvious~!

  4. Paua says:

    My first visit to this blog and i really love it, its really a diferent experience about tarot. Congratulations !

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