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Between Heaven and Earth: The Hanged Man

Updated: May 17

Oluf Olufsen Bagge - Yggdrasil, The Mundane Tree 1847 - full page.

“Therefore, our first impression of the Card plunges us into the heart of the problem of the relationship between man and gravitation, and the conflicts that this relationship entails,” states the anonymous author in Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism. (p. 330) “The Hanged Man represents the condition of one in the life of whom gravitation from above has replaced that from below.” (332)


I suspect that the majority of MythBlast readers would subscribe to the notion that every earthbound crisis, whether it’s finances, health, work, or relationship difficulties, also contains within it a spiritual crisis, an underlying mythological narrative, or a hidden symbolic meaning. These invisible elements and their forces are often veiled in our everyday lives. This is because we can’t, as yet, easily recognize these patterns while existing in a world that wants to be rationally controllable and visibly understandable. The material world permeates so much of our thinking and leads to a preoccupation with logic, rationality, and reason. But working with archetypes and mythology requires a new type of logic, one linked to irrationality and paradox. So while in our everyday parlance we may understand that economic terms such as inflation, deflation, and depression are also psychological terms, we can’t easily translate or universalize these expressions to manage the invisible and transcendental.


To continue this thought, it behooves us to reveal the hiddenness that drives our (largely) unconscious motivations and actions. As Carl Jung wrote, “The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate.” (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 Part 2, 71) Again though, I suspect that our readership is rather au fait with these situations because we spend a great deal of our time contemplating symbols, their meaning, and valuing the power of imagination and metaphorical thinking—activities that attune us to the soft whispers of our souls.

And furthermore, if we deeply value our inner life, we must therefore also highly value our will too. According to Letter XII in Meditations on the Tarot, our will (a power deeper than thinking and feeling) is connected to the unseen spiritual realms. Once the intimations from these realms are integrated within ourselves, they require concrete and practical expressions on the physical plane.


Just as the Hanged Man suspended from a T-shaped cross made of living wood from the Tree of Wisdom—whether perceived as Yggdrasil (the sacred tree in Norse cosmology), the cross of Jesus, or Arbor Vitae (the Tree of Life)—we, too, would do well to contemplate the world from an entirely different angle. In the card, the figure’s feet are tied to the realm of the unseen unconscious, prompting us to find our sure footing in the heavens. Our grounding is to be found in the encompassing spiritual realms, and this is what brings forth the potential for wisdom and indeed the enlightenment signified by the figure’s halo.


Now, terms like eternal and temporal are used interchangeably across cultures and traditions, and we could link here to Joseph Campbell’s discussions in the Renewal Myths and Rites section within The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays 1959-87: “These are the two modes of considering God that Rudolf Otto has termed the ‘rational’ and the ‘ineffable’: the same that are called in India saguna and nirguna Brahman: the Absolute with qualities and without.” (p. 68)


In preceding paragraphs, I’ve been discussing these two realms, whether we think of them as the invisible and visible, heaven and earth, or the spiritual and physical. Campbell also offers us another way to view them in this Sioux legend:


‘This rock,’ the holy woman continued, ‘is of the same red stone as the bowl of the pipe; it is the earth – your Mother and Grandmother. It is red; you, too, are red; and the Great Spirit has given you a red road.’ The red road is the road of purity and life. The various Indian nations have many names for this road. The Navaho call it the ‘Pollen Path of Beauty.’ Its opposite, the black road, is followed by those ‘who are distracted, ruled by the senses, and live rather for themselves than for their people.’ […] And so we notice now that even the ethical polarity that we recognize between the bird and serpent as allegoric of the winged flight of the spirit and the earth-bound commitment of the passions, here too is suggested. (68)


This leads us to recall that it’s an indispensable skill to be able to hold the tension of polarities, to entertain contrary interpretations of reality: “winged flight of the spirit and the earth-bound commitment of the passions.” Because this, of course, is the basis for alchemy. And as Jung stated in the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 18:


The cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious is called the ‘transcendent function.’ […] This function progressively unites the opposites. Psychotherapy makes use of it to heal neurotic dissociations, but this function had already served as the basis of Hermetic philosophy for seventeen centuries. (689)


We heal through numinous encounters while suspended between opposing fields of gravitation … and this is what the Hanged Man tarot card reveals.


However, our world of increasing fragmentation veils the fact that we need to work constructively with polarities, and our anonymous author instructs us:


Do not scorn anything or reject anything, if you have authentic faith. It is this, and this alone, which renders everything truly useful and which gives them value which they would not have without it. This is the essential message of the Hanged Man, the upside-down man, whose feet are above and whose head is below, whose zodiacalised will is an authentic witness of the truths of the twelve articles of faith, and who lives suspended between two opposed fields of gravitation – heaven and earth.” (364) 


We must hold the tension of such polarities within us, inclusively, because the poles and the exchanges between them are highly instructive for our lives while we “hang” between heaven and earth.


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