“The Light’s On But Nobody’s Home”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a brief meditation on the Hanged Man. The title of the post comes from the halo around the head of the figure in the Waite-Smith version.
While reading The Way of Tarot, I came across Alejandro Jodorowsky’s observation that the suspended person in this card is “empty” in that “no-one is there,” or in my own words, “vacant and adrift, devoid of the ambition and incentive to act with conviction on his own behalf.” The individual is becalmed, at an utter standstill and prone to just “twist in the wind” of Fate, which “blows wherever it lists.” It would take a potent impulse for change to nudge him out of his meditative fugue and give him some direction and traction, or even simply to get his attention with the goal of encouraging self-motivation. In the words of Bob Dylan, he’s “locked in tight and out of range.”
Although the historical view of this card is that it shows a traitor being punished by torture, the inverted, “head in the sand” posture suggests that any torment for the subject of a reading would most likely be self-inflicted or at least the product of personal ennui and benign neglect. The halo around his head implies that his inspiration comes not from interaction with the physical universe but from the numinous realm of spirit that manifests within. In short, he may be “in the world but not of it,” partaking more of the abstract than of the concrete; he (or a querent so afflicted) could have trouble “getting his feet on the ground” or “rising to the occasion” posed by a pragmatic situation. He is more apt to simply “duck-and-cover,” then wait and see what transpires.
I decided that, whenever the Hanged Man appears in a reading, I will look at the card following for an indication of their joint “relational dynamic” (Jodorowsky’s term) and determine whether the second card has enough galvanizing horsepower to pull the Hanged Man’s dangling consciousness “down to Earth” (or “raise its sights” as the case may be, particularly if its subjective navel-gazing is firmly entrenched). If that motivational force is insufficient, the Hanged Man will remain unreachable, continuing to “stew in his own juices” and posing an impediment to progress. In such cases, waiting patiently for him to awaken would probably not be advisable. Despite appearances, he may not in fact be smiling sardonically, but is merely distracted and bemused.
In the best sense of “empowerment,” the thrust of the reaction implied by the following card must be seized and honed to a “razor’s edge.” For example, I would much rather see the Chariot’s emphatic “man of action” as the Hanged Man’s “guide and mentor” than the contemplative High Priestess, although it could be said that she will “move in mysterious ways” to the same end; we might call it “the Way of Water,” their shared element, although to have an impact it must flow with channeled precision and persistence, not “willy-nilly” as Fitzgerald/Khayyam assumed. Like water, when left to itself the Hanged Man’s energy will “follow the path of least resistance” and “take the shape of its container,” thus sacrificing its own meager initiative and subordinating its destiny to that of outside interests. The Chariot is also a Water card, but it could be described as more decisively motile or hydraulic in nature, which would make all the difference.
If the paired card is a court card that is upright and not reversed, external help in the form of human intervention may be available to facilitate the task of reinvention, but if it is reversed the ideal protagonist may deny responsibility and decline to become involved. If it is a minor card, the most that might be expected would be to “make the best of a bad situation” and cross our fingers that it isn’t one of the harsher Swords. The point is that the Hanged Man desperately needs the “fresh outlook” that has optimistically been attributed to his condition, but if a persuasive “way-shower” fails to appear he could wander aimlessly from the path and get nowhere; stimulating new insights are required but they aren’t automatically forthcoming. Selected verses from the Pink Floyd song “Time” come to mind:
“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”
POSTSCRIPT: Pardon all the quoted platitudes in this essay, but they do make my prose more economical and to-the-point, and I definitely love a cogent metaphor or analogy.