The Hanged Man (Tarot card)
It depicts a pittura infamante (pronounced [pitˈtuːra iɱfaˈmante]), an image of a man being hanged upside-down by one ankle (the only exception being the Tarocco Siciliano, which depicts the man hung by the neck instead). This method of hanging was a common punishment at the time for traitors in Italy. However, the solemn expression on his face traditionally suggests that he is there by his own accord, and the card is meant to represent self-sacrifice more so than it does corporal punishment or criminality.
In other interpretations, The Hanged Man is a depiction of the Norse god Odin, who suspended himself from a tree in order to gain knowledge. There is also a Christian interpretation that portrays Judas Iscariot, and include the bags of silver in his hands.
A 1393 decree for Milan and Lombardy of the punishment for traitors: “Let him be drug [dragged] on a [wooden] plank at a horse’s tail to the place of execution, and there be suspended by one foot to the gallows, and be left there until he is dead. As long as he lives let him be given food and drink.”
Modern versions of the tarot deck depict a man hanging upside-down by one foot. The figure is most often suspended from a wooden beam (as in a cross or gallows) or a tree. Ambiguity results from the fact that the card itself may be viewed inverted.
The gallows from which he is suspended forms a Tau cross, while the figure—from the position of the legs—forms a fylfot cross. There is a nimbus about the head of the seeming martyr. It should be noted (1) that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with leaves thereon; (2) that the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering; (3) that the figure, as a whole, suggests life in suspension, but life and not death. [...] It has been called falsely a card of martyrdom, a card of prudence, a card of the Great Work, a card of duty [...] I will say very simply on my own part that it expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the Universe.
There is a halo burning brightly around the hanged man's head, signifying a higher learning or an enlightenment.
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- A. E. Waite's 1910 Pictorial Key to the Tarot
- Hajo Banzhaf, Tarot and the Journey of the Hero (2000)
- Wood, Juliette. (1998) "The Celtic Tarot and the Secret Tradition: A Study in Modern Legend Making". Folklore 109: 15–24
- Francesca Lia Block, The Hanged Man (1999)