The Hanged Man (Tarot card)

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The Hanged Man (XII)

The Hanged Man (XII) is the twelfth trump or Major Arcana card in most traditional Tarot decks. It is used in game playing as well as in divination.

It depicts a pittura infamante (pronounced [pitˈtuːra iɱfaˈmante]), a shameful image of a traitor being punished in a manner common at the time for traitors in Italy. Some versions portray Judas, and include the bags of silver in his hands.

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.


A 1393 decree for Milan and Lombardy of the punishment for traitors: “Let him be drug 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.”[1]

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.

In his book The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, A. E. Waite, the designer of the Rider-Waite tarot deck, wrote of the symbol:

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.[2]

The Cross of St. Peter is shown in this French stained glass window. Saint Peter is conventionally shown as having been crucified upside-down.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Hanged Man is the name of the second boss in the Sega videogame titled The House of the Dead. It is depicted as a gargoyle-like creature.
  • The Hanged Man card, along with the other Tarot cards of the Major Arcana, appears in the 2011 video game, The Binding of Isaac, and its 2014 remake, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, where they act as consumable items with varying effects. The Hanged Man in particular removes the player character's body for the duration of the room, allowing him or her to fly over obstacles.
  • In Part 3 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders, The Hanged Man is the name of the Stand used by J. Geil, an ally of DIO's whose special ability is to move between reflective surfaces at the speed of light and attack with a hidden knife with no retaliation. It is only defeated when it is forced to move in a pattern where it can be hit though prediction.


  1. ^ A Modern Catholic Looks at the Tarot, Pre-Gebelin Tarot History
  2. ^ Waite, A. E. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, ill. by Pamela Colman Smith [1911], at

Further reading[edit]

  • 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)