ATU XII The Hanged Man


Atu XII: The Hanged Man

Letter: מ Mem (M), ם Mem Final

Number: 40, 600F

Proximity: Sephira #5 (Geburah) to Sephira #8 (Hod)

Ruling Pentagram:

Pent #23 “Stable” – Earth of (Chên) The Arousing, Thunder (Above/Below)

Earth of  (Kȇn) Keeping Still, Mountain (Without/Within)

Berashith: “Elohim said, let the earth bring forth animals”

Corner Hexagrams:

(Upper right) Fire: Hex #21: 噬嗑 (Shi Ho) Biting Through

(Lower left) Air: Hex #22: (Pi) Grace

(Upper left) Water: Hex #47: (K’un) Oppression

(Lower right) Earth: Hex #48: (Ching) The Well


Keywords (Dignified): Surrender, Submission, Passive-Resistance, Conciliation, Sacrifice, Ego-Death, Humility, Courage, Innocence, Oppression, Redemption, Renunciation, Immolation, Resignation, Adversity, Retreat, Yielding, Pacifying

Keywords (Ill-Dignified):  Resistance, Emotion, Selfishness, Pride, Terror, Indulgence, Stubbornness, Inflammatory, Fighting



Historical: Much of the traditional imagery of the Hanged Man is morbid and creepy in a very special kind of Old Aeon way. The Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo Visconti-Sforza deck has a bored looking young man in a stylish white blouse and green tights.  The “triangle” of the crooked leg is present as is the rope to hang him by the ankle on the gallows. It isn’t difficult to connect the white of the seed with the green of the verdant growth of crops which this card and its commonly associated deity Osiris or Jesus represents. This is especially apparent if he is carrying fish or has a halo as on many packs.

Golden Dawn: Called The Hanged Man Spirit of the Mighty Waters, the Hanged Man card corresponds to the planetary Neptune and places between Sephira #5 (Geburah) and Sephira #8 (Hod). The Golden Dawn changed little about the card’s old art, except for some coloring variations, as in the Rider-Waite with blue and red garb. The Hermetic Tarot, based on the esoteric workings of the Golden Dawn, decides to make the card infinitely more creepy than it already is by making the man faceless and tattooing a  naziesque Der Juden star on his buttcheeks, as if passive resistance ever did any Jew any good. Perhaps worse it infers the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking was somehow a victory by passivity.  It tries to make it all relevant by plastering a Rosy Cross AND an Ankh on the scene.  

Thoth: The Hanged Man represents transcendence through passive resistance, because the way his body is pinned is in the shape of the element of Air. It seems to be present in the Thoth only as a shibboleth, Crowley says so himself, “It is the card of the Dying God; its importance in the present pack is merely that of the Cenotaph. It says: “If ever things get bad like that again, in the new Dark Ages which appear to threaten, this is the way to put things right.”  Is the Tarot universal or is it not? It seems inelegant to suppose one of the ATU is a useless appendage. Of course the only way to prove it is to determine what lies at the heart of The Hanged Man. This can’t be done using the usual tarot framework.

Crowley rejects both redemption and the idea of sacrifice being relevant at all, dispelling his image as an evil warlock who took part in Satanic culling rituals. He calls self-sacrifice insolence, echoing a time in the future when Ayn Rand would prosecute altruism as evil.


Mutational Alchemy Interpretation: Biting Through, Grace, Oppression and The Well are fairly ominous and stunningly representative of The Hanged Man’s professional attributes.

Since the card is ruled by Mem, Water, the first Hexagram we will examine is the water Hex, #47, Oppression. Auspiciously for our scholarly efforts in the marriage of the tarot with the I Ching, it reveals an internal order of Kan the Abyssmal in the below and Tui Lake in the above. The Confucian lines say “Success. Perseverance.The great man brings about good fortune. No blame.When one has something to say, It is not believed.” Here Crowley’s warning of another Dark Age is magnified. Visions of Galileo, Pythagoras and other wise men through the ages proclaiming ideas and truth that are refused by the masses appear. The sages tell us “There is not water in the lake: The image of EXHAUSTION. Thus the superior man stakes his life On following his will.”. The situation is bad, and they are echoing the axiom of The Great Work found in The Book of the Law. “Thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that and no other shall say nay.” But these attitudes and events of unconscious ignorance raising its ugly head are not confined to Dark Ages. In this we have to defer to reality rather than Crowley’s curious proclamations. The Hanged Man isn’t obsolete, his iconography is merely painfully outdated.

The Hanged Man is the personification of Air. The Air Hex is #22 Pi, Grace. The image of the trigrams Fire under Mountain seems to hint at volcanic force, the fire of the mountain erupting from below and beautifying the peak. When considering the native position of the Hex it seems to infer the production of Air itself through the marriage of Fire and Water. This seems to be the underlying nature of the station. But first, the sacrifice must be made to the forces of darkness. Does this not also describe the process of life creation?

In the Fire Hex we find #21 Biting Through. This is a harsh little hexagram that talks about the consequences of wrong action and inaction in the face of Justice. We know that Justice represents the goddess Ma’at and Chinnamastah from the astounding structure of Justice at XI, so here too is Water, who is the Great Black Mother. Is she angry about something, does she hunger for vengeance? If so we must proceed carefully. Here Tezcatlipoca has carefully let her bite through her foot in exchange for the big catch of the whole crocodile! This may be the overgrown reptile from the Fool card coming back to haunt him.

Lastly the Water Hex The Well #48 tells us that it is all part of the balance, it makes no difference. The sacrificed one is the great god Tezcatlipoca still, despite the deliverance of his foot to Cipactli. The sacrifices of evolution are built into the most basic essence of nature. She is red in tooth and claw and even though it may seem to be an attack she is upholding the throne of her Lord. Nuit may be fanger, but she is still Nuit, and these acts of lila are dramas of Maya that diminish nothing real.

The Pentagram seems to confirm this – named “Stable” it talks about a point in creation where the Earth is ready to be populated with lifeforms. This in turn reflects the state of the Earth when Quetzelcoatl and his brother Tezcatlipoca find themselves ready to create life, with the obstacle of Cipactli the devourer in their way. The path from Geburah to Hod is frenetically energetic and busy, so that we get the idea of a feeding frenzy or a firestorm.

All in all it is a complex and interesting card which should not be discarded or ignored easily, although the identities of the card may be more interesting than going through the ordeal by itself.

The Scene: m1thr0s and I  were displeased with the traditional imagery of the Hanged Man, steeped in Catholic funk and misguided intentions as it were. After years of discussion and months of watching films featuring “Hanged Man” characters, including King Arthur, Moses and so forth, we settled on the Mexican supreme deity Catlipoca, who is, in some regions in Mexico, still depicted as a black corpse on a cross, standing in for Jesus just as his proselytizers of antiquity packaged him to the reluctant Aztecs. He is known as “The Sacrificed One” and the reasons for this are never wholly clear, except that a victim, reminiscent of a Saturnalia King, was chosen each year and lived a life of luxury until his heart was removed at the temple. This sacrificial victim was the personification of Tezcatlipoca. Parallels can be drawn between the obsession with the setting and rising sun, the symbol of the patriarchal age. As the singular deity in Mexica civilization, he has many stories, but the one depicted in this card is actually the Aztec creation myth. The brothers Tezcatlipoca and Kukulkan (also known as Quetzelcoatl) inhabit a world which is comprised of only the waters, themselves, and the crocodile monster, Cipactli. Tezcatlipoca dangles his foot in the water and tempts Cipactli to him. She bites off his foot, and the brothers tear her apart, creating the world, thus, his sacrifice and resourcefulness causes an explosion of life. It is the moment of sacrifice that we have focused on here.

Mexicolore provides an insightful commentary on Tezcatlipoca:

“The symposium opened with a presentation by the ‘grandfather’ of Aztec research, Professor Henry B. Nicholson, setting the whole event in the broad context of our knowledge of Aztec culture (as he pointed out, ‘Aztecs’ is a very inadequate term for the style of the late post-Classic period: the Aztecs themselves called themselves the ‘Tenochca-Tlatelolca-Colhua-Mexica’, or just ‘Mexica’ for short!). Professor Nicholson reminded the audience of just some of the key features of Tezcatlipoca: omnipotent, virile, art sorcerer, darkness, jaguar, ‘were-animal’ par excellence, total power, Jupiter, blended with Ometeotl in the supreme heaven, ‘every creature was powerless before him…’”

Ian Mursell, Mexicolore <> July 25th 2011

Where the hanged man is usually a victim, it is less apparent that in his victimhood he achieves supreme success: Tezcatlipoca is a sacrifice to Cipactli, but he is, as the Professor puts it: total power, a dangerous shapeshifter and the supreme deity. Comparisons with Jesus are easy to make, though Tezcatlipoca does the beat with extreme style and sexual panache, thus making him an ideal candidate for the “new” Hanged Man. If we were bolder we could very well have renamed it “The Sacrificed One”.

Images of Siva being subdued under Kali’s blood drunken demon-killing rampage were disposed of, on account of them being overdone and much too common for what we were trying to accomplish here, and not quite enough to redeem the Hanged Man from the garbage he had been drowning in for over a century.

This is an individual who follows a dangerous path. If one draws this card, they may already be inexorably tangled in the web of designs in which they are fated to follow or aid this person. Whatever power he is servant to is omnipotent, like traditional ideas of god, and also dark. Thus the person cannot be opposed, even if they appear to be in a position of weakness. Their powers will manifest in unexpected and strange ways, not always obviously connected to the person himself.