"A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Of Endless Possibility..."

This is another of those cards, like the High Priestess, which boggles readers with its complexity and thus has a wide range of interpretations projected onto it. Mary K. Greer themed her entire book about Tarot card reversals around the Hanged Man card, as he's the only card in the deck who is made right-side-up when he appears upside-down.

The first book I ever read about the cards was Waite's Pictorial Key to the Tarot, purchased when I was 17 simply because the card on the front matched the deck I was using. As a beginner I found it to be almost unusable. It's dense and philosophical and sometimes completely opaque. Robert M. Place's book (which I'd teleport to my 17-year-old self if I could) spoke of Waite so highly, however, that I decided to go ahead and revisit his little book -- ten years is an awful long time to hold a grudge. And guess what? While it sucks as a book for the practical reader, it's definitely a treasure trove for scholars.

So I looked up the Hanged Man in Waite's book this morning, and the entry is so scandalously obtuse that I shall quote it at, like, length. After providing a list of things that the card doesn't mean, he writes:

"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. He who can understand that the story of his nature is imbedded (sic) in this symbolism will receive intimations concerning a great awakening that is possible, and will know that after the sacred Mystery of Death there is a glorious Mystery of Resurrection."

I wish I could memorize this and just recite it to someone verbatim the next time this card comes up in a reading. And then vanish in a puff of smoke.

For my own part, I offer this gorgeous video made by Bas Verhage accompanied by Thom Yorke's song "Analyse." It's an incredibly detailed portrait of suspension, from the opening shots of hovering boulders and whirling Tarot cards to the plight of its shadowy human figures, and I think it offers a visceral explanation for the Hanged Man's conundrum. Our natural desire is to stand strong on our own two feet, but evolving as beings requires us to shed our subjectivity and ego as much as possible. It requires us to accept disorientation as a condition that may illuminate us, despite our deeply ingrained craving for stability. Eventually disorientation and unease give way to a profound insight that your right-side-up mind never would have arrived at on its own -- no matter how smart or imaginative you are, some lessons simply require immersion.

The disoriented figures in Verhage's video serve to illustrate Yorke's lyrics (included in their entirety below), and the revelation offered by the song is definitely bittersweet. Our suspended fellow looks at the inverted world around him and revels in its falseness, realizing that he is "just playing a part," that there is "no light in the dark." While he admires the beauty of the world seen from this angle, he also becomes hyper-aware of time as it passes. It seems that he will welcome the major transformation of the Death card (the next card, sequentially) when it ultimately occurs, and whatever comes after.

A self-fulfilling prophecy
Of endless possibility
You roll in reams across the street
In algebra, in algebra

The sentences that do not rhyme
The fences that you cannot climb
In all that you can ever change
The one you're looking for

It gets you down
It gets you down
There's no spark
No light in the dark

It gets you down
It gets you down
You traveled far
What have you found?

That there's no time
There's no time
To analyse
To think things through
To make sense

Like cows in the city
They never looked so pretty
By power carts and blackouts
Sleeping like babies

It gets you down
It gets you down
You're just playing a part
You're just playing a part

You're playing a part
Playing a part
And there's no time
There's no time
To analyse


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