Exploring a personal, eclectic path by looking at the intersection of three great traditions.
The Hanged Man
The words were a pained cry at the end of long email, and probably as hard to write as they were for me to read.
“I can’t be who you want me to be. Please just give me some space.”
My friend was having a tough time, and though she’d made it clear she needed privacy, I had not been able to resist “checking in” through email, extending invitations. A few times.
Had I actually been pursuing a campaign, not of concern, but of subtle aggression?
Maybe yes. There was a willful blindness to my actions, a shadow in which I hid my need for reassurance and connection. Worse, I’d chosen not to express my concern directly, but adopted a note of false cheer to keep myself safe. I hadn’t even been shot down for my true feelings, but for the disguise I’d made them wear.
Worst of all, I’d hurt someone.
In other words, I had thoroughly played The Fool, immortalized in the Tarot as a blithe, oblivious young man getting ready to step off a cliff. Predictably I’d found my comeuppance and flipped over into his counterpart, The Hanged Man. This figure, strung up by one ankle, dangles upside down, his gold spilling from his pocket. And now I was hanging with him, hoist with my own petard, all my social credit poured out. I wasn’t simply a caring friend. I stood revealed as a needy one, who hadn’t had the patience or wisdom to let go.
But here was the silver lining—now I had been forced to. Stripped bare by my friend’s words, I was ready to learn the lessons of The Hanged Man.
He has been associated in Pagan thought with Odin hanging on the World Tree, and the sacrifice of dying gods like Adonis and Christ. But the Tarot gives this theme a lighter face. In my deck, The Hanged Man has his toes gracefully pointed and looks almost like a ballet dancer or an acrobat performing a trick. True, his hands are tiedbehind his back, his leg to a branch. He is a prisoner, a victim. And yet, like the Fool before him, he smiles. Suspended, hamstrung and empty, he is nonetheless exempt from both action and choice. In a way, he is free.
Free of false assumptions and grasping expectations, of the limits of certainty and judgment. Free to hang in the emptiness that Buddhism suggests is the door to wisdom. This emptiness is an openness that doesn’t draw boundaries or throw up defences. It’s a stepping out of our story of self into a wider space of non-judgmental awareness. It is from this place that we can see more clearly—beyond the limits of our insecurity—and act more skillfully.
My assumptions had been overturned, and me with them. But the view from below can be enlightening—and how else would I get to see it? The hope I’d been holding on to—gone like The Hanged Man’s gold—had been a burden driving me toward frustrated action. It was past time I let it go, and hung in sublime defeat, accepting reality.
I’m still there, hanging around in this in-between, upside down space, learning to smile at my own predicament. The Hanged Man smiles back at me. He knows eventually I’ll start over again as the Fool — just a little wiser and with less to lose.
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