Shuffling the Deck: Getting Upside Down with the Hanged Man

Two weeks ago I rolled into yoga class on for my Thursday evening level 1-2. It was a day like any other day for me-I had a roster full of awesome clients I had spoken to, had done a wee bit of ritual magic and crafting and was ready to wind the week down starting with this class. I started practicing yoga over 10 years ago when I was in college-I have had periods where I attended religiously and periods where I have not but I have found a studio in my ‘hood that I adore so I am now a weekly fixture. So there I am with my hot pink mat and old yoga pants-kind of thinking to myself that I don’t want to be here. Its going to be another frustrating class of trying to do something that my body doesn’t really want to do. I ignore this internal dialogue (its always present) and get on with the getting on. My teacher starts talking about the shifts in perception that are possible in yoga and my mind drifts immediately to the Hanged Man card and then I know that we will be doing inversions before class is over. Slump. I can rock out a half way decent shoulder stand but I know that head stand is just not going to happen for me-it never does, yet tonight as always I will try. We get to the last 15 minutes of class. Its time for head stand, I am pretty warmed up but not expecting anything exciting to happen. I fold down into dolphin pose, kick up, and hey…there is one leg up in the air and now here’s another! I’m in headstand! It requires effort but less that I thought, what it really required like my yoga teacher said, was a perspectival shift. A movement from holding the pose (and myself) in fear to holding it in love. One small pose, and I know there will be times where its not as easy as it was that Thursday, but it has huge ramifications for how I hold my yoga (and all devotional) practices.



So…how does all this relate to the Tarot card the Hanged Man?


Looking at the card we see…

  • A young man hangs from a tree, his left leg tied to a T shaped branch his right leg bent at the knee with his right foot positioned behind his left thigh.
  • His arms are both behind his back and I get the sense from looking at the card that his hands are tied.
  • A halo of light surrounds his head, his face looks serene, and the colors of the card are vibrant.

One of the first things that hits me about the Hanged Man card is how it presents an immediate paradox. Scary title, bright & pretty colors. Scary position held with relative ease and peace. Then of course curiosity sets in—why? Why is this guy hanging upside down? Why does he have a halo around his head? Obviously he knows something I don’t! My saying for the Hanged Man is: knowledge, wisdom, and power gained through sacrifice.


In Divination I have been taught 6 distinct ways to interpret this card:

1.) In its upright position it indicates that a shift in perspective is required before the situation can move forward. I often refer to this as a 180 turn around-you thought it was one way but after you see it a bit more clearly you discover its actually a different thing all together.

2.) Also in an upright position it can indicate initiation, the decision to be initiated, Shamanic journeying into the other words (and often the underworld), and/or the endeavor of magical training.

3.) Reversed or upright the card may indicate that self sacrifice is required. This is certainly the case in the second interpretation where sacrifice is the payment the initiate makes, but it is also usually required in the first case as well—usually in order to shift our perceptions we must make an offering of the part of ourselves that refuses to be moved from our current position.

4.) In a reversed position it may also indicate that the querant or someone related to them needs to reconsider their stance or position on a certain issue.

5.) Finally, in a few cases when reversed this card can indicate that the time of initiation is over and the initiate has emerged with wisdom gained through experience and sacrifice.

6.) My uber practical side comes out sometimes when I get this card for a client-we talk about what their “hang ups” are and why they keep standing in the way!

Would you like to know what the Hanged Man tarot card, and the stories of Jacob’s Ladder, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Norse God Odin and his World Tree Yggdrasil have in common?

They are all examples of the Shamanic experiences with the axis mundi or World Tree. In a nutshell the central figure of the Hanged Man card is the Shaman-and the magic he is learning is not the elite, higher ritual magic we find present in the Magician card-rather it is the wilder magic of the shaman or astral traveler who possesses the skill and ability to go from our world into the worlds above and the worlds below-to seek out knowledge and wisdom and bring it back for the betterment of our land and community. This is the esoteric truth behind the Hanged Man card-the shift is perception occurs because the initiate has agreed to sacrifice a part of himself and in return gains the ability to pierce the veil and travel between the worlds.

While that sounds all mystical and magically high minded, the truth is that we all participate in this process to some degree. Whether we are striving to see another person’s position in a disagreement or relinquishing a long held yet severely self limiting belief we are engaging in our own process of moving between the worlds that we know best into worlds that are less familiar. Like Ishtar descending into the underworld to encounter her skull sister and rescue her beloved, we must leave cherished parts of ourselves behind to emerge different, new, and more full complete in our knowledge and wisdom that we were before.

Practice makes Perfect! Spend some time with the Hanged Man by considering these questions:

1.) What are your hang ups? What pushes your buttons like nothing else-is this a belief/feeling/experience that is vital to you or is it limiting you now?

2.) Have you ever shifted your perspective in a radical way before? Tell me about it!

3.) What part(s) of yourself will you let go of for deeper knowledge and wisdom?

9 responses to “Shuffling the Deck: Getting Upside Down with the Hanged Man

  1. My radical shift that occurred a few years ago was that: “This world is an illusion and the only thing that is real is love.” That was REALLY hard for me. I spent many years arguing with that idea. Now, I simply surrender to the fact that I don’t need to understand why and I accept this statement as truth. I’ve found it incredibly comforting when I’m having a hard time.

  2. Bri.. so interesting how the yoga piece played out after you flashed on the when that happens. The Tarot symbolism is fascinating, I learn so much from you always..
    Much love,

  3. Hehe, this is exactly why I love headstand – and just like you it took me a shift in perception to get in – because that’s what I need sometimes to … shift my perception too! :)
    Like Lisa I love how this played out after you flashed on the card. I don’t know a lot about tarot and this is fascinating, very intrigued now!

  4. “I am pretty warmed up but not expecting anything exciting to happen.” — Ha, isn’t that always the way?! Prepare yourself, but release the expectation….and then BOOM! The magic happens. :-)

  5. I’ve taught yoga classes based on the tarot and the Hanged Man was all about inversions. Going upside down certainly does give a different perspective!

    Iyengar said that if you don’t do inversions you risk becoming conceited because you can’t see another point of view. I love that thought. :)

  6. Jacqueline Fairbrass on said:

    I’ve been a yogini for years but have never come across yoga & tarot as mates before. Very cool concept. Love this!

  7. Bri the yoga story is classic, so been there and love that hanged man flashed in your minds eye and it represented both literal inversions and shift in perspective. Reminds me the Universe has a sense of humor.

  8. One things that’s shifted for me lately is a limiting belief that I was not meant to be a teacher. I always thought you had to be born knowing you wanted to teach. I didn’t know I wanted to teach until just a few years ago. So…big shifts all for the good.

  9. Sammi Johnson on said:

    Very interesting interpretation and how you looked deeper into the card… Learned a lot from this post Bri! xoxo