Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Major Arcana, Continued (still)- The Hanged Man, Death, and Temperance

Now we come to an interesting juncture in the study of the Major Arcana. So far, things have gone along in a fairly linear fashion- we're going along, thinking we have everything figured out, the world seems to make sense, and we're feeling pretty good. Then something happens to completely throw our perspectives out the window! Call it a black swan, something we never saw coming, but there it is. It seems we're at another critical point in life. And this is where the Hanged Man comes in. It's one of the more complex cards, I believe, in the Major Arcana, and has different levels of meaning tied together.
This funky card comes to us from the ambitious Tarot of the Nine Paths. It says SURRENDER, and this is a part of the meaning of the card. The common image of the card is a man or young person hanging by one foot upside-down from either a tree or a stylized tree. Often the person has a calm expression, and in some depictions a halo. This card is also said to represent Odin, the Norse god who hung upside down on Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for nine days and nights. He did this not because he was being punished, but in order to gain wisdom. It also cost him an eye, but while he hung there, the legend has it that he gained the knowledge and use of the Runes.
So from this, we can see several aspects emerging. The first, as anyone who used to hang upside down from stuff as a kid will tell you, it's a change of perspective. What we thought we knew is seen as perhaps not quite accurate any more- we find that our assumptions, when they no longer serve us, need to be put aside, and replaced with a more accurate view of the world- closer to the way things really are.
So from this comes another meaning of the card- that of sacrifice. Odin was hanging upside down for two reasons- first, to gain that perspective that allowed him to gain insight and wisdom. Second, because he realized sometimes wisdom requires sacrifice. Thus we have the term surrender- what are you surrendering? Your perceptions, assumptions, and perhaps most of all, your comfort zone. This too is what moving to a new perspective is about- letting go of the comfortable, known world for a bigger, greater and more real world. It's giving up ego, that tells us we're always right, and comfortable, and happy, for the admission that we could be wrong. Each of us has to decide whether that sacrifice is worth it.
Next, we come to the Death card. Sometimes, doing readings, people will freak out when they see the Death card. Well, it is a harbinger of change- but it doesn't mean start shopping for the suit you want to be buried in! For this one we go back to that old standby, the Rider-Waite deck. The skeletal figure here is riding like a conqueror, and it looks like he's a successful one. Yet doesn't that figure in the mitre and yellow robe seem almost to be welcoming him? And a king has been already laid prostrate by this power. And what's with the rising (or setting) sun in the background there? All these symbols relate to the card's meaning- it can be literal death, but more often than not is much more symbolic. It represents change- much as a caterpillar 'dies' to become a butterfly, this card is all about change. This change usually accompanies a Hanged Man-like upset in the status quo. This can lead to first, a change of perspective, and then to a change in one's own life, shown here in the Death card. This change may not always be comfortable or easy, but again, it's always up to us whether to remain in our comfort zone or to push past, into a new and uncharted expanse- to leave behind the known for the unknown. This card, in essence, means change, and lots of it. Something will give way, allowing us to move forwards in life.
The preceding two cards are also closely related to this next one, the Temperance card. Here we have a message of synthesis- seemingly opposite and incompatible things come together into something new. The term actually means moderation, or to moderate. So this becomes a message of moving from two extremes towards a middle ground. The two extremes are combined, and between them, a balance is found. This card too deals with changing perspectives- much like the Chariot, it shows two opposites- in this Crowley-Thoth version, fire and water. But they are combined into something new- instead of the sheer will of the Chariot's driver, we have an understanding of how these things are really closely related- what seems irreconcilable is in actuality really just different aspects of the same primal substance. So, when the world- shaking upset of the Hanged Man comes, leading us to profound change, we can sometimes find a new balance in life- and this is what this card is about, and the message of the three cards and their transition from an old perspective, paradigm, what have you, to a new and more balanced one. The Temperance card is about realizing that the new information we find can move us forwards- yet the core truths of what we have always known still remain. Though sometimes we find things changing in part, it's also important to remember what stays the same. And throughout this, to remember- from change comes new balance, and new developments.

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