The Hanged Man is one of my favourite cards.
Trump twelve can best be summed up by the keyword 'sacrifice' which often puts people off. You hear the word and get stuck on the action, forgetting that sacrifice is done with a goal in mind. Fear consumes the individual and they fail to see the chance for liberation.
Rachel Pollack, in Tarot Wisdom, points out that in the Rider deck if card 12 is turned upside down, it mirrors card 21. The Hanged Man and the World dancer possess the same posture; their legs form the number four, their arms create triangles. Sacred numbers are hidden in the flesh.
|Vertigo Tarot by Dave McKean|
A myth I personally find more personally relevant is that of Odin on the World Tree. If you're unfamiliar with the story, Odin hangs for nine days and nights on Yggdrasil, pierced by his own spear, in order to make himself ready to receive the runes and therefore the knowledge of all the nine worlds and their magic. Odin, of course, is also the same guy who sacrificed an eye at the well of Mimir - this is a figure who understands that to get, you gotta give, and sometimes it sucks hard.
While the Hanged Man has mundane applications - having no social life in order to pay off your debt, for example - as with most of the Major Arcana I find the esoteric implications far more fascinating, and it is for this reason that card twelve is my second favourite in the deck. It is one of the more intellectual cards in that it deals with wisdom, but at the same time maintains a strong connection to the occult. It is worth noting that the Golden Dawn sometimes used the alternate title The Drowned Man - this appears to be due to the Hebrew letter assigned the card being 'Mem' which translates to 'water.' Here again, we can skip across our myths and look to Odin, suspended above Mimir's well. The presence of water in a card speaks of the hidden sort of knowledge, of deep and mysterious fathoms.
The sea, altered states, sacrifice, and enlightenment. There is much to learn from the Hanged Man, hanging from his gibbet with a peaceful, knowing smile.