In the 12th Major Arcana Tarot card, the Hanged Man is hanging from a tree upside down. He has a peaceful expression and in the Ryder Waite deck there is a halo around his head.
Words like sacrifice, wisdom and spirituality are used to describe him. What I found most appealing however is Rachel Pollack’s interpretation in her book, Tarot Wisdom. She states that anyone who can live by their own truth and can hold onto it without worrying about the beliefs of others will discover the Hanged Man’s serene detachment.
Osho’s Zen Tarot calls the twelfth card, New Vision: when we are able to see life in all its’ dimensions, the depths, and heights of existence, we can see that brightness and darkness exist together in balance. When we can recognize that these opposing circumstances exist together, we become more integrated.
Our experiences in life parallels the fool’s journey, establishing ourselves in the world, gathering our inner strength, establishing and living by a set of beliefs with the choices we have made — our life lessons eventually lead us to a spiritual connection. It is similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. His theory is that once we established ourselves in life — food, shelter, safety, and physical comfort — we then, naturally, move on to spiritual quests for inner peace and connection with a higher source.
When I think about these interpretations of the hanged man and the path of the fool, it makes me look back on my life, at all the non-traditional, unconventional choices I have made, and how difficult life was and sometimes continues to be, in order to find my inner peace.
I remember spending a lot of my efforts when I was younger trying to look like everyone else but somehow I never quite pulled it off. In junior high school, some of the cooler girls were teasing their hair and putting hairspray on so it would look like a beehive on top of their head. They got complimented for their huge bouffants and I’d get laughed at. I didn’t know that if their hair was going to look that way, short skirts showing legs that were shaved was an essential to complete the look. Having hairy legs — my mother wouldn’t let me shave until I was 16 — was definitely uncool and so were my skirts which were always too long, even when I tried to roll them up. Looking like everyone else at 13 seemed like that was all that was needed to fit in, but a lifetime of quirky mishaps eventually gave me the understanding that I was just different than others. I only wanted to be as good as average but sadly at that age not fitting in was synonymous to being inadequate. I was different and my classmates saw it and poked fun at me every chance they could get. I was called zaganut after a candy bar, and the friendships I did have were hard to trust because there was always the concern that they just wanted to find out more about how weird I was so they could have more ammunition. “She dances to the beat of a different drum” was difficult when all I wanted was to fit in but it took many more years to see the beauty in that phrase and to be able to look at being different without judgement.
The 1970’s and the hippy peace-and-love movement was a saving grace for me, it was an alternative life style where there was encouragement and freedom to be whoever you wanted to be. I stopped straightening my hair and had a beautiful mass of curls for many years after, that is until I lost it all in chemotherapy. But for many of us, the 1970’s was about acceptance, kindness, love, and the spiritual quest for Oneness that became my life mission. Being different but not inadequate was a concept that I was just beginning to realize and it was my job as a young adult (I was 17 or 18) to find the right path — which was made more difficult by vision problems, learning problems, trouble making friends all of which were heavy burdens, but burdens we all carry at one time or another in life. The only thing is that when they are ours to bear it is easy to forget that other people carry the same burdens: it is an isolating but necessary experience until we find our way.
I endured those difficulties mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. My fool’s journey took me through the Chariot where I found myself learning how to balance opposing forces. There was me and there was the rest of the world and life was often like visiting another country where you had to put aside your own set of familiar to adjust to the particular world you found yourself in. It was a lot to navigate, but eventually I began to understand that endurance served me well. Like The Ugly Duckling, I found my own brand. I am who I am — thank you Popeye. These childhood characters and stories didn’t mean much to me at the time, because when I read The Ugly Duckling, I was far from being the beautiful Swan and I hadn’t yet seen the wisdom in Popeye’s mantra. But I can see now that enduring difficult times helped me discover the flip side of difficult. There is comfort in acceptance and inner strength develops, resulting with pride because I am the unique individual I was meant to be. It’s a total surprise to me when I hear how my strength is inspiring because I am only trying to be who I am. When I hear how easily some people can become brainwashed, in political parties and in religious cults, I see my strength as a gift of inspiration for others and I am comforted because my life has meaning. The Hanged Man is part of me because though there are still difficult frightening and painful obstacles to bear, I live through the pain with a combination of resistance and acceptance until a balance is created that allows me to exist comfortably and peacefully with all that life brings. I eventually resume being at ease with the upside down nature of life.