The hanged man is a tarot card of great spiritual importance. A young man, a representation of the God Odin in Scandinavian mythology, is hanged upside down from the tree of life. He is not an earthly creature and yet he has mortal concerns. He is devoted to others and sacrifices himself for the general good. His act may be altruistic but it is not reckless. It derives from the accumulation of wisdom and the security of mature consciousness.
The meaning behind this card is highly associated with the story of the God Odin, who was the King of all the Scandinavian Gods. He dedicated himself to a quest for knowledge and wisdom. Odin initially sacrificed one of his eyes in order to gain more understanding about the mysteries of life. He gave his eye to Mimir, the guardian of the Well of Urd in exchange for some holy water that had the power to reveal universal knowledge. God Odin continued his pursuit for wisdom and discovered the runes that were in the possession of the Norns. These three sisters that represented the Norse fates lived under the cosmic tree Yggdrasil. They would carve runes in an ancient language on Yggdrasil. The runes would hold some of the most powerful knowledge of the universe. In order to gain access to the translation of these hieroglyphics, Odin had to hang himself from the word tree for nine days under fasting conditions; with no food or water. When he finally paid the price and acquired the knowledge from the runes he recounted:
‘Then I was fertilized and became wise;
I truly grew and thrived.
From a word to a word I was led to a word,
From a work to a work I was led to a work.’
Odin just like the hanged man in this tarot card sacrificed himself for the greater good. He used his power and knowledge not for selfish purposes but for the benefit of his people. He became a healer, a protector and a wise mentor. The hanged man is also a divine figure that is not interested in the material world. As he hangs from the branches of the tree of life he gains the power to reach his ideals. Having released himself from any egotistical perceptions, he surrenders himself to the liberation of others from ignorance and selfish deeds.
He symbolizes confidence acquired by maturity, experience and deep wisdom. The smile on his face reveals a gratification that can be translated as belief in the reward that is yet to come, a product of his sacrifice. His torture will soon end. It is going to be replaced by total bliss.
When this card appears during a tarot reading in a favorable position it indicates that only through risk or after the loss of something that was once valuable, someone can gain access to true intuition and wisdom. This could be either something material or it could be interpreted as the eradication of an idea or a certain perspective. In order to reach real fulfillment and success there needs to be a synchronization between human existence and the cosmic laws. This card is also strongly emphasizing devotion to a valuable cause at all costs.
When this card appears in a negative position the hanged man becomes a reckless idealist that lives in a world that he created for himself with no sense of the reality that surrounds him. His sacrifice is pointless and he is happy to be the victim of a worthless act. His fantasy world is full of apathy and oppression and his goals imaginary.