I call arcana eleven through twenty the Conscious Path because since the Hermit began his inquiry, and now that the psyche has Strength, the soul can begin to consciously focus on its Spiritual nature, the revelation of which is shown by the Hangedman.
From Strength onward, the process of recovering the awareness of Spirit unfolds.
The greater the exclusive focus on objects and experiences the lesser the awareness of Spirit and the greater the sense of separation as a person, and thus the greater the potential for psychological suffering.
Mental as well as physical objects, emotions, and experiences can now be thoroughly investigated, should we wish to. The transcendence of exclusive self-identification with the object “I” being equal to Spiritual Realization, which entails the end of psychological suffering. That is represented in the arcanum The World.
Spiritually it refers to psychological strength. The strength to look at things as they are and the will to steer the ship in new directions and tame the beast our egos have become. After shifting the focus to a new cycle (Wheel of Fortune), Strength starts the series of the last ten major arcana depicting the conscious spiritual path.
The lion is fire, creative power. While the Magician used his creative power (wand) to create experience on the physical plane, Strength will use that same power to withdraw energy from certain aspects of the ego and create “spiritual understanding” and open the doors to a new reality of being. It will do so with grace, shown by how she handles the Lion. This is not a fight; this is a path of fearlessness, love and compassion. Grace From Above responds to grace in action.
Until now, from the moment the Fool stepped into incarnation, all was very much spiritual, whether we were aware of that fact or not. With Strength, we begin a path with faith in Spirit which will end with the dissolution of the path as Spirit Itself.
Strength also refers to spiritual efforts and spiritual work (Sadhana). Usually, that is a requirement and a preparatory condition for the arising of the insight or revelation depicted by the Hangedman. And also after the Hangedman as a supporting factor in the process described by Death.
Oh! Mountains are not mountains! Rivers are not rivers! Valleys are not valleys!
From the perspective of Self-Knowledge, and Self-Knowledge being the goal of the spiritual path, The Hangedman has one significant meaning: it represents the understanding of our “non-authorship”. It is the realization that the ego as a creator of experience is non-existent. The mover of the universe is not personal, never was and never will be. The person as sole author of experience is a figment of imagination.
Along that line, the Hangedman embodies the understanding expressed in the Christian tradition as: “Thy Will be Done”. There is no individual personal will, in reality; there is only God’s will. And there is no separation between Self and God. That is the insight.
How is that depicted on the Tarot card?
He is suspended supported by wands growing from the ground. Wands is the symbol of action, which shows that the acting power is not his. Any action that he performs in life is 100% dependent on a power broader than the individual. Well, he is hanging by his foot! How much can he decide and choose without outside help?
In the words of the Buddha: “Deeds are done but there is no doer thereof”. That is understood in the Hangedman.
The remarkable symbolism goes further. That realization is a major change in perspective in our view of life, ourselves, and spirituality, symbolized by him being upside-down.
Things are not what I thought them to be. And I am not what I thought I was.
As the Eastern saying goes: “mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers”, all is Consciousness, and I and the world are That.
Near the point where the Hangedman is tied to the top beam, we see an open circle with three lines in it. That represents the three fundamental facets of our True Nature: love, truth, and beauty, which the Hangedman has now had a deep taste of. The True Self is now known.
He is now hooked; from now on he wants to go back to that peace. The Hangedman has now perceived his union with God, more specifically, he has realized that God and Him are not two, or separate. Every knowledge, belief, or mystery pale next to what the Hangedman Knows.
The small open circle in the image is incomplete however: this is only an insight into the unity and the fundamental trinity of the manifestation, it is not a living reality for the Hangedman. The psyche and its habits of unresolved ignorance and pain close the doors to this most sublime realization. A new approach must be taken. The circle will be completed later, at the end of the process of elimination, in The World.
The symbol of “love, truth, and beauty” is found in various of these arcana (three dots, for example) indicating the presence of those three qualities in some of our experiences and states, as we shall see.
The Hangedman is an insight – a revelation; a very significant one. It is the beginning of the end of the spiritual path because now we have been given a direct insight into the end of the path. The Hangedman is an insight into The World; into our true “One Without a Second” nature expressed primarily as three: love, truth, and beauty.
The Hangedman is the archetype describing the first time the realization of our True Self takes place in sufficient depth to cause a lasting impact on the psyche. It is the first true moment of Enlightenment or Awakening. This event will have ongoing repercussions in the spiritual seeker’s life. It opens a crack of light in the mind which has the potential to never be shut again…
The clouds of the mind have closed in and left the painful impression that the love, truth, and beauty The Hangedman knew is inaccessible. Fear, doubt, and confusion remain; all the ego-centric suffering remains to some degree or another, while the memory of the revelation remains beneath the suffering shining its light into the psyche. It is now time to discriminate and eliminate the obstructions. The process of spiritual cleansing begins.
Since The Hangedman, what we are working for and what we have been seeking is understood directly, not only intuitively or, intellectually. It is understood that we are what is sought. We are not working for some state of metaphysical power, we are not striving to add something to ourselves or to improve ourselves; we are not attempting to create an immortal vehicle for the ego; the work is no longer one aimed at personal achievement. The work is now to clear the psyche from weeds growing unconsciously in the dark ground, that is: from misconceptions and fear until what is left is The World — The True self that we have always been, are now, and will always be.
Death represents the removal and insignificance of all symbols of identity, namely: the personality and the body, thus the heads of kings and queens and body parts lying on the ground. It is the removal of the imaginary pictures of ourselves and the removal of the belief that we are exclusively those images and names. It represents the discarding of all that is spiritually useless.
This arcanum does not have a name. Spiritually speaking, the symbol of not having a name points at the elimination of one’s primary image of self. The arcanum is telling us: you are not your name, your body, or the person behind the name, abandon all symbols of self and find the Real Self.
Why is a skeleton doing the job?
Because the ego-as-author is still active, we believe we perform the spiritual work when in fact the ego-as-author was never alive on its own to start with. Yet, the colors in the skeleton show that the True Self is animating and acting through it. Spiritual work under the belief that we are the authors of our efforts has qualitatively different results from efforts that take place in the absence of that belief.
The Hangedman’s understanding provides an impersonal framework for the work which leads to present Spiritual Realization rather than an imagined future salvation. Here we have a reminder of that perspective.
As the cleansing process continues consciousness gets more and more acutely aware. More and more is seen about the unconscious manifestations of duality and the prison of distorted ideas and fear, which are what prevent a life lived in present peace and spiritual fulfillment. These unconscious manifestations are represented next by The Devil.
Related article “Why does the arcanum 13 not have a name?“.
The outcome from that ongoing psychological cleansing and investigation into the nature of mental bondage is Temperance.
On one level it is a desire, or the felt need, to balance life and have a sane internal world, thus the flow between the cups in the hands of one single “angelic creature”.
It is the “right work of centers” in the 4th Way terminology. It is the minimization or eradication of energy leaks. It is the conservation of energy.
We aim at recognizing and correcting fundamental distortions in the psyche which naturally produces more harmony in life. “The middle way”, as they say. The process of psychological healing is underway.
Good, now we can take on heavier tasks on the path… And they shall come…
The Devil is the archetype of self-inflicted suffering, ignorance and attachment. It represents a modus operandi of the human mind.
The devil is never hidden, shown by the torch it carries; it is permanently illuminated. What perpetuates the suffering is the unconscious and/or simply habitual approval of those bound to the devil. The people are not fighting the devil, they are passively subject to the ties with their hands behind their bodies.
The Devil represents mind activity, negative emotions and attachment that supports psychological suffering. In the 4th Way terminology it is False Personality. At the root of its manifestation, is the belief that we are a vulnerable self that must be protected at all costs. Its root is fear. In this mode of operation, we are ignorant of our true Self. From that perspective, in terms of what to do about this predicament, the only final antidote to the Devil’s grip is The Judgement — pay attention to the True Self.
The devil holds people by leashes around their necks and the people have tails, that is, self-identification to the body is perpetuated.
The devil has horns and the people have horns, emphasizing the intellect and the resonance among them, like antennas sharing the same signal.
The devil displays two tongues: one on the head (intellect) and one on the belly (instinct), and the people display large ears. Traditionally the Devil “speaks” to us, that is, it uses language, intellect, and we are sure to hear it when it speaks.
The Devil stands on a pedestal rooted in darkness representing the unconscious, as do the people who listen to him, by clawing to the black patch on the ground.
The male/active person is looking attentively at the devil’s sex organ; the female/receptive is staring into the air, one representing an interest in and the other resigning to the Devil. While the emphasis here is on self-inflicted suffering the root of such a state is to be found in ignorance.
Ignorance of what?
Ignorance of the nature of the psyche and its workings; thus the need to study and understand the psyche. Ultimately, it is ignorance of our true Self.
Despite the faith in sanity we have been developing not all is roses. The ego, specifically the spiritually inclined ego, has no power of authorship, and this lack manifests as our inability to change the psyche at will during certain crossroads and thus we may get stuck in our path. For the majority of us, there is no other way to move forward on the path without some severe external intervention.
While the Devil represented suffering we cause to ourselves through ignorance, the Tower is suffering that life throws at us. Shakespeare’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
This is The Tower archetype. (Named The House/God from the French. The building is “the house”: us as body and personality; the “blow to the roof” is God.)
Some external event comes our way and shakes the prison walls and shatters the prison roof so light gets in. It could be an accident, a divorce, an illness, losing one’s job, the death of a loved one, a stock market crash, whatever. The bottom line is that it is non-self-created; it comes from the “outside”.
It is a slap on the wrist by God, so to speak. Pay attention! It is time to renew! It is often painful. A painful gift that may propel us deeper into the path of Spiritual Realization. (In many cases, it is a tower archetype event that triggers The Hangedman‘s understanding in the first place.)
The blow from god is symbolic of the love that creates such destruction in our lives. Thus it is by no means to be taken as a dark influence. Destruction is an integral part of the spiritual path. What is false is destroyed, with love. And then, if we are lucky to assimilate the episode without lingering resentments against such a god or his pawns, we leave the tower through the door, otherwise, it is more like falling out through the window. Note the symbol of “three” on the door: we leave the prison through love, truth, and beauty. There will be as many towers in our lives as necessary to obliterate the grips of the devil.
While in the arcanum Death the ego was actively involved in the cleansing process, here it is “God doing the job” without any ego interference. Later, in The Judgement, the understanding The Hangedman has had will settle that the ego was also God doing the job all along.
Painful events, as brought about by The Tower, if appropriately digested and assimilated, lead us into a state of peace, humility and harmony with the world’s duality, as shown on the arcanum The Star. There is no fear and there is fluidity and those qualities begin to stabilize, shown by the three stars (love, truth and beauty) among four (square) stars indicating stability. Life is no longer limited by the shackles of the devil, it is now guided by a star shinning from within, throughout the psyche.
We are now naked, symbolizing vulnerability, but with fearlessness, as a healthy and sane human being. We are firm with one knee on the ground, but not static. We are ready to respond to the requirements of life thus, the right knee is up poised for movement. We are aware of divinity as the central star shows above. We pour our energy, as the two jugs water show, wherever is needed. We are interacting with the world from acceptance and courage and manifesting our virtues.
We are in a state of creativity and receptivity, a feminine state. Earlier in the path fear was the norm and moments of enlightenment came and went and did not last. Now light is the norm and fear may come and go and it does not last.
But alas, there may be still disturbing forces at play. These forces come from traumatic experiences in the past. The energy bleeds into the present experience via our emotions: The Moon.
The intellect may well have a clear picture of a life that is independent of previous lives, or it may even exclude the notion of multiple incarnations completely. It does not matter; the energy from those memories (held in that book in the High Priestess’ hands.) comes through the Moon and ends up being expressed whether we like it, or accept it, or not. Likewise, unresolved unconscious traumas early in this lifetime impinge upon the present experience bringing that pain back and generating new pain.
The two animals, like every card in this series, describe the presence of duality and the pendulum between the opposites within manifested existence. Furthermore, it is emphasized here that each opposite contains the seed of its opposite, shown by the shared colors between the animals; like the Eastern Yin-Yang symbol. The emphasis however here is on emotions.
These unseen energies coming from this unconscious painful past are shown by the crayfish offering two little blue “balls of emotional memory” to the two animals, past the straight lines of the intellect which border the pool, feeding the memories into the person’s life and propelling the person’s duality pendulum. The Moon’s face on the arcanum is one of hardship and acceptance: consciously processed pain leads to wisdom and peace.
Here (in contrast with The Devil) emotions are shown in the foreground as water. This arcanum shows the unconscious emotional side of duality (as the Devil emphasized the intellectual and instinctive) and the necessity of bringing it all into the light of consciousness for processing.
In the image, we see the Moon and the Sun behind it. It is the image of an eclipse. That is if there are unacknowledged and undigested hurtful emotions lurking they will inevitably obscure our peace and the light that never stops shining behind it, in our very core.
Light is needed to illuminate the dark corners where these emotions arise from. That light often expands our consciousness into a temporarily vulnerable place; it can be painful. Facing fear is the price for the reward of fearlessness. We need the Sun.
The light of consciousness and love comes into being to continue revealing the unseen roots of suffering, promote understanding and compassion and engender a deep acceptance of what is.
The Sun either simply shines spontaneously from within or it comes into our lives through a person we meet, a book, a spiritual teacher, a therapist, meditation, tarot, contact with a non-incarnated spiritual guide, and so forth. The light shines and healing is promoted until it constantly shines spontaneously from within.
This wise and loving energy guides and heals the suffering energy. This is shown by how the happy figure on the right holds and guides the traumatized-looking figure on the left on the Sun arcanum.
The figure on the left has a tail, showing that he carries residual energy from the devil and thus is still subject to psychological suffering.
Notice the three dots on the happy figure’s torso: the symbol of the natural trinity of “love, truth and beauty”. And that is what is imparted in their contact, inviting the figure on the left to leave the “moony” emotional turbulent waters it stands in, leave its identification with the body and its history and stand on peaceful ground, and then, in turn, give freely as the Sun must naturally do.
From a spiritual path point of view, the Judgement can represent the moment the sense of separate self is removed and the True Self is revealed or “remembered”. The Self calls and the call is heard.
Our intuition (the female figure; naked and free from egocentric distortions) prompts the active psyche (the male figure; also naked and free from egocentric distortions) to look up to the Self calling (the angel). That is: the psyche turns within and faces its source thereby realizing the Self.
The blue figure represents a “spiritualized ego” rising from a tomb. This ego does not claim to be separate from the Self, neither does it claim to be one with the Self. It makes no self-related claims whatsoever. Psyche and Self are Realized as Not-Two. This realization is not a mental stance.
Some authors call this arcanum an “awakening”. I think it can be but I prefer to differentiate it from the “awakening” shown by The Hangedman, in the sense that it is an “induced” awakening. It is a conscious “return” to what we are. This is not a “surprise awakening” or revelation, as was the case with The Hangedman. (Although it can perfectly represent a revelation depending on the reading). With the Judgement, the mind is already primed in the truth that All Is Consciousness and the factual absence of separation between self and the world. Death has already been doing an effective job of removing false beliefs and misperceptions.
In the Judgement the obvious is already “known” and reaches deeply into our sense of self. We simply “return” to Self-Knowledge. I or the world are not upside-down like in the Hangedman. The World is what it is, I am What I Am. In The Judgement we are being told by an angel playing a horn in our faces: “go back to what you already know You Are. There is nothing else to seek or place for doubt; This is It; Now”.
The gist of this arcanum is that there is a prompting to look within and find the source of the psyche. The prompting can come from the Sun (a teacher for example) for some time. Eventually, it becomes spontaneous and effortless — from the Sun Within.
This arcanum points at the ultimate moment of discrimination when the Self is (for lack of proper words to describe) known in its True Nature. The persistent and most subtle false notion of “me as an author of experience separate from the universe”, and all the restlessness and suffering that that implies, is absent in the realization of the True Self.
In essence, this is the same realization present in the Hangedman. However, then it was a total surprise; we were caught off guard. We had been serious spiritual workers but we had no clue about what we were working for. We were working to save the ego from death, no matter how well disguised the intent was. We had been sincerely working in ignorance and in the dark.
The Hangedman’s surprise was of knowing that we are not what we thought we were, therefore, the immortality we were seeking was imaginary; the surprise of knowing that immortality is irrelevant altogether. Aptly, our spiritual view of the world and ourselves were turned upside-down. Immortality can be relevant only to the ego/time-identified consciousness. The True Self (The World) is timeless; it was never born; death does not apply.
Here, in The Judgement, after the Self has “pierced the psyche” (The Hangedman) and after a period of cleansing (Death) under the light of consciousness (Sun) the psyche has been purified enough of suffering, degrees of ignorance and doubt in order to allow it to align itself with Truth and “move” in the direction of Truth without any hindrances (rather than moving in circles within itself).
In the Fourth Way terminology, this arcanum represents the triad of Self-remembering.
From Strength through The Judgement we may cycle numerous times. Sometimes linearly, most often multi-directionally and simultaneously hopping from one state or pattern to another. These arcana represent the major factors in the conscious spiritual development towards Spiritual Realization.
The arcanum The World, being the end of the sequence, depicts the Self as it manifests freedom and peace in the presence of the four elements and the experience of duality, which can be said to be the goal of spiritual development on the physical plane.
Nothing has been added to us, something has been removed. The imagination of self and the belief of being a separate entity has been removed.
Here the ego (the human figure in the center) lives in harmony with the whole, be it in pleasure or in pain; as a body and personality that were acquired in this lifetime, in the absence of the claim of separation which caused so much unnecessary suffering before.
The ego is not dissolved; the personality and body persist as the mental construct and perceptual experience that they are. What is dissolved is a particular quality of the ego which manifested as the sense of separation from the whole.
The World is not a relative state that comes and goes. The World is not something that was lost and then recovered. The World is not the last step on an individual’s path.
The World represents the ever-present reality before, during, and after the path: a Non-Dual wholeness that is equal to our True Self; the Self we have never ceased to be.
Marseilles Tarot’s Major Arcana tells the story up to the point that is realized and we live again as our Natural State.