XII. The Hanged Man

[Editor’s Note:  This “study guide” (which was inspired in part by a blog post on Moral Logic by Cologero) will eventually be supplemented (if not wholly superceded) by a more complete (and less speculative) summary of this letter.   In the meantime, this should provide a good point of departure for those who are beginning to seriously meditate on The Hanged Man.]

The epigraphs at the beginning of Letter XII read as follows:

Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless one is born anew,
he cannot see the kingdom of God. . .
Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless one is born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God . . .
The wind blows where it wills,
and you hear the sound of it,
but you do not know whence it comes
   or whither it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
(John iii, 3, 5, 8)

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head. (Matthew viii. 20)

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matthew xiii, 43)

That which I had to say
about the operation of sol
is completed.
(Tabula Smaragdina, 13)

12-resizedApropos of Moral Logic (which is one of the major themes of this letter), let us think of the moral law, on the one hand, as originating in and from our higher, spiritual aspect (cf. the gravitation from above that motivates The Hanged Man); and let us think of the temptation posed by our inclinations, on the other hand, as originating in the world of appearances (including the temptation to imagine ourselves as separate individuals, playing The Wheel of Fortune).  Thus, as human beings, we find ourselves torn, at times, between the call of conscience, on the one hand (which is universal), and our desires and appetites, on the other (which are particular).

Moreover, the moral dynamic of our lives is further complicated by our tendency (also) to have an erroneous conscience (informed by the general ignorance of our culture or subculture — cf. Freud’s superego).  As such, how are we, as (apparently) separate individuals– competing with other separate individuals in a world of relative ignorance and scarcity –supposed to apprehend the universal?  And how can we, in the thrall of our particularity, ever hope to transcend not only our appetites but also (when called to do so)  “the collective moods, prejudices and desires of race, nation, class and family”? [cf. The Hermit, page 200]

While the (admittedly profound) moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant is a major subtext of Letter XII, it is not at all clear that Kant’s answers to these questions, considered by themselves, are completely coherent, much less wholly adequate.  Consider, for example, his slavish insistence on a “universality” that so often seems, despite his protests, to depend on empirical observation and calculation–along with his tendency to employ his “practical reason” in deference to what seems, in retrospect, to have been merely conventional mores.   The only remedy to (what is arguably) the inadequacy of Kant in these and other regards– and the only solution to his seeming inability to offer any helpful advice to those of us who experience chronic weakness of will in the face of (applied) ethical imperatives that seem both alien and alienating –is for us, like The Magician, to get out of our heads (out of the coldness of abstract, discursive thought) and into our hearts (which opens the door to the “warmth” of our true Being / Divine Intelligence / The Word, a la Tomberg’s Moral Logic).

By virtue of this very magical movement from the head to the heart (more about which can be found in the discussion of “the tightrope walker” on pages 9 and 10 of Letter I), we are morally transformed and find, as a result, that we can quite naturally (or conaturally!) live according to universal laws (which includes treating others with respect, a la Kant– i.e. as ends in themselves and not as means only –which does not necessarily mean, by the way, that we will always treat their desires/inclinations/personal self-image with respect).  It is in this way– and only in this way –that the temptation posed by our inclinations can be effectively resolved.

As we continue our meditation on The Hanged Man, however, it is also important to understand that this tension between the moral law and our inclinations is not the only way that we, as human beings, seem to be “suspended” between two modes of existence–there is a second way, as well.  As such, it is important to understand and clearly distinguish between the two.

The first of these (and this is the first main point in the order of our exposition) is referred to by our anonymous author in his description of “the psychic man” (cf. The Lover) who is “placed between” two worlds — between appearances/sensibility, on the one hand (cf. The Wheel of Fortune), and True Nature/The Kingdom of Heaven on the other (cf. Le Monde).


NOTE:  Let us stress, at this point– along with our anonymous author –that we should not simply identify “this world”, in the pejorative sense, with visible nature, while identifying the kingdom of God (in its entirety) with an invisible, spiritual world.  Rather, let us make every effort to draw more nuanced distinctions, keeping in mind these remarks near the beginning of Letter XII:

“The Manichaeans straight away drew the conclusion from [the distinction being drawn between “this world” and “the kingdom of God” and between “children of this world” and “children of light”] that the invisible world, or heaven, is good and the visible world of Nature is bad, wholly forgetting the fact that evil is of spiritual origin, and is therefore invisible, and that good is impressed into created Nature, and is therefore also visible. Although the two gravitational fields are interpenetrating and one could not, or should not, identify them simply with visible Nature and the invisible spiritual world, they are nevertheless certainly real and morally quite discernible” (306).

With that qualification in mind, however, it is accurate to say that if “the psychic man” becomes totally consumed by his inclinations and lost in appearances– i.e. in the world of the serpent –he is “the carnal man”; and if he becomes firmly established in Truth/Being/The World of the Word, he is “the spiritual man”:

Now, the domain of freedom— the spiritual life —is found placed between two gravitational fields with two different centres. The Gospel designates them as “heaven” and “this world”, or as the “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of the prince of this world”.  And it designates those whose will follows or is submitted to the gravitation of “this world” as “children of this world”, and those whose will follows the gravitation of “heaven” as the “children (or the sons) of light.

The human being participates in these two gravitational fields, as the apostle Paul had in mind when he said:

<<< For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh: for these arc opposed to each other, to prevent vou from doing what you would. (Galatians v. 17) >>>

These “opposing desires” arc the tendencies through which the two gravitational fields manifest themselves. The man who lives in the grip of gravitation of “this world” at the expense of the gravitation of “heaven” is the “carnal man”; he who lives in equilibrium between the two gravitational fields is the “psychic man”; and. lastly, the one who lives under the sway of the gravitation of “heaven” is (he “spiritual man” (MOTT, Letter XII, “The Hanged Man”, 306-307).

It would seem, then, that the placement of “the psychic man” between these “two gravitational fields” offers, on one level, a kind of freedom–the freedom of the prodigal son to leave his Father’s house, on the one hand, and his freedom to return, on the other.  And in Letter IV our anonymous Author seems to suggest that this story describes human freedom in the most primary sense:

Now the history of the human race since the Fall is that of the prodigal son. . . . And the key formula of the history of humanity is to be found neither in the progress of civilisation nor in the process of evolution or in any other “process”, but rather in the parable of the prodigal son, in the words:

<<< Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants. (Luke xv, 18-19) …

Is mankind therefore solely responsible for its history? Without a doubt — because it is not God who has willed it to be as such. God is crucified in it.

One understands this when one [considers that all the beings of the Spiritual Hierarchy] — including man (the ‘Ischim’) — have an existence that is either real or illusionary.  If they have a real existence, if they are not a mirage, they are independent entities endowed not only with a phenomenal independence but also a noumenal independence.  Now, noumenal independence is what we understand by freedom. Freedom, in fact, is nothing other than the real and complete existence of a being created by God. To be free and to exist are synonymous from a moral and spiritual point of view. Just as morality would not exist without freedom, so would an unfree spiritual entity— soul or spirit —not exist for itself, but would be part of another spiritual entity which is free, i.e. which really exists. Freedom is the spiritual existence of beings.  [The Emperor“, page 83]

Moreover, in his analysis of The Lover, too, he indicates that our temptation and fall is not just psychic, but spiritual as well:

The trial is the very essence of what the Bible designates as “fornication”.  Fornication — as, moreover, every other vice and  also every virtue — is threefold:  spiritual, psychic and carnal. Its root is spiritual; the region of its deployment and growth is that of the soul; and the flesh is simply the domain where it fructifies. It is thus that spiritual error becomes vice and vice becomes sickness. [Letter VI, page 143]

Be that as it may, however, the choice between carnality and spirituality, as described in Letter XII, appears to transpire on the level the psyche– is attributed to the psychic man who “lives in equilibrium” between the flesh and the Spirit –and this is also consistent with the idea in Letter XIV that while the fall destroys our original likeness to God, our connection to God’s image, remains in tact:

God made man “in his image and likeness” (Genesis i, 26). The divine image and the divine likeness coincided in the first man, before the original sin. But their coincidence did not persist after the Fall.  The image has remained intact, but the initial likeness has been lost.  Man is, following the original sin, in the “disfigurement of unlikeness”, whilst conserving the image. [Temperance, page 374]

Moreover, in Letter XIV, our anonymous author explicitly connects the moral law, a la Kant, with the Divine image which we retain, however wretchedly transformed (as St. Bernard put it) the likeness of God, in us, happens to be:

Man is free, and remains so through all eternity—on earth, in hell, in purgatory, in heaven — always and everywhere. Freedom is therefore an absolute fact. As such, it entails immortality —the argument that one finds again in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason, for what is his “categorical imperative” if not the divine image in man? [375]

Furthermore, in Letter VIII, on Justice, he explicates in great detail a quite different understanding of freedom:

“Freedom is a fact which one experiences when someone judges not by his temperament (“etheric body”) or by his character (“astral body”), but rather by the balance of Justice — or by his own conscience. . . . Conscience is neither a product nor a function of character.  It is above it.  And it is here — and only here — that there begins and there is found the domain of freedom. [!!!] One is not at all free when one judges or acts according to character or temperament; but one certainly is when one judges and acts according to the balance of Justice, or conscience.  But Justice, the practice of the balance, is only the beginning of a long path of the development of conscience —and therefore of the growth of freedom” (196, emphasis added).

This would seem to be a freedom that goes above beyond the freedom of the merely psychic man.  Moreover, it is a freedom that goes above and beyond our freedom to spiritually rebel, as well — if, indeed, every vice has spiritual as well as psychological roots–being somehow rooted in our “noumenal independence” (cf. The Emperor“, page 83)!  However that may be, the freedom described in Letter VIII is a freedom that is very much akin to that which Kant sees as being realized in and through our rational nature–albeit, one which (as we shall see) is substantially enriched by our anonymous author’s understanding of Moral Logic.

To be totally consistent, then, we must distinguish between the psychic freedom of The Lover to leave his Father’s house (or, eventually, to return) and the spiritual freedom of The Hanged Man who, by faith, it may be said, enters even NOW into the glorious liberty of the sons of God (cf. Romans 8:21) and who, Christlike, is obedient to the will of the Father–not because he is coerced to obey, but because his will and the will of the Father coincide (cf. John 8:29; Matthew 12:50).  NOTE:  Kant, it could be argued, also fails to adequately distinguish between our freedom to disregard the moral law and the freedom which we realize in obedience to the moral law.

Thus (and this is the second main point in the order of our exposition), the placement of “the spiritual man” (The Hanged Man), like that of “the psychic man” (The Lover), is (also) betwixt and between, but in a somewhat different way.

We are told on page 316 that The Hanged Man is “suspended” at “the zero point between the fields of celestial and terrestrial gravitation” — between the reality above (i.e. “the Divine and celestial”) and the manifestation, below (“the human and terrestrial”).  But, once again, this “in between state” is different from that of “the psychic man” (which we are associating with The Lover).  Both are oriented toward the terrestrial, but the orientation of the (merely) psychic man is easily perverted.

Could it be that our anonymous author also fails to sufficiently distinguish between the gravitation of the kingdoms of the prince of this world (mentioned on page 307 — aka the world of the Serpent), and our relationship to the terrestrial, per se, which  is meant (ideally) to reflect the kingdom of God without deviation (as above, so below) — and which does in fact reflect God’s kingdom insofar as our terrestrial activity is grounded in the reality above?  While we cannot rule this out entirely, the last paragraph on page 306, quoted above, gives us pause, reading as we do that “good is impressed into created Nature, and is therefore also visible”–and the bulk of page 316, as well, which indicates (as we shall see below) that one of the ways this  happens is through the surrendered action of The Hanged Man.

In any event, the texts quoted earlier (from The Emperor and The Lover) notwithstanding, it seems clear that “the spiritual man”, having returned (so to speak) from his prodigal adventure, is free in a much more fundamental sense than “the (merely) psychic man”–free, as we concluded above, in a sense that is analogous to moral autonomy in Kant.  And strictly speaking,  it is the “suspension” of “the spiritual man” that is the real subject matter of Letter 12:

“It is this latter who constitutes the subject of the twelfth Arcanum of the Tarot, for it is an upside-down man that the twelfth Card represents. The Hanged Man represents the condition of one in the life of whom gravitation from above has replaced that from below” (307).

His  “head”, while still oriented below, is nevertheless wholly in service of his heart which is wholly oriented to Spirit (thereby participating in the Divine Intelligence).  Dwelling in the World of the Word, “the solid ground underneath his feet is above”:

 Two things characterise the state of the spiritual man: that he is suspended and that he is upside down. . . . The soul is suspended between heaven and earth; it experiences complete solitude. For here it is no longer a matter of ordinary solitude where one is alone in the world, but rather of complete solitude where one is alone because one is outside of the world — the celestial as well as the terrestrial world.

This is the “zero point” between the fields of terrestrial and celestial gravitation. It is from there that the soul either is elevated in contemplation of divine and celestial things, or descends to act in the human and terrestrial domain, but this “zero point” is certainly the place of its permanent sojourn. After elevation or after the accomplishment of an act, it returns there. The solitude of the desert between the two worlds is its abode.

The other characteristic train of the spiritual man is that he is upside down. This means to say, firstly, that the “solid ground” under his feet is found above, whilst the ground below is only the concern and perception of the head. Secondly, it means to say that his will is connected with heaven and is found in immediate contact (not by the intermediary of thought and feeling) with the spiritual world. This is in such a way that his will “knows” things that the head — his thinking— still does not know, and so that it is the future, the celestial designs for the future, which work in and through his will rather than experience and memory of the past. He is therefore literally the “man of the future”, the final cause being the element activating his will. He is the “man of desire”, in the sense of the book of Daniel and in the sense of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, i.e. the man whose will is set high, above the powers of the head —above thought, imagination and memory (MOTT, Letter XII, “The Hanged Man”, 315-316).

As we have seen, then, the freedom of The Hanged Man– while very much akin to freedom in Kant’s sense (cf. autonomy/morality/rationality) –is nevertheless enriched and enlivened with the warmth of faith that is characteristic of Moral Logic, defined by Cologero as follows:

…moral logic is the “logic of faith, i.e., thought which participates in revelation.”  [no citation given]

The “revelation” being referred to, of course, is the light that lights everyone coming into the world and which, as such, is truly universal:

“Moral logic” is the human analogy of that of the Logos “that enlightens every man coming into the world” (John i, 9).  It is the logic of faith, i.e. the logic of thought which participates in the revelation accorded to the will. “Moral logic” introduces warmth into the light of thought, so that the latter becomes solar, in stead of lunar, which is what it is when it has only light alone and is cold, without warmth.  [Letter XII, The Hanged Man, page 323]

The distinctions we have been attempting to draw are very subtle–difficult to articulate and not at all easy to grasp.  But by following up on each of them, both in our meditation and in our lives, we can better understand 1) the paradoxical nature of human existence, 2) the psychological aspect of our apparent “fall”, and 3) the possibility of hearing (more clearly) and responding (more wholeheartedly) to our Divine vocation.   The following questions may also provide some fruitful lines of inquiry as we continue to meditate on The Hanged Man:

  • Is it not the case that, spiritually speaking, we are created in the image of God — i.e. in Christ  — chosen in him before the foundation of the world, in the beginning with God?
  • Is not the reality of this heavenly image meant to be made manifest in a terrestrial likeness, thus demonstrating the dictum, as above, so below?
  • We say meant to be since, psychologically speaking (at least), we are fallen— having succumbed to the temptation of sin and separation –but is it not this psychological lapse, itself, which has alienated us from our integral spiritual being (as children of God) and has, thus, distorted our perception both of ourselves and the natural order? [cf. The Gospel of Thomas 113]
  • Is not the terrestrial expression/perception of our Spiritual freedom/activity— aka our Divine calling —contingent upon a kind of psychological surrender? [cf. Luke 1:38, 22:42]

By meditating on these questions carefully and prayerfully, we can begin to move beyond all doubts and disputations, responding in good faith to the call to repent–to take up our cross (The Hanged Man); to become like little children (The Sun); and to enter God’s kingdom NOW (Le Monde).

“But where, really, to begin?” (someone might ask–having stumbled across this essay without any familiarity with the preceding letters).  “At the beginning”, of course–with Letter I, on The MagicianFor it is only after having begun this movement– having set forth on our return journey to our Father’s house –that we can honestly pray, in faith believing, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”  (Matthew 6:10).  But we may rest assured that insofar as we are faithful, our lives– like the life of Abraham (317-318) –are integral to the life of the kingdom, even NOW (as above, so below).

MOTT Study Guides –>  Death

preview 13. Death

Second Tier Tarot Resources
The Hanged Man