The Tarot Muse
Carolyn R. Guss
Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Teacher

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Part II: Hanged Man to Cosmic Dancer—

by Carolyn R. Guss, The Tarot Muse ©


first published in Yoga Living magazine, May/June 2003

This concludes the article exploring the Hanged Man card and its connection to Yoga


In the  Tarot’s Hanged Man card, the suspended figure’s legs take the shape of an inverted number 4, the reversal of a yoga practitioner’s limbs when doing the Vrksasana, or Tree, posture. As described in part I of this article (Jan.-Feb. issue), the Hanged Man’s upper body forms the alchemical fire and water triangles, also creating a symbol for the life-sustaining sexual union of Hindu gods Shiva and Kali. This combining of three times four equals twelve, the number assigned to the Hanged Man card, and forges a connection between this trump and two other cards in the Tarot: the Empress, trump 3, and the Emperor, trump 4.     

The Empress, third card in Tarot’s Major Arcana, represents birth, life, creativity, flow, and abundance. Ruled by Venus and associated with the Greek grain goddess Demeter, she is also connected to the downward-pointing or feminine/water triangle formed by the elbows to the head of the Hanged Man. She wears a crown comprised of the twelve signs of the Western zodiac, another parallel to the Hanged Man’s number.  And because her throne stands before a cypress grove, she may well be the originator of the Hanged Man’s tree.

Her masculine counterpart, trump 4, the Emperor, stands for authority, order, structure, stability, and manifestation. He was traditionally shown seated on a cube, with his legs forming the shape of the number 4, his numeral. His right hand grasps a crux ansata, or tau cross topped by a circle, a configuration not unlike the Egyptian ankh, mentioned in part I of this article. (The Hanged Man’s tree forms a leafy tau cross.)

The Hanged “Man”—feminine, or at least androgynous in his appearance—is an amalgam of two genders, and it is intriguing to note that the Emperor’s number 4—representing what he stands for—has been upended in trump 12, as a way of devaluing or dethroning this strong male figure. In short, if the Emperor represents ego, the Hanged Man stands for a negation of that same concept: he replaces ego with enlightenment. 

          The Hanged Man’s actual numerical counterparts are trumps 3—the Empress—and 21, the World. These cards—3, 12, and 21—form what in Tarot is known as a constellation because all derive from the root number 3.

As the last card in the Major Arcana, the World signifies completion or finality. A dancing figure perfectly balanced between the two wands she holds, her legs, like the Emperor’s and Hanged Man’s, take the shape of the number 4. She represents connectedness along with a sense of freedom within structure—that of the world or universe itself—a concept that stems from her astrological ruling planet Saturn, known as “the great limiter.”

The World is presented traditionally in the Tarot as a nude hermaphroditic figure with breasts and male genitals, combining the concepts of feminine and masculine in union with the divine. Jason Lotterhand, in his book Thursday Night Tarot, refers to the Hanged Man as “a turning away from the world…to interpret it in inner terms that are opposite from the usual outer way.” The Hanged Man is “in the world but not of it.” Lotterhand explains that the World card is the opposite of the Hanged Man because the World pertains to outer expression, including dancing as the ultimate physical activity. Card 12 says “Be still and know that I am God,” whereas 21 says, “Keep moving and know that I am God, yet maintain that inner stillness.” B.K.S. Iyengar, in Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, advises, “An asana is not a posture which you assume mechanically. It involves thought, at the end of which a balance is achieved between movement and resistance.”

Another connection exists between trumps 12 and 21: the numbers and postures actually mirror each other. When we position card 21 atop card 12, the pair forms a complete ankh, with its feminine loop and masculine tau cross. The World card’s wreath is green and living, the same as the Hanged Man’s tree. Ultimately, the World is about union. Iyengar defines the practice of yoga as “the union of the individual self with the universal self,” a concept effectively realized in trump 21.

          Lotterhand refers to the World card as representing “cosmic consciousness”: the realization of our place in the universe and our connection with the divine. The figure on the card is sometimes known as the cosmic dancer. Yoga—from the Sanskrit word yuga, meaning yoke, is a system of Hindu philosophy, and I am always reminded, in studying the World dancer, of this card’s seeming connection to the Hindu god Shiva, who in his form of Nataraja is known as “the cosmic dancer” or Lord of the Dance.

Both dancers—World and Shiva—have crossed legs. Shiva tramples with his right foot the demon of ego; his upraised left foot represents the triumph of the higher self. Remember that the Hanged Man stands for negation of ego in order to release the soul.

Shiva Nataraja wears a male earring in one ear and a female one in the other, symbolizing his dual nature: ardhanareshwara, half-man, half-woman. Thus, another reference to the blending or combining of those gender energies that occurs in the Tarot’s Hanged Man and World cards.

          In his book Tarot and the Journey of the Hero, Hajo Banzhaf summarizes the connection between trumps 3, 12, and 21 as “wholeness (World) achieved only where outer growth (Empress) and inner growth (Hanged Man) are in harmony.” Or as yoga master Iyengar says, “When there is perfect harmony between body and mind, we achieve self-realization.”



By Carolyn R. Guss, The Tarot Muse, certified professional Tarot reader and instructor. A member of the American Tarot Association and International Tarot Society, she currently teaches the art of Tarot for Main Line School Night.