- Radiant Halo - My speculation is that Waite is making reference to
the Adeptus Minor initiation ritual of the Golden Dawn. The red cross (formed by the
red tights on his legs) over the triangle (formed by his arms) is an emblem of the
Golden Dawn (Regardie, p 28 but he says the triangle should be white). This symbol
is used in the initiations of the First, or Outer, Order and is found inverted on the
The Tarot cards, starting from the World, formed a part of these
initiations. By the time you get to the Adeptus Minor Ritual, you have reached the
Hanged Man. During the ritual the initiate is bound to a cross (Regardie p 228f) and
takes an oath "I further promise and swear that with the
Divine Permission I will, from this day forward, apply myself to the Great
Work - which is, to purify and exalt my Spiritual Nature so that with the Divine Aid I
may at length attain to be more than human, and thus gradually raise and unite myself to
my higher and Divine Genius...." Following the oath, the adept says "...if ye be
crucified with Christ, ye shall also reign with Him...It is written that he who humbleth himself
shall be exalted" (Regardie, p 230). And later, "...teach him the value of self-sacrifice, so
that he shrink not in the hour of trial...It is written: ‘If any man will follow after Me, let
him take up his cross
and deny himself, and follow me’...I accept the Bonds of Suffering and
Self-Sacrifice" (Regardie, p 235f).
So the halo may refer to the idea that the initiate is now consciously
taking on the mission of the mystic. In traditional terms, he has taken an
oath to follow the path of the "saint" - hence the traditional halo.
- This same 3 and 4 symbolism may also be suggested in the
background colors on the cards. There are 3 sets of cards with the same color, there are 3
cards in each set and they are separated by adding 4 to the previous card.
- Yellow: start from Empress +4 = Chariot +4 = Justice
- Gray: start from Hierophant +4 = Hermit +4 = Death
- Blue: start from Priestess +4 = Lovers +4 = Wheel
- "Azoth or Star in the East"
p 166 "... the life of contemplation consists wholly in the soul's
reservation to God..." (Hanged Man??)
- Moakley (in The Tarot Cards... 1966, New York Public Library, NY)
suggested that the Hanged Man image was a “Shame Painting.” In the 15th century, it
was common to paint images of traitors in this inverted position. Often the images
were a kind of graffiti painted on walls in the city.
The original imagery may also have been influenced by Dante. Freccero
(Dante: The poetics of conversion, 1986, Harvard University Press, Cambridge)
develops the theme of conversion in Dante. Conversion implies a death and
resurrection of the self. The journey begins, not with a direct climb toward God;
instead the first steps are downward. “It has
the effect of shattering the inverted values of this life”(p 4).
Upside-down is actually
rightside up! The inversion of values is truly the first step of the
(See e.g., Augustine - “Descend so that you may ascend.” Confessions IV, xii
and Ephesians 4:7 - “He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth.”)
“So the traveler moves in one absolute spiral direction which is to the
left as he descends
and to the right as he ascends, after having turned upside-down at the
When he called his clockwise descent ‘a sinestra’ and his counter-clockwise
ascent ‘a destra,’ Dante was evoking a tradition as old as Pythagoras and as
Aristotle” (Freccero p 74).
“When the pilgrim reaches the end of his leftward spiral at the bottom of
hell, he turns
upside-down, “converts,” and sees things from the other perspective” (p 86).
“A puzzling detail at the center of Dante’s cosmos, the pilgrim turning
the hide of Satan, in fact derives from the blending of a passage in
Plato’s Timaeus, the
one Platonic work that Dante might have known directly, with a commonplace
motif” (p 181).
(The reference is to Plato, Timaeus 43e - The circles “barely held
together, and though they moved, their motion was unregulated, now reversed, now
side-long, now inverted. It was as when a man stands on his head, resting it on the
earth, and holds his feet aloft by
thrusting them against something; in such a case right and left both of the
man and of the spectators appear reversed to the other party.”)
Freccero p 182 - “By turning upside down at the center of the universe, the
pilgrim and his
guide right the topsy-turvy world of negative transcendence from which they
Satan, the prince of this world, seems right side up from the perspective
of hell; after
crossing the cosmic starting-point, however, Dante sees him from God’s
planted head downward with respect to the celestial abode from which the
Moreover, the pilgrim will ascend the mountain in the same absolute
characterised his spiral descent into hell.
Because of his inversion,
however, the direction
can no longer be described as a descent ‘a sinestra’ but is rather an
ascent ‘a destra.’ In
short, one of the symptoms of the pilgrim’s spiritual disorder in the first
part of the poem
is that up seems down and left seems right. As it happens, this is
precisely a symptom of
the disorder of the newly incarnate soul in Plato’s Timaeus. The ‘circles’
of reason and
passion in the soul are disrupted when it is yoked to a mortal body.”
Another possibility is that the image represents St. Peter who was crucified
in the inverted
position. Consider this from the Apocryphal (and Gnostic influenced) Acts
of Peter: “I
beseech you the executioners, crucify me thus, with the head downward...and
wherefore, I will tell...Learn ye the mystery of all nature, and the
beginning of all things...
For the first man (this refers to the Gnostic myth of the first man
“Anthropus”) fell head
downwards and showed forth a manner of birth such as was not heretofore;
for it was
dead, having no motion. He, then, being pulled down...established this
of all things, being hanged up an image of the creation wherein he made the
things of the
right hand into left hand and the left hand in the right hand, and changed
about all the
marks of their nature, so that he thought those things that were not fair
to be fair, and
those that were in truth evil, to be good. Concerning which the Lord saith
in a mystery:
Unless you make the things of the right hand as those of the left, and
those of the left as
those of the right, and those that are above and those below and those that
are behind as
those that are before, ye shall not have knowledge of the kingdom.”
37f (James 1924 The Apocryphal New Testament. Oxford University Press,
Press. 1975 reprint).
According to Dante and the Acts of Peter, therefore, the inverted hanged man
see and understand things the way they really are.
Based on original research by Robert V. O'Neill. To add to this collection of information, please email
Robert V. O'Neill.