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Is the Hanged Man Prudence or Thief?

the hanged man as prudenceOf the 4 cardinal virtues, Prudence, Temperance, Courage and Justice, it is easy to assign Temperance to Temperance, Courage to Strength, and Justice to Justice in the tarot deck. But what about Prudence. Court de Gebelin decided that the Hanged Man is in fact Prudence. According to the book: The Tarot: how to use and interpret the cards by Brian Innes, the Hanged Man was meant to display the Seeker with one foot forward in a lifted position. The card maker made a man suspended by his foot instead of one foot raised examining where to safely put it. In the Grand Etteilla Tarot Deck, the 12th card is called Prudence and shows a woman stopping before a snake, symbolising taking caution. You can learn more about Etteilla here.

Etteilla is the pseudonym of the French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette (Etteilla being his last name in reverse), who popularised Tarot in the 18th century. One of the traditional meanings of the modern Hanged Man is to take a step back and review everything. This works well with Prudence. The hanged man is also linked to Odin in Norse mythology who hung from Yggdrasil to learn the wisdom of the Runes. This has giving the Hanged Man the additional meaning of sacrifice. To be still to gain something is a paradox the Seeker encounters in the Hanged Man. To see something from a new perspective is sometimes the only way to move forward. There could be a warning as well as symbolised by the Prudence version in the Etteilla decks. There could be some snakes in your garden so to speak. If you look low enough you might see them, thus taking a step back and keeping to yourself could be good advice until you see what is going on around you. There could be dealings with low morale people and situations, even people masking themselves as quite the opposite of who they truly are. The hanged man also warns us not to get so involved in the drama of life. Focus on what is important to you and on the people you love.

Hanged Man as a Thief

In other decks, the hanged man has been denoted as a thief who hung in punishment.

hanged man oswald wirth tarot deckIn the Oswald Wirth’s deck, the hanged man is hanging with coins falling out of the money bags he stole. This does point more to the meaning of the hanged man reversed when the more exploitative personality traits are at play. Joseph Oswald Wirth was a Swiss occultist from the late 19th century. He created a tarot deck that consisted only of the 22 major arcana which he connected to the Kabbalistic system. His deck was inspired by tarot de Marseilles.

Who is the Hanged Man?

The Hanged Man is perhaps the most mysterious of all the tarot cards and when you look at these two cards (from Etteilla’s and Wirth’s tarot decks) they could not be interpreted more differently. I believe the Hanged Man is a good contestant for both Prudence and the thief. This is because the Hanged man upright vs reversed is at complete odds with itself. I explain this in detail when I did the hanged man in a love reading video tutorial. 

On top of it all, the Hanged man is ruled by Neptune, the planet of illusions. No wonder this card is the most talked about in regards to what its actual meaning is.  When Neptune is well placed, it denotes dreamers, inventors, writers, magicians, psychics, psychologists, and musicians. Poorly placed, Neptune unfortunately represents psychopaths, personality disorders, and sociopaths. This card represents the cautious dreamer on one side and the ruthless destroyer on the other.