By A.E. Waite (1911), tarot card illustrations by Pamela Colman Smith (1911)
Wisdom, circumspection, discernment, trials, sacrifice, intuition, divination, prophecy.
Divinatory Meanings – Reversed
Selfishness, the crowd, body politic.
The gallows from which he is suspended forms a Tau cross, while the figure–from the position of the legs–forms a fylfot cross. There is a nimbus about the head of the seeming martyr. It should be noted (1) that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with leaves thereon; (2) that the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering; (3) that the figure, as a whole, suggests life in suspension, but life and not death. It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled. One of his editors suggests that Éliphas Lévi did not know the meaning, which is unquestionable nor did the editor himself. It has been called falsely a card of martyrdom, a card a of prudence, a card of the Great Work, a card of duty; but we may exhaust all published interpretations and find only vanity. I will say very simply on my own part that it expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the Universe.
He who can understand that the story of his higher nature is imbedded in this symbolism will receive intimations concerning a great awakening that is possible, and will know that after the sacred Mystery of Death there is a glorious Mystery of Resurrection.
12. The Hanged Man. This is the symbol which is supposed to represent Prudence, and Éliphas Lévi says, in his most shallow and plausible manner, that it is the adept bound by his engagements. The figure of a man is suspended head-downwards from a gibbet, to which he is attached by a rope about one of his ankles. The arms are bound behind him, and one leg is crossed over the other. According to another, and indeed the prevailing interpretation, he signifies sacrifice, but all current meanings attributed to this card are cartomancists’ intuitions, apart from any real value on the symbolical side. The fortune-tellers of the eighteenth century who circulated Tarots, depict a semi-feminine youth in jerkin, poised erect on one foot and loosely attached to a short stake driven into the ground.
By S. L. MacGregor Mathers, c 1888
The Hanged Man
The Hanged Man – Self-sacrifice, Sacrifice, Devotion, Bound.
Divinatory Meanings – Reversed
Selfishness, Unbound, Partial sacrifice.
Symbolism of the Keys
The Hanged Man – This extraordinary symbol is almost unintelligible in the double-headed cards. Properly, it represents a man hung head downwards from a sort of gibbet by one foot (his hands are bound behind his back in such a manner that his body forms a triangle with the point downwards), and his legs a cross above it. (Two sacks or weights are attached to his armpits.) He symbolises Sacrifice.
General Book of the Tarot
By A. E. Thierens, 
The Hanged Man
Description and Meaning
This twelfth sign of house, closing the cycle of the zodiac, means loss to the outer world, solution, handing over the results of one cycle to the following one, whence comes the meaning of treachery in common astrology. This house contains the things which we have not yet mastered and those whom we have failed to understand or who have failed to understand us. So either this remains for the next cycle, or it will tempt us to waste our last forces. In the eyes of the world it is the sign of waste, spoil, mishap. Viewed from the other side it is the sign of the Golem, in which the outer world loses its importance or even reality, and the consciousness is opened to inner truth. This is the reversing of consciousness, which makes things change their significance in such a way that they appear to turn upside down: the world is now viewed from the other side. And this is the significance of the hanged man.’
It is also the sign of Judas, who, as far as the outer world is able to judge, did not understand the significance of Jesus and handed Him over to His enemies, the most mysterious of the disciples and apparently the fiend within the circle. What, however, is his treason or despair when viewed from the other side? It is an act of ‘perversion,’ the result of human nature being too weak to carry on in this world the heavy load of spiritual revelation; or even a mystic message, which till now has never been understood and will never be understood by the profane world. However this may be, we may feel pretty sure, that none of the others who remained in this world to preach the Gospel understood or, let us say rather, underwent the Message like Judas, who hanged himself.
Well may Waite say: “It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled.” Perhaps we might even add: it is the symbol of the veil itself and of everything that is and remains veiled in this world, and, in divination, to the querent, ad hoc.
Papus tries to identify the Hanged Man with the Hebrew letter Lamed which “designates the arm” . . . but fails utterly in his effort to explain this. We should say, if this identification be true, it may be because of the power to embrace and to execute. The arms hang, when not raised. We shall not try to explain it any further here.
The man is shown hanging in a sling on one foot. Astrology teaches that the feet are ruled by the sign Pisces. The crossing of the legs is a symbol of ‘crossing’ in general.
Among the other cards of the Greater Arcana, nine of which symbolise planetary principles and functions, three only are given in full as heavenly bodies: Sun, Moon and the–(eight-pointed)–‘Flaming Star,’ while the significance of the others is clothed in allegorical images.
Now the question why only these three and not the other planetary principles should have been given in full, is difficult to answer. In a way the ‘Flaming Star’ stands for the stars in general and so this trinity means: Sun, Moon and Stars. On the other hand, ancient priests and astrologer-initiates appear not to have chosen to communicate more of the significance of the planets than just a few of their apparent effects, while in ‘Sun, Moon and Star’ they strongly expressed the idea of a Heavenly Trinity, viz. that of the positive or masculine creative power, radiating life; that of a feminine or negative power, which rules formation, and of a uniting principle, he it under the name of Law, Love or Union. The latter was always represented as specifically benefic. It is evidently the idea of the planet Venus, the beautiful morning and evening star, which was known to, and adored by, all peoples in all ages.
This trinity contains more meaning than a superficial astrological consideration could reveal. From such a standpoint it might even appear more or less arbitrary. So, for instance, the question might be asked, Why has not Mercury, nearer to the Sun even than Venus, been chosen as a member of the trinity? It would take us too far from our main road if we tried to explain this in detail, but it may be stated that in some respect the Moon represents and conveys the vibrations of Mercury to the Earth. The astrological symbols for the visible sun and for the planet we know under the name of Mercury, but which could as well have been named Vulcan, should be and respectively instead of ☉ and ☿. I have explained this in another volume. (Cosmology II, Elements of Astrology.) Further we might point out, that to the Earth and its inhabitants, the Sun, the Moon and Venus are, in fact, of some sort of primary importance; the Sun and the Moon (of the Earth) as the representatives to us of the primary polar powers of the positive and the negative in Cosmos; Venus as the planet representing the first step in evolution next to the Earth, consequently of primary importance to our evolution.
The Sun, Moon and ‘Flaming Star’ are not only one of the most striking and beautiful expressions of the Divine Trinity among our present-day Freemasons, as every handbook on Freemasonry shows us, but have been so for long ages. A specimen of it is to be found (Musée du Louvre, Paris) on a couple of border-stones or steles, put along the frontier of his territory by the Chaldean king Melichikou (1144-1130 B.C.). The heads of these steles bear a representation of the king and his daughter before a goddess (of Justice?) and above these figures are the images of the Sun, the Moon and the (eight-pointed) Flaming Star, which evidently mean, that the king, eventually for the benefit of his daughter as well, invokes the Heavenly Powers of the Trinity to protect his kingdom against invasion. Another borderstone with the same figures of Sun, Moon and eight-pointed Flaming Star, even dates as far back as the year 1380 B.C., under the reign of King Nazi-Maraddach. So three thousand years ago the three Heavenly Lights appear to have been bearing the same significance and to have been used in this same mutual relation as at present in Freemasonry and in our Tarot system. We may accept this as pretty sure proof of the antiquity of both Freemasonry and Tarot.
The Oracle of the Tarot
By Paul Foster Case (1933)
12. Le Pendu
The letter corresponding to this card is Mem, to which are attributed the element of Water and the planet Neptune.
In divination, much depends on the nature of the question whenever this card appears in a layout. If the question is concerned with spiritual matters, the Hanged Man represents wisdom, but a wisdom that is just the reverse of what the world commonly accepts. The card also stands for surrender to the inevitable, but in spiritual things this is surrender to the spiritual perception of universal laws, while in material affairs it is involuntary submission to the force of circumstances. In ordinary material affairs Key 12 is a symbol of reverses and losses, of suffering and sacrifice. But much depends upon its position in a layout, and upon whether or not it is well or ill-dignified.
More information on The Hanged Man Tarot card.