The Cathar had made “…the Sermon on the Mount the essence of their ethics…” (Durrant, The Age of Faith). The two parts of this sermon that most people today are familiar with, which were also fundamental to the Cathar, were The Lord’s Prayer, and the Beatitudes. From the perspective of the Cathar, the Beatitudes defined the passage that the Fool as a pilgrim had to follow in order to return to the world of the Good God, the kingdom of Heaven.
It seems that they allotted one card for each Beatitude.
Blessed are the poor in spirit - Le Pendu.
Blessed are those that mourn - Card XIII.
Blessed are the meek - Temperance.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst - Le Diable.
Blessed are the merciful - Le Stoille
Blessed are the pure in heart - La Lune.
Blessed are the peacemakers - Le Soleil.
Blessed are those who are persecuted - Le Judgement.
The first four relate to the journey the Fool has to take through the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. The last four is the Fool’s journey through the ‘Treasury of Light’.
So the Hanged Man is the first step of the journey. The only medieval context for hanging someone upside down was called the Jewish execution, a punishment specifically directed at Jews who had been caught thieving. They would often be hung with two dogs as a reminder of how low their state of consciousness was. In those days animals symbolised the lowest state of human consciousness, then there was God-fearing human consciousness and finally Christ consciousness. The space between the head and the earth was essential on two accounts. Firstly, it meant that when they died the criminal would more quickly pass on from the earth. It was common for hangings to take place at a cross road as it was deemed to be a liminal place where the veil between the earth and the afterlife was thin, and evil people could move on more quickly.
Secondly, it highlighted that this card represented the element of air (intellect and soul). Card XIII was aligned with earth (matter and the senses), Temperance with water (emotions and intuition), and The Devil with fire (energy and passion). Since this was a ‘healing’ formula, and during the medieval period a Greek physician, Galen of Pergamon, who had become the authority of medicine in the Roman Empire at the time, subscribed to the Hippocratic philosophy that if these things were out of balance, then disease would manifest. The creators of the images of these cards only understood healing in this context, which meant in one way or another they had to be included in the cards.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. The symbology of this card is saying that life can’t get more challenging than being in this situation. The Fool’s life has been ravaged by natural justice (in this day and age lifestyle disease typically), old man time (confronting the issues of ageing and the prospect of death - in fact I see this as being the death card) and Fortuna (who has taken what we treasure away from us, ie. the way Covid 19, the global financial crisis etc stripped people of their livelihoods and security). That is all symbolised by the pruned timber surrounding the Fool.
His legs are in the shape of an upside-down ‘4’, a form that keeps reappearing throughout the Majors; The Emperor, the falling man in The House of God and the dancer in The World card. The whole package of the majors is about recalibrating ‘the four’ which first appeared as the Bull, Lion, Eagle and Angel in The World card, the states of differentiated consciousness that was the consequence of the Fool (as Adam and Eve) having left the world of the the Good God (the garden of Eden) which I call undifferentiated consciousness. The World card is the alpha and omega, where we come from and where we return to!
Being linked to the element of air (intellect), the Hanged Man is in the position of having to change their thinking. Where previously the thinking centred around power, wealth, love and fame, now through the interference of justice, time, and chance, the Fool’s thoughts are turning within. “And don’t be conformed to this world: but be transformed by renewing your mind, and do this by proving what is the good, acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
Being detached from the treasures of human consciousness isn’t easy when that is all you have known. Having to let go of the need for control or of one’s victimhood requires trust and forgiveness. Only then will you know (prove) the will of God in terms of power. Letting go of your attachment to wealth or your incessant struggle with scarcity requires trust and a desire to be charitable. Only then will you know the will of God in terms of wealth. Relinquishing the idea of a special relationship or surviving being alone requires trust and understanding the love that arises from being “pure in heart”. Only then will you know the will of God in terms of love. Letting go of your longing for recognition and acceptance, or your being reclusive or overlooked requires trust and the ability to see yourself as God see you. Only then will you know the will of God in terms of fame and acceptance.
In every case there first has to be an emptying out. If you think of consciousness as being a cup or vessel, in order for anything to be poured into a cup it first has to be empty. To empty the vessel or cup you have to turn it upside down. This card is showing the Fool being emptied by being inverted. They first have to empty their current state of consciousness to make it possible for a new state of consciousness to be poured in, and of course the beginning of the vessel being refilled can be seen in the Temperance card.
In today’s language this Beatitude would read, “Blessed are the depressed, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” Imagine if the Cathar Code hidden in the cards was the cure for depression!
(The image included in this article is from the Tarot de Marseille [Edition Millennium] © 2011 FJP Paris.