□ MATERNAL LETTER: Water
□ ESOTERIC TITLE: The Spirit of the Mighty Waters t
12 THEHW.l 1'MVS
THIRTY-TWO PATHS OF WISDOM: The Twenty-third Path is called the Stable of Intelligence, and it is so called because it has the virtue of consistency among all numerations.
THE HANGED MAN, the Path of Mem, connects Hod and Geburah on the Pillar of Severity. It is also a connecting channel between the Personality and the Higher Self, although its initiatory implications are very different from those three Paths leading directly into Tiphareth. This Path, and the symbolism of the card, is a complete departure from anything previously encountered.
This is a curious imagery, and most people react to it by turning the figure right side up. The eighteenth century writer Court de Gebelin even thought the hanging figure to be a mistake, claiming that the man was originally a symbol of Prudence, standing on one foot while deciding where to put the other.155 And though such an interpretation may seem comical today, it is actually only in the past few decades that the true and complex meaning of this Tarot Key has been publicly revealed. Arthur Edward Waite avoided the issue as well as any other knowing writer of his day. He said: "It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled.. .1 will say very simply on my own part that it expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the Universe."156 Perhaps the best clue offered by Waite is that the figure is intended to represent a Fylfot Cross (Swastica), and is thus related to Kether in some very essential way.
Most important is that this is the Path of Water, the letter Mem being one of the three Maternals. And, in some respects, this is a Path of baptism into Maternal Water. In fact, it could be stated that the experience of each Maternal Path is a baptism: Shin is the baptism of Fire (JUDGMENT), Mem is the baptism of Water (THE HANGED MAN) and Aleph is the baptism of Air (THE FOOL). The water baptism is the central, and pivotal experience of the entire Tree of Life.
Water means Consciousness, the First Principle of the Alchemists, the non-wet substance of which everything is produced. This substance, sometimes called the Thinking Principle, is symbolized by water because it has some of the qualities of physical water, particularly in its wave movement. In its lowest expression it is the Astral Fluid first discovered on the Path of the UNIVERSE, drawn down from Yesod, the Foundation. This helps to explain the particularly cryptic description of Mem from the Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom: "The Twenty-Third Path is called the Stable Intelligence, and it is so-called because it has the virtue of consistency among all numerations." That is to say that the Intelligence operates in every sphere (Sephiroth and Paths, i.e., "numerations") and in the same way. The Astral Fluid, the Water, underlies everything that is. One can describe the qualities and activities of this Water, but it is not until the Twenty-Third Path that one is actually absorbed into it, i.e., is "drowned" in these waters and perceives himself as an intrinsic and inseparable part of the One Consciousness.
We are, today, living in a period when much of the complicated and remote symbolism of the past is being expressed in very comprehensible psychological terms. In discussing an experience of the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung quite literally describes the experience of THE HANGED MAN. He speaks of:
. . .a boundless expanse full of unprecedented uncertainty, with apparently no inside and no outside, no above and no below, no here and no there, no mine and no thine, no good and no bad. It is the world of water, where all life floats in suspension; where the realm of the sympathetic system, the soul of everything living begins; where I am individually this and that; where I experience the other in myself and the other-than-myself experiences me.. .the collective unconscious is anything but an incapsulated personal system; it is sheer objectivity, as wide as the world and open to all the world. There I am the object of every subject, in complete reversal of my ordinary consciousness [author's italics] where I am always the subject that has an object.157
Almost four hundred years earlier, in his Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross recorded his own experience of THE HANGED MAN, though in Christian terms: "With his gentle hand he wounded my neck and caused all my senses to be suspended [author's italics]. . .1 remained lost in oblivion. My face I inclined on the Beloved. All ceased and I abandoned myself, leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies."158 This may be compared with another of Jung's statements: "There I am utterly one with the world, so much a part of it that I forget all too easily who I really am. 'Lost in oneself' is a good way of describing this state.. .the unconscious no sooner touches us than we are it- we become unconscious of ourselves."159
Hindu mystics describe this state as Samadhi, referring to a condition where the physical processes are literally suspended in trance, while the consciousness affects a union with the Divine. This was a state with which Crowley was obsessed. He wrote: "I was absolutely convinced of the supreme importance of devoting my life to obtaining Samadhi."160 In fact, when he came to believe that the so-called Secret Chiefs of the Order of the Golden Dawn had chosen him to succeed Mathers, he wrote: "I made it a condition that I should attain Samadhi; that is, that I should receive a degree of illumination, in default of which it would be presumptuous of me to put myself forward."161
Crowley also makes it clear that Samadhi, which he defines with unusual simplicity as "Union with the Lord," is a general term for a number of states, involving different degrees of trance. In his Confessions he describes a devastating experience of the highest form of Samadhi, on the Path of THE FOOL.162
From the standpoint of Tarot what is important is that the Path of THE HANGED MAN is only the first entry into a sequence of states of union. While this experience may be one which we spend our lives seeking, it is only one step along the Great Way. In this regard, Crowley again offers excellent instruction. Writing of Alan Bennett's increasing desire to become a Buddhist monk, he says: "The phenomena of Dhyana and Samadhi had ceased to exercise their first fascination. It seemed to him that they were insidious obstacles to true spiritual progress; that their occurrence, in reality, broke up the control of the mind which he was trying to establish and prevented him from reaching the ultimate truth which he sought. He had the strength of mind to resist the appeal of even these intense spiritual joys. Like physical love, they persuade their dupe to put up with the essential evil of existence."163
The idea is that we must move constantly upward on the Tree of Life. It is not until one has experienced the next higher Sephira that the qualities of the lower Sephira are completely understood, and can be directed. Here we see that the Path of Mem leads directly to Geburah, above Tiphareth. Geburah is the active part of the Higher Self. It is the fiery energy on the Pillar of Water below Binah. It is that on which the feet of THE HANGED MAN rest.
The key symbol here is the Cross above the Triangle, which is also the emblem of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, indicating that the principles of THE HANGED MAN represent the essence of that Order's teaching. Moreover, this card represents a summation of the teaching of the entire Tarot; the allegorical Book T, found in the hands of Christian Rosencreutz when his tomb was opened, containing the most secret teachings handed down through the ages.
It is not uncommon, as in the Waite card, for the figure to be hanged from a Tau Cross. In fact, the symbolic relationship between Tau and Mem is profound. Tau is at the very center of the Cube of Space, and is crossed by the lines of THE FOOL (Aleph), JUDGMENT (Shin) and THE HANGED MAN (Mem). But Mem final, the completely closed form of this letter used when it occurs at the end of a word, is also attributed to this exact center point. The symbolism says, in essence, that the completion of Mem is Tau. Both Mem and Tau are suspended at the center of the Cube of Space.
The reversed figure on the card represents the suspension of personal consciousness, where a greater reality imposes a complete reversal of perspective. This has been described as the "human spirit suspended by a single thread." Yet this is a willing suspension, a sacrifice which is a baptism, but which is also a crucifixion. This, then, is a card of the Dying God.
One might well ask why this crucifixion should be on one side of the Tree. The reason is that this is an essentially intellectual experience, as is implied by the position of the legs of THE HANGED MAN. The cross above the triangle is the four above the three, the imaginative qualities of THE EMPRESS (3) subordinate to the rational qualities of THE EMPEROR (4). This is the ultimate sacrifice of desire to a rational principle.
A balance to this experience is to be found in the WHEEL OF FORTUNE, directly opposite THE HANGED MAN on the Tree of Life. THE HANGED MAN is rest, the WHEEL OF FORTUNE is activity. Expressed in another way, THE HANGED MAN is what happens when the Wheel stops turning: the suspension or Crucifixion in Space is the willful arrest of the WHEEL OF FORTUNE. On the other hand, the WHEEL OF FORTUNE is the activation of that which is inactive on the Path of THE HANGED MAN. As is written on the Emerald Tablet, this is multiplicity in unity, the activity and passivity of the One Thing.
It has, hopefully, been demonstrated that the Path of THE HANGED MAN must be approached very differently from the lower Paths. There is a reversal of conceptual framework which is at once a willful suspension and a refinement of observation. The meditator becomes the object of his own meditation. He becomes the "other" which had been the object of pursuit; the "other" becomes him.
One of the primary qualities of this Path is that it is a Path of eternally unresolved possibilities. It is openness without beginning or end, the exact opposite of the WHEEL OF FORTUNE, which encloses in eternal motion. When the Mem is closed, it becomes Tau. Tau is Mem reversed. 12 (THE HANGED
MAN) is 21 (THE UNIVERSE) reversed. This is the Tarot secret of the Dying God on the Path of Water.
This mythology of the Dying God is very universal; every culture seems to have some form of it, whether that be Christ, Osiris or a local deity. THE HANGED MAN is one rather peculiar aspect of this cross-cultural myth. In Norse mythology the God Odin sacrifically hanged himself from the branches of the World Tree.164 In Greece, the Goddess Artemis was annually hanged in effigy, and at her sacred grove in the Arcadian Hills was known as the "Hanged One."165 Any number of such ritual hangings could be cited, none of which is a final death. These are merely reversals where the feet of the God are planted in the Anima Mundi and not on the earth.
The death and resurrection of any God relates to this Path, and is described as a Kabiric Death. In the myth of the Kabiri, one brother is slain by the three others. His dismembered body is discovered, and is, with great joy, resurrected for the good of humanity.166 The parallel with the Osiris legend is clear. In that story the body parts of Osiris are scattered about the land, collected and resurrected.
The death of the God is a natural, continuing, event, and is symbolized by the ritual formula IAO, meaning Isis, Apophis, Osiris, symbolizing fruition, death and then resurrection. This formula also relates to that of the Yod Heh Vau.
As usual, Crowley's version of the card is more complicated than that of either Mathers or Waite. His figure, which emphasizes the Cross and Triangle, is suspended from the Egyptian Ankh, a form of Tau. Behind it are the Elemental Tablets,167 summing up all of nature. His left foot hangs from a coiled serpent which is the "creator and destroyer who operates all change." The lower serpent represents the effect of the work of God: "Through his Work a Child is begotten, as shown by the Serpent stirring in the Darkness of the Abyss below him."168
Was this article helpful?