Major Arcana Meanings Part 3: Hermit to Hanged Man

Major Arcana Meanings Hermit through Hanged Man
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems

We continue through the mental part of our journey with the major arcana meanings of The Hermit through to The Hanged Man. This section of the major arcana contains some of the most mysterious cards of the entire deck. But all will be revealed!

Major arcana meanings for The Fool to The Emperor, plus links to the other meanings, can be found here.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Hermit

Major Arcana Meanings The Hermit
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Magus of the Voice of Light
Zodiac Attribution: Virgo
Keywords: Introspection, Self-reliance, Inspiration, Knowledge

The Hermit made an appearance on the cover of the Led Zeppelin IV album (ask your parents) but what else can we say about this slightly mysterious card?

This card represents seeking knowledge, the truth, divine inspiration. As one of the major arcana, the Hermit represents those times in your life where you want or need to understand where you are going or what is happening/will happen next. Want to really know what to do with the rest of your life? That’s Hermit energy. Trying to understand deep philosophical or spiritual meaning? Hermit again. Trying to understand the implications of a major event in your life? Yep, Hermit energy.

In the here and now plane of existence you may find yourself as the Hermit when you are engaging in something creative such as painting, writing a novel, inventing. This is when you search and feel for that inspirational spark. Which usually hits you when you are alone. And at night.

As well as a seeker of inspiration and knowledge, the Hermit can suggest those times in your life when there is nobody to help you and you need to be truly self-sufficient. During the recent pandemic lock downs here in the UK, many people needed to become self-reliant in order to get by due to isolation. This requires mental fortitude as prolonged isolation is extremely bad for your mental health.

The TdM Hermit is very similar to the RWS version. In early TdM decks, the Hermit is sometimes shown with an hourglass instead of a lamp which changes the meanings of the card. Perhaps the hourglass represents the fact that acquiring knowledge takes time. Or that we can only remain isolated in thought for a certain period before excessive introspection becomes harmful.

And if The Hermit was slightly mysterious, it’s perfectly mundane compared to the next card in our journey.

Major Arcana Meanings: Wheel of Fortune

Major Arcana Meanings Wheel of Fortune
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Lord of the Forces of Life
Planetary Attribution: Jupiter
Keywords: Good Fortune, Unexpected Change, Fate

The Wheel of Fortune is truly one of the more mysterious cards of the major arcana, if not the entire tarot deck. It represents good fortune or upcoming good fortune as well as unknowable fate. If you use reversals, it could indicate bad luck. The dog headed humanoid figure moving up the wheel is Hermanubis, a combination of the Greek trickster Hermes and the Egyptian god Anubis, both gods are conductors of souls to the afterlife. The descending snake is Evil (as also seen in the Lovers card).

Whenever I have received this card in a reading asking ‘What can I expect today?’ or similar, the Wheel of Fortune has always come to represent some unexpected event which turns everything upside down (pun intended). Literally, some unexpected event which comes out of nowhere to make my day more ‘interesting.’ Usually, interesting in an unpleasant manner. Think of this card as message to ‘Expect the Unexpected.’

However, when I receive the Wheel of Fortune in a position of ‘Advice’ or ‘Action to take,’ the card suggests the need to focus on improving your fortunes in a major way through various means. Which means it’s also the ‘kick up the backside’ card!

The message of the Wheel of Fortune then is to keep on your toes and stay alert as well as making positive changes in your life. Not something to be afraid of.

The TdM Wheel of Fortune is very similar except we have a handle protruding from the side. This implies that the Wheel can be controlled to a greater extent than the RWS version. This is true. Remember that we all have free will and can act to change our futures.

Major Arcana Meanings: Justice

Major Arcana Meanings Justice
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Daughter of the Lord of Truth
Zodiac Attribution: Libra
Keywords: Balance, Judging, Truth, Critique

I personally find Justice of the most fascinating cards of the major arcana. The card means fairness but whenever I draw it in a reading it usually suggests being critical of self and finding out what really matters – getting to the truth of things.

This is a card that can be quite hard to understand because it can mean so many things. On a mundane level it can suggest fairness in legal issues as well as weighing up arguments to make a decision. On a higher metaphysical level it can suggest the effect of karma – receiving what you give out. I have also found it can mean that someone is critiquing and judging you – not a comfortable position to be in.

When you receive Justice in an ‘Advice’ position, it is telling you to weigh up what is most important to you and/or the need to act in a fair and balanced manner in the situation.

The RWS and TdM versions of the card are very similar except for the numbering. A.E. Waite swapped the positions of Strength and Justice in the RWS to fit the esoteric pattern he wanted. The TdM retains the original positions. It doesn’t really make much of a difference in actual readings unless you want to do a deep dive into tarot esotericism.

And up next, we have the most mysterious card in the entire major arcana..

The Enigma of The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Spirit of the Mighty Waters
Elemental Attribution: Water
Keywords: Meaningful Sacrifice, Suspension, Punishment, Inaction

The Hanged Man is one of the true enigmas of the tarot deck. Being hanged upside down was a punishment for traitors which gives us one possible meaning for the card. Another common meaning for this major arcana is being able to understand something from a different perspective. However, the RWS version of the Hanged Man goes a little deeper. Notice the golden aura of enlightenment around the figure’s head; this tells us that the suspension is a willing sacrifice in the here and now in order to gain intellectual and/or spiritual insight.

In my every day readings, the Hanged Man has come to mean something less meaningful and more mundane. The card usually signifies an enforced period of inaction – letting time pass by. Sometimes this inaction is due to external forces that can’t be controlled, other times it is necessary and self imposed. Here in the UK, the pandemic lock downs in 2020 and 2021 have had that enforced Hanged Man energy. Way too much of it.

If you’ve ever made sacrifices in order to achieve important life changing gains then that’s the Hanged Man energy. Such as doing night classes to gain important qualifications. Or going to the gym to improve your fitness. Receiving this card in a spread position of ‘Advice’ or ‘Action to take’ is a message that you should make personal sacrifices to gain some benefit in the longer term.

The TdM version of the card has an interesting feature given that the TdM is not an esoteric deck. The ground disappears where the head is giving the impression that the figure is hanging in some sort of hole or abyss. This could be interpreted to mean that the material world has given way to the world of the intellect through the experience of suspension. Well, criminals hanged upside down will certainly have time to reflect on their sins!


We move from the mental realm into that of the spiritual as we move from Death through to The Tower..