The Hanged Man

If you care to scroll down towards the bottom of this page you can see how an experience I had in Brazil gave me an insight into the visions of Saint Teresa of Avila


The position of the man—upside down, head below, hanging by one foot in a porch, with his free leg folded back at the knee and his arms bound behind his back—at first naturally evokes ideas of gravitation and of the torture that conflict can inflict on man.

What religion if not the manifestation of spiritual gravitation towards God, i.e. towards the centre of spiritual gravitation of the world? It is significant that the term “the Fall”—chosen for the primordial event which brought about the change of man’s state from “paradise” to the terrestrial state of toil, suffering and death—is borrowed from the domain of gravitation

The Hanged Man represents the condition of one in  whom gravitation from above has replaced that from below.

Attraction from above is as real as that from below, and that the condition of a human being who has passed, whilst living, from the field of terrestrial gravitation into that of heaven is indeed comparable to that of the Hanged Man. This is at one and the same time a benefaction and a martyrdom; both are very real.
The Hanged Man
from theTarot of Marseilles
Saint Paul, "The First Hermit", Jusepe de Ribera, Museo del Prado

The history of the human race bears witness to the reality of attraction from above. The exodus into Egyptian, Palestinian, Syrian and other deserts inaugurated by St. Paul of Thebes and St. Anthony the Great were nothing other than the manifestation of irresistible attraction from above. The desert fathers, pioneers of this exodus, had no programme or plan to found any communities or schools of Christian spirituality comparable to the schools of yoga in India. Theirs was the irresistible appeal from above to solitude and a life given up entirely to spiritual reality. Thus, St. Anthony the Great said:

Saint Anthony

“As fish who remain on dry land die, so do monks who linger outside of the cell, or who pass time with people of the world, slacken the tension of solitude. Therefore it is necessary—as fish do to the sea—that we return to the cell, so as not to forget, through dallying outside, our interior vigil.”

This form of life was later adapted and perfected by St. Basil in the East, and by St. Augustine, St. Cassian and St. Benedict in the West.

Although this subsequent development was present in germ in the solitary lives of St. Paul of Thebes and St. Anthony the Great, this was not the conscious motive for their retreat into the desert. Their motive was solely the desire for solitude caused by the irresistible attraction of heaven.

The attraction of heaven is so real that it can take hold of not only the soul but also the physical body. Then the body is carried up and no longer touches the ground. St. Teresa of Avila, who had this experience, wrote in her “Life”

Before you can be warned by a thought or help yourself in any way, it comes as a quick and violent shock; you see and feel this cloud, or this powerful eagle rising and bearing you up on its wings. In this emergency very often I should like to resist, and I exert all my strength to do so, especially at such times as I am ina public place, and very often when I am in private also, because I am afraid of delusions. Sometimes with a great struggle I have been able to do something against it. But it has been like fighting a great giant, and has left me utterly exhausted. At other times resistance has been impossible; my soul has been carried away, and usually my head as well.
Saint Teresa in ecstasy
For Saint Teresa the centre of spiritual attraction was Our Lord. When the centre of spiritual attraction, when the Lord himself, is clothed in a body what happens then?

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark. The sea rose because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened, but he said to them: I am; do not be afraid.

And Peter answered him: Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water. He said: Come! So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out: Lord, save me! Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him: O man of little faith, why did you doubt? (Matthew xiv, 28-31)

Fear is due to the menace of being engulfed by elemental forces of gravitation of a lower order, i.e. of being carried away by the play of blind forces from the agitated “sea” of the “electrical field” of death. “I am; do not be afraid” is therefore the message of the Master, of celestial gravitation, demonstrated by the action of saving  Peter.

Initially Peter had been born up by ecstasy similar to that of Saint Teresa. However Jesus Christ walked on the water not by virtue of ecstasy — not by going out of his Humanity — but rather by virtue of enstasy, i.e. centering in himself, by the divine I of the Son of the eternal Father present in itself.

There are other forms of levitation that might appear to be celestial; but are not. They are due to will power. Legend attributes to Simon Magus that he could elevate himself physically in the air.  Also in modern time we should distingush the rapture of saints from the “levitation of mediums”. They have raised themselves in the air several feet and hovered for some time without any means of support.

There are actually three categories of levitation of the human body: rapture due to “celestial gravitation”, levitation due to a current of human electricity emitted wilfully (arbitrary magic), or involuntarily (mediumistic levitation), due to the will power of a third party.

According to tradition, Simon Magus—whom St. Peter, through prayer, caused to fall—is attributed with levitation achieved through arbitrary magic.

Simon Magus

In Estonia (where Valentin Tomberg lived as a young man) it is said  witches and sorcerers make use of “broomsticks” to levitate.  The repulsing current emanating from the centre at the base of the spine certainly produces the impression of a beam in the form of a broomstick; sorcerers, when splitting themselves off from, and leaving behind, their physical body, move after the fashion of modern rocket reactions. Thus Estonians in the countryside possess a special term for this phenomenon which is more adequate than “broomstick”, namely tulehant which means to say “beam of fire”.

Two things characterise the state of the spiritual man: that he is suspended and that he is upside down.

Here is what St. Teresa says about suspension:

The soul seems to me to be in this state when no comfort comes to it from heaven and it is not there itself, and when it desires none from the earth and is not there either. Then it is as if crucified between heaven and earth, suffering and receiving no help from either.

The soul is suspended between heaven and earth; it experiences complete solitude. For here it is no longer a matter of ordinary solitude where one is alone in the world, but rather of complete solitude where one is alone because one is outside of the world—the celestial as well as the terrestrial world.
Transported thus into this desert it seems that the soul can say with the Royal Prophet, “I lie awake, I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.” (Psalm 102) . It is possible that King David was experiencing this same loneliness when he wrote these words.

This is the “zero point” between the fields of terrestrial and celestial gravitation. It is from there that the soul either is elevated in contemplation of divine and celestial things, or descends to act in the human and terrestrial domain.

The other characteristic of the spiritual man is that he is upside down. Firstly, that the “solid ground” under his feet is found above, whilst the ground below is only the concern and perception of the head.

Secondly, his will is connected with heaven and is in immediate contact (not by the intermediary of thought and feeling) with the spiritual world. His will “knows” things that the head—his thinking—still does not know. He is therefore the “man of the future”.

The “spiritual man” acts first, then he desires, then he feels the worth of his action, and lastly he understands.
Abraham left his country of birth and went—in crossing the desert—into a strange country where, centuries later, a people descended from him was to find its native land and where, several centuries later on, the work of mankind’s salvation was to take place.

Did he know all this? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that he acted as if he knew—his will being enamoured with these future things, and by their greatness and significance. No, in the sense that he did not have in his thoughts and imagination a plan or clear programme concerning how, when and through what stages, precisely, these things would be realised.
Faith is the firm assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
(Hebrews xi, 1, 8)

In his obedience, Abraham’s head followed his feet; his feet were then “above”, in so far as they experienced the commandment of heaven, and his head obeyed them and was turned “below”, in so far as it saw nothing but the privations, risks and perils of the enterprise. Abraham found himself in the condition of the Hanged Man.

The will is an active force. To transform my will into thy will is the inner act of love. This transformation affected by love is worth one calls obedience

Faith, as a supernatural gift, is not the same thing as the natural, rational confidence that one has in an authority. St. Teresa had complete confidence in her confessors, who nevertheless were mistaken about the source of her mystical experiences, notably whether they had their origin from God or from a demon.

“I can only say that the soul conceives itself to be near God, and that it is left with such a conviction that it cannot possibly help believing.

“If the soul has previously been meditating on any subject, it vanishes from the memory at once, as completely as if it had never been thought of.

“If it has been reading, it is unable to remember it or dwell on the words; and it is the same with vocal prayer.

“So the restless little moth of memory has its wings burned, and it can flutter no more.

“The will must be fully occupied in loving, but does not understand how it loves.

However with time the gap between the certainty of faith and that of knowledge becomes narrower and narrower. Thought and imagination become more and more capable of participating in the revelation of faith to the will  — until the day arrives when they participate in it on equal footing with the will.

We can contrast the modesty of a scientist like Emile Dubois Reymond with a somewhat rigid faith of priest like Cardinal Billon. Reymond wrote: We do not know and we shall never know:

  1. the essence of matter and energy;
  2. the origin of motion;
  3. the origin of the senses (sense-perception);
  4. the question of free will;
  5.  the origin of life;
  6. the purposeful organisation of Nature;
  7. the origin of thought and language.
Emil Dubois-Reymond
Cardinal Louis Billot

Whereas Cardinal Louis Billot wrote: “At its departure from the body, the soul is no longer in a position to change its moral orientation, nor to go back on its previous adherence to sin but, on the contrary, it fixes itself “in the disposition of will found at the precise instant of death; it becomes henceforth inflexible, and rebels against every idea of retraction, conversion or repentance.

“Eternal punishment exists only in the perverse disposition of unrepentants on departing from the present life.”

Whereas Our Lord said: “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search of the one that went astray?…So it is the will of my Father who is in heaven that not one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew xviii, 12, 14)”

One is bound to believe either that the mercy of God is limited, i.e. that it extends only to the instant of bodily death, or that it is infinite and never ceases, i.e. that it possesses the means of acting also after the instant of the soul’s separation from the body.
Du Bois-Reymond ought to have said: “Given the methods of contemporary science and what is known up to the present time, the seven great world enigmas seem to be insoluble; but if the methods of knowledge change at some time without losing their scientific character, it could be otherwise with the enigmas in question.”

And would it not be better if Cardinal Billot had said: “In the Scriptures there are passages relating to the love of God and to the chastisement of sin which, given the present character of our reasoning and moral sentiment, seem to be contradictory. As it is impossible for them to be really contradictory, I have formed a personal opinion which seems to me to reconcile them in a satisfactory way. But I do not know if it is the only possible solution to the problem, or whether there are other and better ones.”
Caiaphas’ argument:“It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (John xi, 50), is based on the logical principle that the part is less than the whole, the part being “one man” and the whole being “the nation”.

Being faced with the alternative—“If we let him go, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come to destroy our city and nation”—the decision was taken to sacrifice the part for the whole.
In the moral and spiritual domain, where it is only quality which counts, one righteous man is worth more than the whole nation, if it is a question not of voluntary sacrifice but rather of the one who must be sacrificed. Thus the above logical principle can be transformed into its opposite formula: “the part is greater than the whole”.

This is an example of the operation of “moral logic” or concrete and qualitative logic, quite different from formal and quantitative logic.

“Moral logic” introduces warmth into the light of thought, so that the latter becomes solar, instead of lunar, which is what it is when it has only light alone and is cold, without warmth.

As death and its relationship to the skeleton will be the subject of the following Letter on the thirteenth Arcanum of the Tarot, “Death”, I ask you, dear Unknown Friend, to remember problem of the identity of individual will with divine will and the problem of attraction from above in its double aspect of ecstasy and death.

One finds a profound and breathtaking feeling of cosmic depths in the cosmogonic hymn of the Rigveda:
This is what a Hindu soul felt one starry night more than thirty centuries ago, in beholding the universe. Is it not a commentary on the natural mysticism —fiat lux (“Let there be light”)—of Genesis?

It is this profound sphere, from whence the anonymous author of the Vedic hymn drew his inspiration, in which the Hanged Man participates through his will. He is the link between being and non-being, between darkness and created light. He is found suspended between the potential and the real. And it is the potential which is more real for him than the real properly said. He lives by authentic faith
There is darkness and Darkness. The former is that of ignorance and blindness; the latter is that of knowledge going beyond natural human cognitive powers; it reveals itself to intuitive seeing. It is ultra-luminous in the same sense that ultra-violet rays go beyond the human eye’s scale of natural visibility.
Saint Athanasius

Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, wrote in his Life of Saint Anthony:

There were those who among the pagans who were supposedly wise. They asked Saint Anthony to state an argument for our faith in Christ. He replied “since you pin your faith on demonstrative proofs and you want us also not to worship God without demonstrative arguments — first tell me this: How does precise knowledge of things come about, especially knowledge about God? Is it by verbal proof or by an act of faith?”

When they replied that the act of faith takes precedence and that this constitutes accurate knowledge, Anthony said: “Well said! Faith arises from the disposition of the soul, while dialectic comes from the skill of those who devise it. Accordingly, those who are equipped with an active faith have no need of verbal argument. An active faith is better and stronger than your sophistic arguments…”
Saint Anthony Abbot

Here we have a clear comparison of the certainty due to “active faith” and that due to the demonstration by reasoning. The difference between them is the same as that between a photograph of a person and a meeting with this person. It is the difference that there is between image and reality, between an idea that one makes of the truth and the truth itself.

The certainty of faith springs from the actual meeting with truth and its persuasive and transforming action, whilst that of certainty due to reasoning depends on the validity of our reasoning and anew item of information can turn the whole edifice of our reasoning upside down. This is why all conviction founded on reasoning is intrinsically hypothetical.

The Christian martyrs did not die for hypotheses, but rather for the truths of faith of which they were absolutely certain.
Pius ix declared the infallible doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1854

The Pope finds himself in the condition of the Hanged Man when he makes a declaration ex cathedra.

It is the condition in which the apostle Peter was when he was able to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and of which the Lord said in reply, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew xvi, 16-17).

And just as a stone does not have its own motion, and can only be a moved object, so is the will of he who is found in the condition of the Hanged Man deprived of its own movement and can only be moved from above.

To date there have only been these two ex cathedra teachings.

Pius xii declared the infallible doctrine of the Assumption in 1950
What is the relationship between authentic faith and the experiences of clairvoyance?

The whole domain of super-sensory experiences is divided into two intrinsically different parts, namely into that of perception of what is outside of the soul (horizontal perception) and that of revelation of what is above the soul (vertical revelation). St. Teresa called them “imaginary vision” (i.e. “imaged”) and “intellectual vision” (i.e. non-“imaged”). The following is an example of “intellectual vision”:
Saint Teresa's mystical vision

One day when I was at prayer I saw Christ at my side — or, to put it better, I was conscious of Him, for I saw nothing with the eyes of the body. He seemed quite close to me. I was very much afraid at first, and could do nothing but weep, though as soon as He spoke His first word of assurance to me, I regained my usual calm, and became cheerful and free from fear. All the time Jesus Christ seemed to be at my side, but as this was not an imaginary vision I could not see in what form. But I most clearly felt that He was all the time on my right, and He was witness of everything that I was doing.

Afterwards Friar Peter of Alcantara, a holy man of great spirituality, told me that of all the kinds of vision, this is the one with which the devil can least interfere.

Saint Peter Alcantara

Our Lord appears to the soul by a knowledge brighter than the sun. I do not mean any sun that is seen, but there is a light which, though unseen, illumines the understanding so that the soul may enjoy this great blessing.

Later my confessor asked me: Who said that it was Jesus Christ? I answered: He often tells me so Himself, but before ever He said it, it was impressed on my understanding that it was He… The Lord is pleased to engrave it so deeply on the understanding that one can no more doubt it than one can doubt the evidence of one’s eyes.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola
I, Shaun MacLoughlin, who am designing this website, would not for a moment presume to share Saint Teresa’s holiness.

But some years ago I was vouchsafed an experience that helps me to understand her vision.

I was praying in a small chapel in Brazil; that was dedicated to Saint Ignatius.

Suddenly I felt that I was being drowned in a massive waterfall of love.

Then a quiet, gentle, but quite humorous voice said to me – interiorally: “Welcome home. We have been waiting a long time.”

I had been educated by the Jesuits and had then drifted from the Catholic Church. Since then I have been profoundly grateful to return
Shaun MacLoughlin

In these experiences the soul has certainty, as if it had seen, without having seen, and as if it had heard, without having heard. It is the spirit which projects certainty into it. It is the spirit which “sees”, “hears” and “touches” in its own way and which infuses the soul with the fruits of its experience — a certainty equal to, or even higher than, that which the soul would have if it had “seen”, “heard” and “touched” itself.

Luther throws an inkpot at a demon
It seems that from the sixteenth century there are, in addition to “intellectual vision” and “imaginary vision”, visions “that are seen with the eyes of the body”, i.e. visions due either to over-refinement of the senses or to hallucination.

There are people who can read a letter put in an envelope, see a playing-card of which only the reverse is shown to them, see coloured light around people, animals and plants (“auras”), etc. It seems that  the senses can function in two directions: that they can receive impressions from outside and that they can project expressions of the soul outside. In the latter case it is a matter of hallucinations. Now, there are illusory hallucinations and revelatory hallucinations. All depends on what the soul exteriorises through the channels of the corporeal senses.
“Hallucination” and “illusion” are not synonyms. When Martin Luther threw an inkpot at the figure of a demon (or the devil himself, as tradition would have it) which appeared to him, without doubt he acted under an illusion with respect to the plane—the inkpot not being on the same plane as the demon—but should one conclude from this that the demon was in no way present?…that there was nothing there and that it was all only a trick of the imagination, without cause or reason?

No, just as there is hysteria due to illusion and hysteria based on truth — as, for example, is the case with stigmatas and wounds from the crown of thorns, which manifest themselves on the bodies of people who have had spiritual experience of the Lord’s Passion — so also there are illusory hallucinations, due to fears or immoderate desires, and revelatory hallucinations, i.e. “hallucinations of the truth”.

Do not scorn anything or reject anything, if you have authentic faith.

This is the essential message of the Hanged Man, the upside-down man, who lives suspended between two opposed fields of gravitation—heaven and earth. Who is the Hanged Man? Is he a saint, a righteous man, an initiate?

The Hanged Man is the eternal Job, tried and tested from century to century, who represents humanity towards God and God towards humanity.
Has not man a hard destiny upon earth,
and are not his days like the days of a hireling?
Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
and like a hireling who looks for his wages…
Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were graven in the rock for ever!
My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside…
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then from my flesh I shall see
God, whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me in expectation!
(Job vii, 1-2; xix, 23-24; xxiii, 11; xix, 25-27)
This is the discourse of the Hanged Man across the centuries.