Hanging on every letter with the Typeface Tarot


Recently, EllieP, another member of Aeclectic Tarot, suggested an interesting experiment. We were to pick a card from the majors-only Typeface Tarot created by Lynda Cowles (downloadable for free as a PDF file from her website) and then “writing up what [we] see in it – with no reference to anything except what [we] get from the word itself, its typeface and its position on the card.”

I accepted the challenge and chose the Hanged Man card to look at. Here’s what I got.

(Note: I added in a few references to things I read because I just can’t help looking stuff up when I get curious…)

The letters make a cross shape which makes me think of people hanged on a cross to die (with Jesus being the most famous of them). Crucifixion is an execution method that means a slow and deliberately painful death, preceded by public humiliation. (To this day, there are also some people who practice crucifixion for a limited time period as a devotional practice – I truly learn something new whenever I read a Wikipedia article). This could refer both to the traitor aspect some people assign to the Hanged Man card, and to the notion of a spiritual connection/moment of enlightenment that is often associated with the card.

Hanging from a cross-like structure also makes me think of the Norse god Odin hanging himself from the World Tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nine nights to receive the runes (some Tarot decks, for example the World Spirit Tarot, depict a scene that alludes to that on their Hanged Man card). This would be another illustration of the martyr aspect of the card as well as of the associations to spiritual enlightenment.

The cross itself is a symbol that is often used in spiritual/religious contexts. (I read that it often symbolizes the four elements the world is presumably made of, or the union of mundane and divine by way of the horizontal and vertical lines, respectively.) Which once again echoes that there is a spiritual dimension to the card.

But let’s look at the typeface as such, which to me is the more interesting aspect of this card.

Most of the letters that read “the haNged MaN” (at least with a bit of squinting) are actually different letters (or numbers) that have been turned, mirrored, or twisted. In other words, without our act of squinting and making sense of what we actually see, we would just have the nonsensical “fya yeN9aP weN” as the text of this card.

To me, that means several things. First of all, we need a little time and effort to actually read the text on the card, compared to others in the deck. That suggests patience and perhaps even a little sacrifice to achieve success.

The Hanged Man is about having a different perspective, if only because he is usually depicted hanging upside-down (show of hands here: who else has turned around a Hanged Man card so his head would be up when absentmindedly looking through a tarot deck?). It urges us to look things from a different angle, to question our usual assumptions and prejudices (= pre-judgments).

It also suggests an intriguing ambiguity because both “the haNged MaN” and “fya yeN9aP weN” are actually correct readings of the letters on the card, depending on our perspective (are we trying to make sense of the letters/numbers as words or do we read each one by itself?). This means we may come to different conclusions if we consider just the individual tree or the entire forest. It reminds us that the actual truth of a matter may just lie in keeping both of these perspectives in mind at the same time (like in the Young Woman/Old Woman illusion, or the Duck/Rabbit one).

Finally, the fact that it is our fabulous brains that enable us to even read “fya yeN9aP weN” as “the haNged MaN” reminds us that meaning is in the eye of the beholder, and furthermore, that meaning is created by the beholder according to what they already know (someone who couldn’t read English wouldn’t be able to understand the lettering on this card at all, just as someone who never had seen a rabbit would only ever see the duck in the illusion). Which brings us nicely back to the more cerebral first part of my interpretation of this card, because the decision if someone is a criminal and threat to society or a spiritual martyr really always is a matter of the values and worldview we already hold in looking at that person. Any judgment of them says a lot more about the ones doing the judging and their worldview than the ones being judged. And this is equally true for Jesus as it is for Muslim terrorists.


For those who are interested: The font used in the card is called “New Kind of English” and was created by “Fonts bomb.” It can be downloaded for free here.


3 responses »

  1. Cat, this entry came along at just the right time for me. I did a “big reading” a few days ago and have been pondering the meaning of the Hanged One in the position it came up in within the spread. Apparently, this is an important card for me this year because I got it earlier this year in another telling reading. Anyway, your discussion of this visually very simple Hanged Man turned a lightbulb on in my brain regarding the one that came up in my reading, and went back to my journal notes on the reading and added the bit I culled from your interpretation above.

    I’ve heard of people doing experiments with plain pieces of paper with only the titles of the cards written on them, but those test something different, I think. They test how relevant the fixed archetypes and traditional divinatory (usually RWS) meanings are, when intuition based on pictures cannot play a role. But this card you’ve analyzed here *does* have a great deal of food for intuitive thought, even in this deceptively simple image.

  2. Chiriku, I’m glad my post was useful to you!

    I’ve also heard of the pieces of paper with card titles version of tarot, but since I mostly read tarot from the picture I’ve never felt tempted to try it. Reading very reduced imagery, on the other hand, is an interesting challenge for me, and I’m tempted to repeat the exercise with another card (there are still some unclaimed ones left in the original thread over on AT).

    In fact, since my offhand remark about it a few days ago, I’m seriously considering trying to read the runes without any previous knowledge of their meanings and associations, and going by their shapes only instead.

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