Called the Hanged Man in other decks, Arcanum XII is called The Martyr in the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot. This is probably one of the most complicated cards in the Major Arcanum and probably one of the saddest. Pisces, the sign of slavery, sacrifice, disappointments and substance abuse, rules arcanum XII, The Martyr. Pisces is also the ruler of the 12th house of the zodiac, the house of secret sorrows.

In the days of old, The Martyr symbolized slavery, which for eons was accepted worldwide as a matter of social acceptance.  Sadly, slavery still exists today in the shadowy criminal world, but a more modern interpretation of this card would be a relationship that enslaves.  Examples of relationships that enslave are: a marriage; a job; a habit; an addition; a belief system; or a physical imprisonment of some kind like a prison, an asylum, a sick bed, or a hospital.  Hanging from the gallows, his crossed legs symbolize the dominance of material forces, as do his arms and hands forming a downward- pointing triangle.  The coins falling from The Martyr’s hands and the grapes losing their vital juices symbolize that, in his enslavement, both emotional and physical dissipation is taking place.

The key phrase for Pisces and this card is “I Believe.”  There is nothing on this earth more powerful than a belief system.  The Age of Pisces (the Age of I Believe) began at the dawn of Christianity, and is characterized by the birth of powerful and influential faiths.  Human beings are not only hardwired to find a connection with Spirit; they are also hardwired to figure out where they fit into society.  In other words, humans strive to identify themselves with something.  One of the definitions of why the suffix “ism” is added to a root word is that it pertains to a doctrine, theory, or cult, like Buddhism or occultism, or adherence to a system or a class of principles, as in pacifism. Under this last category, there are many “isms”  today that are controversial: racism, capitalism, socialism, fascism, communism, radicalism, environmentalism, vegetarianism, liberalism, and conservatism.  Hot topics to be sure.  There are, of course, both good and bad aspects of many “isms,” but suffice it to say that “isms” are belief systems that have been the captors of true believers – those people who have become “hung up” like The Martyr in some way around one.  It’s easy to do; and it’s human to do.

The opposite of being “hung up,” is “falling down.” Loosing faith in an “ism” can be devastating! Imagine our Hanged Man falling out of his tree—on his head! Losing a belief system results in a flood of emotions like betrayal, remorse, anger and loss washing away our comfort zones, leaving us unhinged, confused and adrift until another tree from which to hang is chosen.

From very early on in Christianity, the fish of Pisces have been used as a symbol of Christ.  Primarily, this was because the birth of Christ heralded the dawn of the Age of Pisces, when the constellation of Pisces became the backdrop of the rising sun at the vernal equinox.   Secondly, both the sign of Pisces and, ultimately, Christ became symbols of sacrifice for the benefit of mankind. Ruled by Jupiter, Pisceans, too, have a devotion to mankind that far exceeds that of any other sign.  Pisceans are capable of incredible compassion, limitless charity and sacrifice in the name of bettering mankind.  They are the ones that will join the Peace Corps, donate a kidney, or work tirelessly on behalf of others.

Co-ruled by Neptune, this card can also symbolize addiction to escape a constant sense of worry, to relieve the tensions of over-sensitivity, or to discover a spiritual path.   There is certainly a correlation between substance abuse and the Jupiterian urge to connect with the Divine.  Alcoholics Anonymous recognizes this concept and, therefore, one of the first steps in their 12-step program is to acknowledge one’s Higher Power.  However, it is also true that outside of support groups, many have lost their addictions when they found their faith.

When The Martyr is reversed (being one of only two of the Major Arcana that have a different meaning when reversed in Egyptian Tarot) it means that, through personal sacrifice, manna from heaven is received and reward is given.  The coins that flow from the hands of our hanged man now flow into his hands when the card is reversed. 

Key words that could be applied to this card are many:  sacrifice, atonement, secret sorrows, enslavement of some kind, addiction, trapped by a belief system, loss of a belief system, struggling for faith, struggling within faith, loss of faith, physical or emotional dissipation, loss of money, loss of hope, despair, suspension, delay, “hung up” on something or someone, and worry.  Reversed: reward and blessings as a result of sacrifice, fulfillment, money coming your way, hope, faith, charity, and liberation.

The spiritual message of The Martyr is:

Remember, then, son of earth, that sacrifice is a divine law from which none is exempt; but expect any ingratitude from men.  Always hold thy soul in readiness to render its account to the eternal.  If Arcanum XII should appear in the prophetic signs of thy horoscope, a violent death will spread its snares upon the way.  But if the world attempts thy earthly life do not die without accepting with resignation this decree of God, and pardon thy cruelest enemies; for whosoever does not forgive here below will be condemned in the next life to eternal solitude.         __C.C. Zain, The Sacred Tarot

For more information about the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot and the 21 Brotherhood of Light Lessons, visit our website at


About letstalktarot

Allyn McCray began reading Tarot in 1971 after discovering a deck in an occult shop in San Francisco, California. In 1999, the American Tarot Association recognized her as a Certified Tarot Reader. During her experience as an Internet reader between 2000 and 2002, Allyn’s readings were regularly featured on the websites, Psychicnut and Roadtalk. In 2002, Allyn joined The Church of Light, aka Light.Org, a non-profit international school of esoteric studies, where she is now a Hermetician, Certified Teacher, and Minister. Allyn also serves as the Communications Director of The Church of Light and is a Section Advisor in The Order of the Sphinx.
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