(from the book)
"Sow your gold into white foliated earth, which by calcination is made fiery, subtle and airy."
--Rosarium Philosophorum (pg. 70)
The Hanged Man shows the descent on the Wheel of Fortune. He says, "I did reign." The fall, however, is not without benefit. The Norse God Odin hung himself upside down on the World Tree, Yggdrasil, in order to obtain wisdom. Christ hung on the cross--symbolized by the T-shaped gallows here--to redeem the world. The serpent here is another representation of Christ, according to Gnostic thought.
The alchemical process of the Hanged Man is calcination. Matter or body is suspended over fire or a corrosive agent to reduce it to white ash. The Codex Germanicus shows calcination represented by a man hanged from gallows. The crucified serpent is mercury, which must be sacrificed to complete the Work.
In hanging upside down, the Hanged Man is losing his gold, which represents the loss of worldly possessions, or self-esteem, our sense of our role in world. In Italy, traitors traditionally were hung upside down as a humiliating form of punishment.
The number twelve relates to the months in solar year, and symbolizes the sacrifice of the solar hero.
Tarot wisdom: The Hanged Man represents a fall in terms of ego or self-image. It may also represent the loss of material things. Do not despair, for such is necessary in order to transform the lower nature into the higher self. Self-esteem can be repaired, and material things can be replaced. Perhaps our self-esteem was misdirected; perhaps we didn't need so much in the first place. Inevitably, we must go down before we can go up, and while we hang in limbo we can contemplate our errors and determine how to transcend them. The alchemical literature states that the alchemist must sacrifice some gold to make the philosopher's stone. And so it is with us on the mundane plane. The question is, how long will you remain suspended? The choice is yours.