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New Year’s weekend, we were met with the ominous news, and vision, of Saddam Hussein being hanged, ostensibly for his crimes against humanity. The execution lacked any of the solemnity or protocol that you would expect anywhere else—but seemingly not in Iraq. I think we are all still haunted by the vision of the black scarf being placed around Saddam’s neck, and of his face as he was being taunted by his executioners, guards, and witnesses standing on the gallows in his last moments of life. In one gesture, a notorious former dictator was turned to a martyr.When I say ominous, I mean it in the true sense, as an omen. But the world has become so haunted with signs and omens that it’s difficult to see them for what they are. Consider that we don’t generally get to witness a public execution, much less a hanging. The only reason a hanging does not seem weird is because we’ve all seen so many of them from so many prior lifetimes. There is something fascinating about being able to witness intentional death so close up, and curiosity trumps the gruesome nature of what’s being done. But when you see one in the 21st century with the word “freedom” being flashed across the bottom of the screen, it’s a sign of things to come.

Speaking of trumps, if you read tarot cards, it was difficult to miss the archetype of The Hanged Man.

This is probably the most perplexing card in the deck. To many, the symbol is more disturbing than Death or The Tower because it seems too hard to figure out, and feels so uncomfortable. The (exoteric, surface, or ordinary) energetic state is being suspended: waiting, not knowing, and having no control over a situation.

It’s not often that you turn on the television and see a direct reference to the tarot, but we all saw this symbol again and again. It is not often that an archetype reveals itself so vividly, with such incredible emphasis and such an ominous feeling. And I kept seeing that image and wondering, Okay, what next?

The card is associated with Neptune, and so it’s one of those “spiritual states,” which is a nice way of saying a test of patience or endurance, and also indicating a sacrifice of some kind, and we are seeing plenty of that lately. It is interesting that the next policy being used by George W. Bush to escalate the war in Iraq uses precisely that word—sacrifice. The service men and women who are being sent there to be shot at are human sacrifices; the Iraqis who die and lose children on a daily basis are human sacrifices; Saddam was killed as a sacrifice, as if in effigy, for all that has gone wrong.

All the human life being lost in Iraq is a sacrifice to the profits of the oil and arms industries.

Let’s look a little deeper into the symbol. In the tarot, The Hanged Man is trump 12, and it’s preceded by trump 11, Strength, also called Lust in some decks. This is the card with a woman spreading open the jowls of a lion, right at about waist level—she is, symbolically, spreading her vulva. The throat of the lion also indicates a gorge or abyss, from which life emerges, and into which life falls.

The Hanged Man is suspended, as if over an abyss, connected by a cord, reminiscent of the umbilical cord. It is followed (logically) by Death, trump 13. The Death card usually means a big change of some kind is imminent, and that a point of no return is approaching. It is symbolically the card of rebirth. So one of the messages of The Hanged Man is that a big change is about to happen. We were sent this message the last weekend of an extremely disturbing year, as if to sum up all that we have lived through, and to remind us of all we have ignored.

Two weeks later, coinciding with the hangings of two of Saddam’s codefendants, the United Nations reported that more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed in warfare in 2006, an average of 94 per day, and the US military death toll reached 3,000. It should send a chill down your spine every time a member of the Bush administration opens its mouth and says “democracy.”

It was some time after the hanging that it occurred to me another archetype was showing itself, a lesser-known one called Varuna. Varuna is an ancient Arian deity who was paired with the deity Mithra. They were part of the same idea, somewhat like Jesus and Mary.

Speaking of...

  • Examining the impact and back story of Saddam Hussein's execution.

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