The Traitor/The Hanged Man
Here’s the paradox of the Traitor: it’s pretty obvious from the picture that things haven’t turned out very well for him. So why is his face so serene and peaceful? Note the raven that seems to be upside down in the image – is it the Traitor who sees the world the wrong way? Or is it the rest of the world that is upside down?
To understand the first part of the paradox, we must understand that the Traitor has willingly consigned himself to this fate. In surrendering himself, he stops trying to avoid this awful outcome. He’s accepted that he’s going to die, which means he no longer has cause to fear death. Why should he worry about what’s going to happen? He already knows the worst is going to happen! And he’s made his peace with it, which has given him enlightenment. By recognizing and accepting his fear, he overcomes the need to fear anything. In sacrificing control over his physical life, he gains freedom, the ultimate control, over his actions. So here’s part of the paradox – stop struggling, do nothing, give in… and in doing so, move forward. In this way, this is the card of the martyr, someone who has seemingly lost everything, but spiritually has gained more than can be comprehended.
(Strike me down, and I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine…. ahem.)
In some ways, this is a continuation from Justice (much as all the Major Arcana are seen as progressive lessons from the previous card). Justice teaches that actions have consequences. The Traitor teaches to move beyond the fear of those consequences, and in so, be free to act.
The second part of the paradox can be summed up with a question: what is the difference between a traitor and a virtuous defector? Well, pretty much “if I agree with them or not.” The Traitor has come to see things from a different perspective from those who surround him, which leads him to be reviled by those he has “betrayed”. He is punished, for his alternate viewpoint. Yet he weathers this serenely, no matter how bad it gets, because he knows in his heart he’s done the right thing.
Thus, the Traitor is a sign that you need to stop struggling and just let go. By making yourself vulnerable, you will find strength. By letting go of old perspectives, you will find clarity. In sacrificing material concerns, you will find spiritual rewards.
At it’s best, the sign of the inverse Traitor is one that a time of spiritual limbo is at an end. However, it can also mean that you are refusing to let go and stop struggling. After all, the message of the Traitor is a hard one to swallow. It’s certainly easy enough to tell others they need to sacrifice and surrender, but when it comes your turn, you might not be so suddenly eager to bite the bullet. Inverted, the Traitor is a traitor not because he has come to a different point of view, but because he refuses to consider anyone else’s. He will not change, will not let go of his ideas, and will not try to understand anyone else’s. The concept of sacrifice is turned on it’s head as well – at best, the inverse Traitor is acting not because he feels it is right, but because he’s too attached to ideas of duty and can’t break free of them. At worst, this is a sign of unwilling sacrifice.
This is also a warning against trying to force things. You can’t force the Traitor, you can only surrender to it. By trying to force changes, you ensure that they never happen.