Life as an Escape Artist


There’s something strangely appealing about an escape artist. Even though the premise remains the same for more than 100 years – a guy puts himself in a situation from which escape seems impossible, only to get out a few moments later – we still get carried away with this type of presentation. Maybe it’s because we’re trying to figure out how will the escape artist manage to escape its condition. Or maybe it’s the “will he make it in time?” question. We know he will, as he obviously would not present an act that wasn’t properly rehearsed. But even so, there’s always this little thought in the back of our heads asking “What if he doesn’t do it?”

That’s the thrill of it… To see someone against impossible odds and actually succeed. That’s also the thrill to many of our stories. Where the “hero” is faced with an impossible task. Something that only he can do, even if, at first glance, it does seem impossible. A position that, for better or for worse, he cannot simply not choose to do it. Whether he likes it or not.

This type of situation can be represented by a tarot card. It’s called The Hanged Man and it speaks about being put in a position where you know you have to do something regardless of anything else you might want or wish or desire. It even has the same type of imagery. When it appears in a reading, it normally means something like “Sacrifice”; “Changing views/perspectives/opinions”; “Waiting”; “Loss”; “Redemption”; “Saved by the bell”…

There is, however, an aspect of the card which is seldom addressed. The part of the hero. I recently came over this as I was reading Grant Morrison’s “Seven Soldiers of Victory”, a two-volume set about seven heroes, who must combine their efforts in order to save the world, even though they can’t be together (you can find them here and here). In it there’s one sequence where one of the seven heroes, Zatanna, questions herself about what should a hero do:

Zatanna #4, by Grant Morrison and Ryan Sook. Part of The Seven Soldiers of Victory collection.

So, the typical “Hangman” situation, but seen by the eyes of a hero. And… what would the hero do?? Sure enough, he/she would go straight ahead and walk into hell if need be in order to get it done. He/she would confront whatever it is that needed to be confronted, whatever the personal cost would be.
Just like in real life, when faced with The Hagman, we have to confront whatever ails us and be done with it. And here’s the interesting part: In the Hangman card, we’re chained. Chained by our dreams; our misconceptions; our prejudices. Chained to people and things we don’t want to loose. Chained to points of view that no longer favor us. And it is the dream of every person who sees itself in that situation to escape it. To find a solution where he/she can still keep all of hir luggage and still get out of hir predicament. By dealing with these types of situations, and while we’re not ready to let go of that excessive luggage, where testing the waters to see what we can expect. We’re trying some solutions. And we’re developing ourselves as a person. We’re expanding our limits. We’re putting ourselves to the test. When we reach a “Hangman” situation, we’re also putting ourselves against impossible odds and trying to figure out a way to beat them. In our own private little story, we’re actually taking the role of the hero.

Of course, when facing the impossible we have to adapt. To develop new skills in order to effectively handle the problem we have in front of us. As Steve Englehart has put in his novel “The Point Man”,

“in order to become someone else, you first have to be somebody else.”

As every tarot reader knows, we resolve the Hangman card by breaking the bonds. By dealing with the subject in matter in a way that allows us to move on. But do we really deal with the issue at hand, or do we just find an escape route that allows us to keep the same luggage and sort of “move on”? Or even, something in between?

Life is an expert at building us traps. And we’re also experts at falling into them. An escape artist knows what to do and gets it done. There’s no harm there. He just moved from trap to trap, from one impossible situation to another and makes his living. A hero, does deal with the situation at hand, many times if necessary, and always with some personal cost. But, as everyone knows, in either situation, there’s always a door open and sometime in the future, this same situation can and will rise again.

As if there isn’t a definite solution to the problem at hand.

In real life, we’re always training ourselves to dodge bullets. To deal with whatever situation life throws at us and to leave it behind as soon as possible. We are dealing with it. But it can also be seen as escaping its dangers. Its consequences. Is it, then, unexpected that the next card turns out (in traditional decks) to feature someone on a horse riding (escaping?) in a direction that suggests movement from the past to the future (left to right)?

The Death card is supposed to be all about “personal or voluntary transformation”. Of  “killing a part of yourself, so that you can create something new”. It’s about resolution and leaving behind what’s supposed to stay behind, so that the new can come in. New situations. New challenges. New developments and, ultimately, new escapes.

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