XII. You and Me, Bess

The Hanged Man, based on the song You and Me Bess

I hope Mother Nature has not overheard!
(Though she doles out hurt like a puking bird.)

Joanna Newsom, “You and Me, Bess” (Have One On Me, 2010)

Image Description

A person hangs upside down above a sandy beach, her left ankle tied to a wooden structure. The structure, as well as the person’s clothing, is covered in seaweed and snail shells. Two seagulls laugh around her, and one dives for a roll that falls from her pocket. In the background on the left side of the card is a city of white buildings with pink roofs. On the right side a black horse walks across the sand. Between the two is open ocean.


The sun rises upon more drama by the seaside. The upside-down hanging of the tarot is a form of public humiliation rather than the public execution that takes place in the song “You and Me, Bess,” but it is a punishment all the same.

Like II. Divers, XII shows the duality created by the “laws of the land.” The seaside town in the West opposes Bess in the East. One represents rules and civilization, the other represents freedom and wildness. In between the two, the hanged horse-thief loses both freedom and carefully-collected provisions. She is in a predicament, beaten up by the ocean and stuck as tightly as the snail shells clamped to the posts.

Human society and Nature each have their own punishments, one the gallows and the other the laughing gulls. The first is specific, the second is haphazard. But Bess, whose simple animal nature gets the narrator caught in the first place, is able to escape the consequences. Running free outside the borders, she brings hope to this gloomy card.

Selected Meanings

Punishment, predicament, getting caught, life on the lam, criminal, scapegoat, betrayal, alliance, taking the fall for a friend.