The Hermit is my personal favorite card, as well as the card which first attracted me to the Tarot (I listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin), so I thought he’d be a good subject for my first post about a specific card. This is always the first card I look for in a new deck, and the first chapter I flip to in a new book. I cannot learn enough about this mysterious character. For the time being, I think I’ll share only some general thoughts about the Hermit, and save deeper interpretations for future posts.
In [almost] every deck in my collection, he is depicted as a wise old man, always outside, wearing a cloak or robe, leaning on a staff or cane (this is represented by the Homunculus in the CHT; or rather, the Homunculus in the CHT is represented by the staff in the rest), and carrying a lantern. Mathers called this the Lantern of Occult Science; although I don’t like to limit the lantern to this designation, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the way “Lantern of Occult Science” sounds.
I think it’s fitting that I should have been drawn to the Tarot by this card. He is a man who travels off the beaten path, shunning society in favor of a more quiet wisdom, but he holds his lantern aloft as a beacon for any who may wish to follow.
I see the beacon, and I try to follow.
I identify very strongly with this card. I enjoy solitude, and I find myself often frustrated by societal norms. I enjoy silence, and find myself often irked by idle chatter from those who seem to need to hear themselves talk just to be assured of their significance, or perhaps even their very existence. Sometimes, we all need to take a step back and silently reflect. I think the world could learn a lot from the Hermit.
One thing I like to do with my multiple decks is take the same card from each and lay them side-by-side, comparing, contrasting, and contemplating. In some cases, I try to imagine each card is a scene from the life of the character portrayed within, and then arrange the cards into a sequence. It works as a great creative writing exercise, and it helps to gain a big-picture understanding of what the card can mean. Here is my sample result for the Hermit:
The Hermit had lived the devout life of a monk for many years. He was an intensely spiritual man, but was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the world around him. He longed for a serenity that he could not find in the society in which he lived. He was surrounded by corruption, and violence, and decadence. He even noticed it creeping in among his peers in the monastery, and it pained him. They no longer served the God he served, though they claimed otherwise.
He decided finally to turn his back on the monastery, and he packed his meager belongings, all of which fit within the folds of his cloak except his cane and his lantern, and he left. He was labelled an apostate, and was derided, and driven out of town, chased by dogs. That suited him fine, however. What he sought was inner peace, and as he walked away, he knew he was finally on the correct path to find it.
The Hermit made his home in the wilderness. Many years passed, and the Hermit was forgotten by all who he had left behind. He grew a beard, and made new robes, and fashioned a new staff. The one thing he kept from his years at the monastery was his lantern.
Every evening, as the sun sets, the Hermit lights his lantern, picks up his staff, and embarks on a journey to explore his surroundings and his psyche. Tonight, he eagerly sets out across a green field, eyes wide, towards a distant mountain. At first, his mind is occupied with nothing more than absorbing the scenery. The evening is beautiful, and he feels blessed to be experiencing it.
He continues on through fields and fields of grain, and his mind begins to wander as his feet do.
His thoughts soon turn inward. As he leans on his staff, he considers the potential of life, and ponders its secrets. In his mind, the lantern has become the sun of his soul, and though he tries to shine its light on the secrets of life, he cannot. The secrets remain frustratingly just beyond his sight, peering out through sheaves of wheat always a few steps ahead of him. He begins to lose his grip on his inner peace, and he questions the decisions he’d made in the past. Memories of dogs chasing him haunt like demons. But the Hermit continues on his journey.
As if awakening from a trance, the Hermit suddenly realizes that he stands at the peak of the mountain. He has gone as far as he will on this night. He draws his hood and closes his robes against the cold mountain air. His face looks tired, yet serene after his meditations. He looks down the other side of the mountain at the sleeping world below, and realizes the town he had shunned, and which had shunned him, is there. From the lofty heights of the mountain, the Hermit cannot see the decadence he’d left behind, only the peaceful beauty of a sleeping community, and he is struck with melancholy. He knows, of course, that nothing there has changed, or if it has, only for the worse. He pities the people below who will never know the peace and wisdom he has reached on the mountaintop. He lifts his lantern high like a star as a signal to anyone watching below: “Where I am, you also may be.”* For a moment, everything is clear. He truly understands the secrets for which he has been searching, if only for the moment. His internal anguish in the fields has been forgotten. The Hermit takes one final look below, and turns to begin his return journey.
A few months pass, and the fields are blanketed with snow. It is the winter solstice, a very special time for the Hermit. The dawn is about to break, bringing an end to the longest night of the year. The Hermit is just returning to his home in the heart of the forest after another long night of walking as he notices outside his door a small bird perched on a rock.
No deep philosophical musings cross his mind. Only the pure joy in the beauty that can always be found in life, no matter how cold or dark it may be. The Hermit extinguishes his lamp, enters his abode, hangs his cloak, and rests.
So there you have it: the Hermit as a symbol of inner peace and wisdom. He stands for intellect and individuality. And yes, he does also represent breaking a commitment to a faith or cause, as is shown in the GE deck. But for all the contempt he garners for that, no one else stands at the peak of spiritual enlightenment. And here’s the thing about the Hermit: he doesn’t care what society thinks of him, anyway.
*This is a quote used by Waite in regards to the Hermit in his Pictorial Key, p. 52.