The Hermit.

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:

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The Hermit leaves the monastery – GE

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.

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The Hermit begins his night abroad – TdM

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.

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The Hermit lost in thought – CHT

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.

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The Hermit at the summit – RWS

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.

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The Hermit returns home at the break of dawn – WWT

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.

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9 thoughts on “The Hermit.”

  1. How does hermit influence the world around him if he is separated from it? Does he return to live and “work” among men or does he find someone who becomes his adept? Someone who might have seen and understood wisdom of his lantern (beacon), but is also a part of the civilization where his action is centered

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    1. I think there are a couple ways to answer your question. Perhaps he does return to live and work among men, although in this case he might not be considered a “hermit” anymore (depending on the nature of his work, I’d say once he rejoins society he becomes either the Magician or the Hierophant – but that’s just my opinion and beside the point). Still, it is his time as the Hermit that would guide his work among the people. More likely, I think, is the second possibility, in which someone from society (the Fool or “hero”) visits and learns from him for a while before returning. This is the Hermit as he usually manifests in myth and fantasy. I believe that the Hermit’s influence on the world is usually indirect in this manner. He is not very likely to come down from his mountain, and if he does, it’s unlikely that he’ll speak plainly about what he learned up there. It’s up to the adept under his tutelage to spread the Hermit’s message to the masses.
      It’s also possible that he simply doesn’t influence the world around him, nor does he care to. I think one of the hallmarks of the Hermit is that he can be very self-centered. It’s important to remember that there are two sides to each card, and while the Hermit can be an enlightened guru passing out sage advice to passersby, he can also be a cynical shut-in who shuns his fellow man.

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      1. Thanks for your reply. I also think the second possibility is more probable. Someone who distances himself from the world in such manner is not likely to come back for any reason. But living on top of the mountain makes it really hard for him to be found by a Fool who is to become his adept. Not really sure how Arthur interacted with Merlin, but we know that in fiction usually its the mentor that finds his student (Gandalf finding Bilbo and Frodo; Obi-Wan finding Anakin; Dumbledore finding Harry and so forth). For someone living in a seclusion, I think chances are he won’t be found by anyone unless hand of destiny really wants it to happen or his lantern shines brighter than a thousand Suns.

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      2. You make an interesting point, but there are a couple things I would like to address that might perhaps clear up some of your confusion.

        A “mentor” is not necessarily the same thing as the Hermit. In fiction, the Hermit is most likely going to be a mentor, and as it happens, most of them have long white beards which makes them seem like they ought to be the Hermit. But Dumbledore is not really the Hermit, nor is Merlin. These two figures would be more akin to the Magician (or even, in Dumbledore’s case, possibly the Hierophant). Certainly they both have Hermit-like qualities, but the characters on the whole are not hermits. Obi-Wan is similarly like the Hierophant when we consider his relationship with Anakin. It isn’t until Anakin becomes Darth Vader that Obi-Wan becomes the Hermit, and in that case, Luke actually did find him. Star Wars in particular has a couple Hermit characters. Along with Obi-Wan in the original trilogy, we have Yoda, who Luke also had to go find. In the new movies, Luke himself has become the Hermit, and Rey had to seek him out.

        Gandalf, on the other hand, is a little more difficult to define. In his case, it might help to think of the Hermit not as a man “on a mountain”, but rather as a wanderer. When this is considered in conjunction with his wisdom, he certainly is the Hermit, separate from all the societies in Middle Earth. I do consider Gandalf to be the Hermit, and I’ve called him such a on this blog, but I also think he is the Magician, and in fact that’s probably a more accurate designation than the Hermit.

        The Magician and the Hermit have quite a bit in common, which I’ve spent a great deal of time writing about elsewhere on this site. I believe they are two sides of the same coin, and in some cases (Gandalf), they are actually the same person. The Hierophant also has some similar qualities, especially being a mentor to the Hero. All three can exist as separate characters in a story, or they might all be qualities of a single character, or any variation. There is a fluidity to archetypes that allows them to wear different masks and act in subtly different ways from one story to the next (for example, Gandalf finding Bilbo compared to Obi-Wan being found by Luke – the important thing is that the two characters meet). Otherwise, there would only be one story, and Harry Potter would be indistinguishable from Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or the King Arthur myths. This flexibility might be where some of your questions are coming from.

        Speaking of the King Arthur mythos, I suggest looking up the legend of Percival and the Holy Grail if you’re not already familiar with it. There are a few variations, but in general I think it is a classic example of the Hero’s Journey in which Percival is the prototypical Fool who, after many adventures, retreats from society under the tutelage of his uncle, the prototypical Hermit.

        Oh, and you are right about the Hermit being hard to find. But that’s sort of the point. If he wanted to be found, he wouldn’t be a Hermit. It’s part of the test of the Hero’s worth that he is able to find the Hermit at all, and even more so that he can learn from his ascetic and eccentric ways.

        Thanks for the questions, and feel free to continue commenting. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss some of these points and would be glad to try and clear up any more confusion.

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  2. 💚 I too have an affinity with the Hermit and sometimes lose my way. Im grateful that I clicked your link today. I’ve neglected my need for solitude and peace of late and my own readings have been telling me to get back to my path. I always enjoy your musings. 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I appreciate the comment.
      Yes, the Hermit is indeed an important card with important lessons. If I had one qualm with this character, it is the loneliness and isolation he embodies. This is something many of us who identify with him know all too well. But, I suppose it is sometimes necessary to feel that way if you want to really hear what your internal Hermit has to say.

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