Part IV, the Marseille and Wirth Hermits.

Read Part III here.

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TdM – OWT – MST

At first glance, the Hermit from the TdM appears to be rather different from that of the RWS. His wand is shorter, his head is bare, and he stands on flat ground rather than a mountain. Also, his lantern doesn’t contain a star that I can see, and his robe is, well, colorful.

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CBD Marseille Hermit

For the most part, these differences are superficial, a result of the mediums of woodblock prints versus drawing, and they do not detract from the symbolic meaning of the card, although they do perhaps obscure it a little. Of course, whether the symbolism I discussed in the RWS was intended by the designers of the TdM is a mystery, but close examination will indicate that Waite and Smith were not just making things up when they designed their version of the Hermit.

For example, the six-pointed star is absent from the lantern of the TdM Hermit. However, the lantern itself is six-sided (or so we must assume, based on the three sides facing us in the picture). Thus, the symbolism of the number six as it relates to the lantern remains.

The body language of this Hermit is slightly different. His shoulders are bent, adding to the notion that he is an aged man, but his head is uplifted and uncovered, and his eyes are wide and eager. He almost appears to be smiling. While this seems less humble and meditative than his counterpart in the RWS, he appears to find more joy in the simple act of his excursion. The man in the RWS, by comparison, appears melancholy and tired, despite having somewhat better posture.

But I think the most striking difference between the RWS and TdM Hermits is the color. The RWS Hermit is rather monochromatic, while the TdM shows a Hermit wearing a mantle of many colors. Color symbolism can play a much larger role when interpreting TdM cards compared to other systems (although Wirth also made extensive use of color symbolism, but we’ll get to that in a bit). Using the CBD TdM (and the companion book Tarot: The Open Reading) as a basis, we can learn quite a bit about what the Hermit is supposed to mean based on these colors.

His most noticeable feature is an outer cloak of blue, trimmed with yellow. This indicates that the Hermit’s most defining characteristic is a deep, reflective personality, trimmed with practical intelligence. Underneath is a green robe with red sleeves and hood. This suggests life and growth, with an element of passion and energy. His wand is also red, which confirms the idea that the Hermit’s wand is a symbol of passion and drive. The combination of blue and red articles of clothing also suggests a combination of Water and Fire, leading to the life symbolized by the green, and reminding us of the Seal of Solomon from the RWS lantern.

Yellow in particular has different meanings depending on what is yellow. The lantern is a combination of red and yellow, which has alchemical significance (although I don’t understand enough about alchemy to explain that significance). The ground is also yellow, which in this case signifies divine blessing and is another sign of growth.

The only other colors are flesh pink and light blue. The flesh symbolizes humanity, obviously enough, and it is the Hermit’s face and hands which are this color. Fairly straightforward. His hair is light blue. I’m just going to use the words of Ben-Dov here, because I don’t think I could paraphrase better, and it perfectly describes the mind of the Hermit: “[Light blue] symbolizes a combination of matter and spirituality. It can also express clarity and transparency, truth and honesty, but also coldness and detachment. One can see in it a symbol of a wider, more comprehensive perspective, or an action which rises above petty and selfish considerations.”*

~~~

Oswald Wirth very clearly used the TdM as the basis for the designs of his Major Arcana. However, there are subtle differences in every card, which are significant in what they’re intended to mean. The Hermit is, interestingly enough, one of the cards that has some of the more noticeable differences. While color symbolism is just as important, if not more, to Wirth’s trumps as it is to TdM, Wirth’s Hermit is wearing a drab robe with the hood drawn, more similar to the RWS than the TdM, signifying austerity.

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Wirth’s Hermit

He walks with the help of a wand, similar in length to the TdM, but with the difference that it looks to be made of bamboo with seven knots, which is a divine number. There is also a red serpent on the ground in front of the Hermit. The serpent represents selfish desires, but rather than stomping it, the Hermit “casts a spell” on it so it wraps around his stick (this is how Wirth describes it, even though the actual card does not picture the snake wrapped around the wand). This is interesting, because one would think that the Hermit would absolutely squash the serpent of selfish desires. However, the Hermit does no such thing, but rather uses those desires to his advantage, namely fusing them with his divine wand of passion. This creates a powerful drive for the Hermit’s search for truth and enlightenment.

Finally, the lantern this Hermit carries does not have anything particularly special about it. No star or number about it stands out. It is important as in any other version of this card, but in this instance, most of the symbolic details are given to the wand rather than the lantern. The lantern is, however, partially covered by the Hermit’s robe, which confirms that Wirth attaches occult significance to it, despite omitting other occult symbols. The significance of this detail was discussed in part II, so I see no reason to go into it here (the TdM Hermit looks as though he may also be covering his lantern, but it’s hard to say for sure if that’s supposed to be the case). In fact, Wirth has a lot to say about the lantern, and the Hermit and his search for truth in general, that includes numerology among other things, but these are covered in detail in his book (and are not necessarily inherent by design in the card), and I do not want to go too far down that rabbit hole at this time. Look up the book if you’re actually interested (I highly recommend it if you’re interested in occult symbolism or history of the Tarot).

~~~

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Medieval Scapini Hermit

Luigi Scapini gives attention to both the wand and the lantern in his version of the Hermit, rather than only one or the other as we’ve seen so far. Both get symbolic details. The wand is derived entirely from Wirth, although it is embellished a bit. The lantern, on the other hand, is distinct from any we’ve seen yet. Scapini’s Tarot (MST) was influenced by many systems, but Wirth’s influence is, I think, heavier than most, which is why I’ve decided to finish this post with a look at his Hermit. The MST Hermit definitely shows the influence of Oswald Wirth, but he is his own entity, and therefore deserves his own discussion. This card is very rich in art and symbolism, enough that I could conceivably dedicate a separate post to it. But I’ve got several posts already planned, so for the sake of brevity, I think this Hermit fits well enough in this post.

I’ll start with the wand, because it is based on that of the OWT Hermit. It is connected to the number seven, but instead of seven knots in a stick of bamboo, there are seven flowers in progressing stages of development. This combines the notions of growth with the divine number seven (which is divine, by the way, because it combines spiritual [3] with worldly [4], similarly to the light blue of the TdM Hermit’s hair). Wirth is referenced further with the red serpent at the bottom end of the wand. In the MST, however, the serpent is now wrapped around the wand, and it bites its tail, creating an ouroboros, a symbol of eternity.

The lantern, again partially covered by the robe, has three sections, and its shape is reminiscent of an hourglass (the significance of this will be covered in a future post). The number six is forgotten here, but is replaced by three, which is another very important number in numerology. It suggests body, mind and spirit, three things which the Hermit has mastered. Past, Present, and Future is another trio that the Hermit is supposed to have conquered, and this is also suggested by the hourglass shape. The number three is also connected with the number 9, the number of the Hermit in the sequence of the Major Arcana, being the sum of three groups of three, or the “third completion”. The three colors of the lantern are blue, yellow, and red, which according to Wirth’s notion of color symbolism (as described by Decker in his companion text to the MST), coincide with contemplation, intellect, and action, respectively (very similar to the color symbolism posited by Ben-Dov for the TdM). These three colors are also featured in Wirth’s Hermit as the lining of the cloak, the underlying robe, and the snake. It is no accident that Scapini chose to color his lantern this way.

This Hermit’s robes and headgear are very distinctive, and are a deliberate reference by Scapini to the monks of Mount Athos in Greece. The same mountain is pictured in the background of the card. All of this suggests the monastic lifestyle discussed in earlier posts, and the discoloration of the robes suggest travelling and sun-exposure despite the monastic lifestyle, a notion which is reinforced by the fact that the Hermit seems to walk across an entire seascape, dotted with merchant ships, in a single step.

The only other detail of the MST Hermit that I think it is worth mentioning at the moment is his strange undergarment, which appears to be woven from straw. Decker suggests that it is perhaps another reference to Wirth, who associated his Hermit with the constellation Bo├Âtes the Herdsman (which Wirth apparently preferred to call “the Harvester” since he is often pictured with a scythe). I think this is a reasonable interpretation, but I would like to point out another connection to Crowley’s Hermit, who is pictured surrounded by sheaves of wheat. In any case, there is clearly some connection between the Hermit and the harvest which has not been brought up until now. I will, however, put off this discussion until my next post, which will center around the Hermit from Mr. Crowley’s Thoth Tarot.

~~~

*Tarot: The Open Reading, page 64.

The Hermit, Part III.

I wrapped up the previous post with some thoughts on what I think are the five fundamental elements that make up the Rider Hermit card.

To recap:

  1. Lantern
  2. Staff
  3. Robe
  4. Age
  5. Outside

I examined each of these individually, trying to analyze them and what they mean. Now I will look at them all at once, trying to piece them together like a puzzle.

I think we can conclude the following about the Hermit, based on these elements: he has lived a long life, full of colorful experiences. He is well travelled, and knows quite a bit about the ways of the world. He is a simple man, abstaining from worldly luxuries, as well as the company of his fellow man. He’s probably a bit of an eccentric, but is very intelligent. He is also incredibly spiritual, and his spirituality gives him purpose. He is a very wise man. He listens rather than speaks. He marches to the beat of his own drum, preferring to follow the road less travelled.

The lantern throws light on the nature of this road (both literally and figuratively): it leads toward enlightenment. I think his lantern represents both what he has already attained, as well as what he seeks. He follows the light of the star, yet the star is within. The quest for enlightenment is never-ending, and yet paradoxically, by simply following the path towards it, it has already been reached.*

We don’t know what made the Hermit turn his back on society. We do know (or suspect) that he is searching for something, and the search is better done alone. This suggests a search for something internal, something no one but oneself can discover. I keep tossing the word “enlightenment” around, referring to what the Hermit is after/has achieved. What does that really mean?

Enlightenment’s not easily explained. Chances are, if you could really describe enlightenment, it means you’ve already attained it, and if you’ve already attained it, you’d probably have a hard time getting folks who haven’t, to really understand what you’re talking about. I’m also not entirely sure “enlightenment” doesn’t mean something different to everyone. These are a couple more reasons for why I think the Hermit searches in solitude. There are several kinds of enlightenment: intellectual and spiritual are the first that come to my mind, and I believe these both are embodied by the Hermit. Intellectually, the Hermit strives to push the boundaries of what he knows, what he can know, by exploring and discovering the world around him. And then once he’s sure he knows something beyond a doubt, he looks for an exception. In fact, that’s what I think he’s really searching for: to learn as much as he can about anything he stumbles across during his midnight wanderings.

But in doing so, he’s also attaining spiritual enlightenment. Personally, I believe that spiritual enlightenment comes from a deep understanding that all is one. The more the Hermit explores, the more he expands his consciousness, the more he realizes that everything is connected, no matter how disparate they may seem at first glance, like the Water and Fire symbolized in the six-pointed star of his lamp.

Such is my interpretation of the Hermit from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot. I’ve said it before: this is my favorite version of this card, and I think it does the best job of expressing the solitary wisdom of this character. I do think that, in a general sense, everything I’ve said about this card can be applied to other versions of the Hermit, but every deck has its variations, some of which are significant deviations. I will begin to examine some of these differences and what they mean for the character of the Hermit in my next part of this series.

 

*I admit, I’m only speculating, here. I can’t claim to be truly enlightened, no matter how much I would like to think I’m already on the path towards it.

 

Magic Wands.

In my post about the suit of Coins, I discussed the inherent magical power of Earth. In short, Coins represent magic made tangible, the magic of the physical world around us, which is so often taken for granted. As a magic-wielder, I identify very strongly with Earth. But Earth isn’t the only magic. Not by a long shot.

Today, I’m going to take the discussion to the opposite end of the elemental spectrum: Fire. And while Fire is not necessarily a more powerful form of magic than Earth, it is certainly much flashier, and as such, much more easily associated with magic in general.

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Ten of Wands – TdM

In the Tarot, Fire is symbolized by the suit of Wands, sometimes also called Batons or Scepters or Staves or something along those lines.

Where the Coins are connected to the material realm, the Wands are connected to the realm of passion, creativity, and spirituality. In other words, where the Coins represent the finished product, the Wands represent the initial spark which drives beginning. It is inspiration.

It is also energy when all other elements are matter (well not Aether, but that’s a different story). In fact, without Fire, there would be no Water or Air, only a cold, dead Earth (and as much as I like Earth, that’s just unappealing). It is the energy represented by Wands which transforms Earth into Water, and Water into Air. Energy is Fire. Transformative energy is Wands.

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Ace of Wands – RWS

In many decks, the Wands are pictured as flowering or with growing leaves. This further demonstrates the notion of transformative power, especially in terms of growth. Out of all the suits, the Wands are the most productive, the suit with the highest concentration of pure potential.

Now, I don’t believe any one element is better or more important than any of the others. Existence as we know it wouldn’t be possible without the perfect blend of all four. But I do think that each is the most important in its own way (if that makes any sense), and this is perhaps most apparent when dealing with Wands. There would be no motion, no change, without the energy of Fire.

It’s no coincidence that Magicians and Wizards of fiction use a wand or staff to direct their magic. They point their wands at something, perhaps speak an incantation, and that something changes according to their intentions. The wand works as a conduit for their magic. It is symbolic of the Wizard’s ability to transform the world around him (or her) according to his (or her) will.

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Three characters who use the Magic Wand, all in different ways – RWS

The Magician of the Major Arcana holds a wand over his head as means of focusing energy from above so he can work his magic on Earth. He is using the power of the wand in a deliberate, creative way. And then there is the Hermit, a figure also often associated with wizards, who leans on a wand for support as he climbs to the heights of spiritual enlightenment. His use of the wand is also deliberate, although he uses it for inward transformation, as opposed to the outward transformation exercised by the Magician. And then there is the Fool, who has a wand over his shoulder and is blissfully unaware of the possibilities it represents.

Yes, the Wands are a driving symbol throughout the entire Tarot, not just its own suit.

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The Knight (King) of Wands, showing the Fiery nature of the suit – CHT

The Wands represent a zest for life, a love for what you do. Without the passion of the Wands, life would be as dull and cold as a world without fire. Be sure to feed the creative spark in your life, but be careful not to let your passions get the best of you. Fire burns. It is a life-saver, but there are few forces quite so destructive as fire when it gets out of control.

~~~

 

 

The Hermit, Part II.

Read part one of my thoughts on the Hermit here.

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Two renderings of the RWS Hermit (the original [miniaturized] Smith drawing is on the left).
I’m going to begin by establishing the Hermit from the RWS as my basis for comparison of all Hermits. He is not the original Hermit of the Tarot, but he is the original for me personally (meaning he is the first version I’ve encountered), and he bears enough essential similarity to the Marseille pattern Hermit that, for all intents and purposes, they are equal in my eyes. I will always return to the Rider Hermit as the epitome of what I think this card expresses.

I’ve written elsewhere about the general meaning of this card. In a word, wisdom is the most important characteristic I think we can take away from all that. An understanding of this wisdom is the bottom line – the ultimate goal – for all that follows.

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There are five elements that I think define the RWS Hermit (as well as that of the TdM), and these I will be exploring as a jumping-off point for these musings:

  1. His lantern
  2. His staff
  3. His robe
  4. His apparent age
  5. He is outside

We will discuss each of these in turn with the RWS Hermit in mind, before eventually turning to other versions of this international man of mystery.

The Hermit’s Lantern.

The lantern catches the eye first in this picture, and I do not think that is coincidence. It is a focal point of light in an otherwise dark picture. It is also the single object that sets the Hermit apart from every other figure in the Tarot, both Major and Minor Arcana. Other characters wear robes and carry staves; other characters are aged, and many stand outside. The lantern is the Hermit’s, and it is his alone.* The lantern is therefore, I believe, the key to unlocking the Hermit’s wisdom.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with the basics. A lantern is used for light (duh). In a literal sense, the Hermit uses it to guide his steps as he wanders the night. In a symbolic sense, it shines on the Path of Enlightenment, lighting the way for those who seek Truth. It also serves as an external metaphor for the internal light of the soul. The Hermit’s shines with clarity, because he has removed all external distractions from his life.

Dubbed the Lantern of Occult Science by S.L.M. Mathers, this object can signify illumination of any esoteric subject. It is interesting to note that the light emanating from the lantern is coming from a six-pointed star. This is often called the Star of David, or the Seal of Solomon, and it is composed of an upward-pointing triangle (alchemical symbol for Fire) superimposed over a downward-pointing triangle (alchemical symbol for Water). It is a symbol for the essence of Life, the perfect blending of elemental opposites to create something greater than the sum of its parts. The number six is also a very significant number in both Kabbalah and Pythagorean numerology, both of which Waite was influenced by when designing his deck. It’s very spiritual, pure and balanced. This is the star that fuels the Hermit’s lantern. Waite did not agree with Mathers in calling this the Lantern of Occult Science, but the use of such a symbol suggests many facets of the occult sciences converging on one point to light the way. By possessing such a lantern, the Hermit is clearly an adept of some sort.

The fact that it is the shape of a star, six-pointed or not, is also significant. Pre-modern peoples relied on the stars for navigation. The Hermit is following a star, using it as a compass to navigate the path he walks. He follows it, and yet, he carries it. He is his own compass. He blazes his own path.

Finally, he holds his lantern aloft, and from the top of a mountain for all who are looking to see. This suggests that he uses it like a beacon to guide and give hope to those who seek the same truths as he does. Not all versions of the Hermit are so generous; see my commentary on the robes below.

The Hermit’s Staff.

With one hand holding the lantern high, the Hermit supports himself with a staff in the other (in the RWS, the Hermit holds the lantern in his right hand, and the staff in his left). Like the lantern, there is both a practical purpose and a symbolic meaning attached to this object. While the lantern lights his way in the night, the Hermit uses the staff to help him keep his footing as he ascends to ever more precarious heights of the mountains. Any old man wandering about the wilderness at night can be expected to carry such items.

The Magic Wand is a symbol which appears many times in the Tarot, most especially as the eponymous sigil of the suit of Wands of the Minor Arcana. The Wand symbolizes the element of Fire, and is associated with energy, passion, creativity, and sometimes magic and spirituality. This suggests that the lowly Hermit is driven by a purpose, and a lofty one at that. He supports himself with it, holds it in front of him as he advances on his way. It is symbolic of a spark inside the Hermit which keeps him going despite whatever hardships he surely faces.

The Hermit holds his wand with resolved purpose. Compare him to the Fool, who also holds a wand, albeit carelessly slung over his shoulder. The Fool is oblivious to the power represented by such an item. The Hermit is not. He too was the Fool at one point, but he has learned many lessons since then. He respects the power of the Magic Wand. Without it, he would not have the strength to go on following his star.

The Hermit’s Robes.

The Hermit is dressed in modest utilitarian robes, almost like a monk. This suggests an ascetic lifestyle. As I said earlier, the Hermit is not distracted by worldly luxuries, and this robe shows that. Along with the lantern and the staff, this robe could very well be all the Hermit has to count among his material possessions. Of course, we don’t really know that for sure, but notice that he carries no pack on his back. He has nothing weighing him down, only symbolic props holding him up. Yet his head is bowed, his gaze is lowered, and he covers his head with a hood. These details suggest humility.

Besides symbolizing a monastic lifestyle, the robes also have a protective aspect about them. He shields himself against the cold mountain air, and the drab colors offer camouflage in the night. He may not be comfortable, but he’s not miserable, either. Nor does he attract attention to himself, as its color and relative formlessness indicate. He is a loner, and he prefers it that way. All attention is diverted to his lantern, and that is the Hermit’s intent.

Interestingly, the opposite was true of many pre-RWS Hermits: he actually used his robe to cover the lantern. The idea was that the occult secrets guarded by the Hermit should not be available to the un-enlightened masses, and he would only reveal the light to those worthy of initiation. This idea of entitlement was shared by many in the occult community in the past. The secret society of which Waite was a part was especially notorious for this mindset. Waite took his oath of secrecy seriously, and this is why there is so much disguised symbolism in his cards (compared to decks like the CHT), and why his book on the cards is so confusingly verbose. However, by publishing the cards and the book at all, Waite showed his frustration with such ideas of secrecy, and this is especially evident in this small detail of the Hermit. Waite’s Hermit’s lamp is uncovered and held high for all to see, and Waite explains in his book that such things as the occult guard themselves against those who are unworthy of their secrets, and so to hide them is unnecessary.

In other words, the Hermit doesn’t need to hide his lantern, because those who are not worthy of his teachings will never bother to climb the slopes to find him to begin with.

The Hermit has seen many years.

This is implied by the Hermit’s long white beard. He must be an old man. Advanced age is symbolic of wisdom acquired through years and years of experience. Despite his age, though, the Hermit still climbs mountains, and aside from his bowed head, his posture is unbent. He is old, but he is not decrepit.

The archetypal wise characters in many myths and legends are imagined to have long white beards like the Hermit’s. It’s a popular trope for a wizard to have such a beard, just as it is for a wizard to carry a magic wand and wear long robes. The Hermit of the Tarot captures this image perfectly, and this is why many think of him as the embodiment of Prudence.**

The Hermit is Outside.

When one thinks of a hermit, one tends to think of a lone person sequestered away in some modest abode. Certainly our Hermit has a home somewhere to rest his head, but he is pictured outside, atop a mountain peak, during the nighttime.

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This means that the Hermit travels and experiences the world around him, but he does it while everyone else sleeps. He is active physically, even while being receptive intellectually and spiritually. Despite being an ascetic Hermit, he is a worldly man. The snowy mountaintops of the RWS add an additional layer of meaning. The peaks represent intellectual achievement, and the white snow represents purity. The Hermit stands at the very summit.

Here we can make another comparison to the Fool: there are snowy mountain peaks off in the distance of this card. The Fool will eventually climb these, just as he will learn to use his wand for support, as he gradually learns the lessons of the Hermit.

~~~

I think that’ll serve as a good start for this series on the Hermit. Next time, I’ll attempt a synthesis of these elements, to try and see how they all work together, as well as consider some other points of interest. Then I intend to examine different versions of the Hermit, and see what insights into the Universal Hermit they give.

 

*In the classic RWS or TdM patterns, that is. Exceptions do exist. For example, the character in the 8 of Arrows in the WWT carries a lantern, as do a couple of figures in the Shadowscapes Tarot.

**A personified Prudence is conspicuously absent from the Tarot. It is the fourth cardinal virtue, the other three of which, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance, are all present among the Major Arcana. A popular solution to this dilemma is to attribute Prudence to the Hermit, which does make sense considering the Hermit’s character. However, it’s not a perfect fit, as he is not Wisdom itself, but rather just a very wise man. I recommend Huson’s book Mystical Origins of the Tarot, in which he discusses this issue among many other things (he addresses the Hermit as Prudence, and ultimately rejects it).

 

The Hermit, Revisited.

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What is it about this card that draws me so?

It’s not my soul card (the card of the sum of the digits of my birth date – which is the Chariot), nor is it the card of my zodiac sign (Death, according to the common Tarot-astrology tradition to which I subscribe). But for some reason or other, I identify very deeply with this card.

I suppose I know why this card has such a hold on my imagination. The Hermit was the image which first introduced me to Tarot, as I’ve recounted before. And it tickles me pink that it was the Hermit who introduced me. I mean, what are the odds that I’d first notice the character in the Tarot who holds aloft a lantern, a beacon for those who wish to follow him on a path towards enlightenment? What else am I using the Tarot for, after all? I don’t really think it’s a coincidence at all. I feel as though I am one of those few for whom the Hermit holds his lantern.

The Hermit is a solitary figure, as is made clear by his title. Like the Hierophant, the Hermit is a wise and spiritual man. Unlike the Hierophant, however, the Hermit doesn’t pontificate, or serve a particular spiritual or religious tradition, nor does he garner disciples or preach for congregations. The Hierophant can be easily found at the church or temple, and his teachings are widespread. His students are the multitudes.* Not so with the Hermit. He is not easy to find at all by comparison, and his students are relatively few. Only those who actively seek answers will find the Hermit. And they must be willing to put up with the solitude and his eccentric and ascetic ways. I doubt the Hermit is very forthcoming with his teachings. He avoids the company of his fellow man, and for him to be willing teach you, you must prove yourself to him. To learn from the Hermit is to learn by his difficult example, and it is not a lesson the Hierophant can teach. And the first step is to see the Lantern, and to make the hike to reach it.

I find this to be completely in line with how I found the Tarot in the first place.

Not only that, but the Hermit is very reminiscent of many of my favorite characters from fantasy and myth. Gandalf and Obi-Wan are Hermits, as is the Allfather Odin in many of his aspects.** He is the archetype of the Wizard, the Wise One, and it is a figure I’ve always emulated and admired.

And to be quite frank, I am often a bit of an anti-social myself, and so the Hermit speaks to me on that level, as well.

Considering these points about his character and what it represents in the Tarot, it is no wonder why I latched onto the Hermit when beginning my Tarot studies (and continue to look to him to this day for insight). But what does the Hermit really mean, past the superficial stuff? This card is shrouded in mystery, and I suspect it will take me a lifetime to unravel it. But I’ve made it my work to try. I’ve written some brief musings of him before, but I think it’s time for more. I know I’m not alone in this endeavor, that the Hermit appeals to many who read the cards, and so I’ve decided to dedicate a series of posts to exploring in-depth my thoughts about the various incarnations of this figure in the Tarot.

Stay tuned if you wish to join me on this journey to the summits of wisdom occupied by the Hermit.

~~~

*That’s the idea, anyway, although these days I don’t think the Hierophant as an archetype has all that much sway over the masses anymore. He’s an emblem of a bygone age. A respectable emblem, and one which I hold in high esteem, but of a bygone age nonetheless.

**Actually, Odin is a very complex character, and there are several cards in the Tarot which suit him. The Hermit, of course, but also the Magician, the Emperor, and the Hanged Man, to name a few.

The Lightning-Struck Tower.

When folks think about scary cards in the Tarot, usually the Devil and Death are the ones that come to mind.

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The Tower – DFW

Of course, this makes sense. But if I were to select the card which held the scariest implications for me, I would pick the Tower.* Everyone knows the Devil is to be feared. That very fact, to me at least, tends to lessen the fear a little bit (I doubt I would feel that way if I were actually faced with the demon, but from my spot of comfortable safety, that’s how I feel). And Death isn’t so scary from a certain viewpoint. It’s inevitable, anyway, so to fear it is useless. The Tower, on the other hand, represents security; confidence, even. It’s an impenetrable fortress from which you can see any danger far before it reaches you. Or so you think.

You know to fear Death and the Devil. In fact, you count on your Tower for protection from these things. No one ever expects that his or her Tower will fail. But if you pull this card, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. And that, to me, is far scarier than the things you hide from in the dark.

Like all the cards, the Tower is really just a metaphor. It’s symbolic of rigid worldviews that you might use as a crutch to help get you through this chaotic existence. Once it’s formed, it’s very difficult to get rid of, and most people wouldn’t ever care to get rid of it, anyway. People build their walls, creating a comfort zone, and most are incredibly reluctant to make even a slight change to it.

And of course, despite all self-imposed illusion, the Tower cannot stand up face-to-face with the Devil. That’s why it’s place in the sequence of the Major Arcana is directly following the Devil, and that’s why it’s shown being blown apart. That’s a scary thought.

But things aren’t always as they seem, especially with the Tarot. I’ve already written about the ambiguous nature of the Devil; eventually, if you follow the path set by the Majors, you’ll come to a point when you realize the Devil isn’t to be feared at all, but embraced (with more than a little caution, of course). And it is that realization which shatters the Tower, not the Devil himself. You might notice that it is not always a lightning bolt which levels the Tower; sometimes it’s a column of flame from the Sun. Either way, it’s coming from above, a sign that a higher power is taking control. An act of God, if you will. If you’re the type to believe in acts of God, you’re probably also the type to believe they don’t happen without reason.

Nobody ever enjoys the destruction of their Tower. It can be quite traumatic. But it’s ultimately liberating. People tend to think of their Tower as protection, never realizing that it’s actually a prison. The lightning bolt tears across the sky, striking down with divine force the Tower you’ve worked so long to build, but which you’ve outgrown in the process, like a snake shedding its skin.

So yes, it is pretty scary when the Tower shows up in a reading. But it’s not the end of the world, no matter how much it may feel that way for a time.

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There is so much more to be said of this card, but I’m going to sign off for now. I think each of my thoughts would be better addressed on their own, rather than trying and failing to make a coherent post here stringing all of them together. Think of this as an introduction.

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Some of the things I intend to discuss in the future are deck-specific, like the Eye in the CHT.

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*Actually, I might select the Moon, because while the image of the Tower is scarier on the surface, I think the Moon can be downright terrifying in its false light and illusion. But I’ve already written about the Moon, so here we are with the Tower.

Justice and Strength.

Since my first Tarot was an RWS, it took me some time to realize that the cards called Strength and Justice were switched from their more traditional order. Once I discovered this was the case, it confused me, as I’m sure it confuses many others. Why was this switch made? Which way is right?

Well, as to why, I can only say that Waite had his own reasons for the switch, which he did not feel compelled to elaborate upon in his Pictorial Key. We can assume he did so for astrological reasons. As to which is right, I can only give my personal opinion.

My personal opinion is that Waite was wrong.

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RWS and TdM

In traditional Marseille-style decks, Justice is card number 8, and Strength (sometimes called Force or Fortitude) is 11, and vice-versa in Waite’s deck. A remarkable coincidence about the Tarot is that, when the Major Arcana are in their numerical order, they can be associated with zodiacal signs in order based on symbolic imagery in each card. That is, with the exception of Leo and Libra, symbolized by the Lion and the Scales, respectively. Of course, both of these symbols are in the Tarot in the forms of Strength and Justice, but they’re not in their correct places, astrologically speaking, and this evidently vexed some folks.

I for one do not put much stock in astrological correspondences in the Tarot. While I do appreciate the added depth of meaning these can add to the cards, astrology has never held more than a passing interest in my life, and to me, the cards are already loaded with meaning without them. In many instances, astrology just confuses me, and this is not helped by the fact that there is more than one way to assign Zodiacal symbols to the cards. Waite followed the Golden Dawn system, which is probably the most popular, and indeed, it is what I use when I do use astrology, but it is by no means the only system. As such, I find a switch in the order based on grounds of astrology to be an unnecessary one, if indeed this was the reason Waite had in mind.

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Not only do I think Waite’s change was unnecessary, I really do think it’s better the way it was. I believe the Tarot’s meaning lies in the archetypal symbolism of its pictures, which is plenty potent with or without astrological correspondences. Each card has a profound symbolic significance all on its own. I also believe that each of these individual archetypes can work with the others, and that they do fall into a natural order. The “natural order” I’m referring to the Journey of the Hero, or Fool’s Journey in Tarot-speak, which is mentioned many times on this blog, on many sites and in many books, but most especially in Hajo Banzhaf’s book called Tarot and the Journey of the Hero. This is an archetypal progression that can be found in myths and literature from every culture throughout history, and yes, it is the story told by the sequence of the Major Arcana.

Banzhaf illustrated his book with cards from the RWS, but he made it a point to use the traditional ordering for Justice and Strength.

See, Justice comes after the Chariot for a reason. The driver of the Chariot is the Hero in question, and the Chariot card depicts him as a young adult, confidently set out on the path he has chosen, the path of the Hero (this choice having taken place at the Lovers card). He feels powerful. He feels invincible. He’s the chosen one, and he knows it. He will vanquish any and all foes who dare to cross his righteous path.

This is where the Hero needs to be at this point, but it is a dangerous mindset to hold onto for very long. The Hero needs to learn that his actions have consequences, that as the Hero, his path is one of responsibility above all else. This is where Justice comes in. Justice is the card of reaping what is sown, of universal balance. Of maturity. The Hero must be humbled before he can continue onward. And it is only after facing Justice, after the gravity of his choice has really set in, that the Hero would be compelled to seek the guidance of the wise and solitary Hermit.

After the Hermit is the Wheel of Fortune, which represents the changing world-view of the Hero after his time with the Wise One. It can also represent the shedding of the Hermit. The Hero is liable to become attached to the safety of the Hermit, but the Wheel must turn, and the Hero must move on. He will ultimately face his trials and tribulations alone. The Hanged Man represents the first serious trial the Hero must face, that of crossing the symbolic threshold to the Underworld. It’s not easy, and it takes great fortitude. And this is why I think Strength belongs before it, rather than before the Hermit. Strength is the card of overcoming and channeling innate instincts and desires, and it is a different strength than the Hero displays in the Chariot. It is mental and spiritual as well as physical. It’s also an internalization of the lessons of the Wheel, in a sense. He has to find strength within himself, not from the Hermit. This is what the Hero needs to master before he can successfully move on to the Hanged Man and beyond.

Now, I’ve seen versions of the Hero’s Journey which have been adjusted to match Waite’s rearrangement of these two cards, but to be honest, for the most part I do not think they stand up to what Banzhaf presented in his book (which is more or less what I’ve presented here, although not exactly the same, and of course his is much more detailed), and I think serious contemplation of what each of these cards really mean in the context of the Journey will reveal that the original way is the best way.

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A second argument in favor of the original arrangement centers around only one of the cards, Strength. In this scenario, Justice could be in any other place and not make a difference; all that matters is Strength is in the 11th spot. Oh, and the Magician must remain in the 1st spot.

I think Strength and the Magician are connected, that they are two sides of the same coin, that they are inverse aspects of the same principle, by virtue of their numbers. If you were to take your Tarot deck and line up the cards in two rows of ten each, so that the digit in the 10’s place line up (for example, 1 and 11, 2 and 12, etc.), you might begin to notice meaningful connections between the cards which share that digit.* I think this is most obvious at the start of each row, with the Magician and Strength, each of which wear a wide-brimmed hat in the implied shape of an infinity sign.** The fact that these two share this symbol is very significant, and I don’t know if the original designers would have placed that detail there at all if they had intended the order to be different.

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TdM Majors arranged in two rows.

Now, this method pairs Justice with the Moon. I do not think this is arbitrary, but I will allow that it’s not nearly as obviously significant as the connection between the Magician and Strength, which is why I think this point is best made with the example of the latter.

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I do understand that Waite and the Golden Dawn had a different idea of the Tarot than its original designers did. Astrology was high on their list of priorities, and the Hero’s Journey didn’t figure much into their system at all as far as I can tell. But with that being said, I still prefer not to use Waite’s arrangement.

I have read many justifications for Waite’s idea to switch Justice and Strength. For example, Waite supporters like to throw numerology around, saying that 11 works for Justice, because it is the epitome of balance with its two “1”s. I don’t buy that argument, though, because in my mind, 11 is absolutely not a more balanced number than 8.

Or that Justice should be 11, because that’s roughly the middle of the sequence, and it would therefore divide the worldly realm shown in the early cards from the spiritual in the later ones. It would stand as an admonishment to strike a balance between the worldly and the spiritual. Seems like a weak argument to me.

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For a while, I kept my RWS ordered with Strength at 11 and Justice at 8, despite the numbers written at the top. It was the way which made sense to me. However, upon reading Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom, I’ve reverted my RWS back to its intended order (keeping all of my other decks in the original order, naturally). For those of you who use an RWS and haven’t yet read Pollack’s book, I strongly recommend you do so. She posits her own reasons for the switch, which revolve around the division of the Majors into three groups of seven cards each. The second group, which contains both Strength and Justice, begins with Strength and hinges on Justice at the midpoint. She does this in the context of the Hero’s Journey, and she pulls it off convincingly.*** It’s enough for me to respect the change in Waite’s deck, but when it comes to Tarot in general, I still retain the belief that Justice should precede Strength.

So I’ve said my piece, added my perspective on this endless debate of Tarotists. My opinion on the matter notwithstanding, I think the question is worth asking: Does the order of the cards really matter?

I don’t think the designers of the original TdMs really put all that much thought into it. I have no doubt that they were aware of the symbolic weight to these cards, and while the Hero’s Journey as a concept wasn’t fleshed out until the first half of the 20th century, I think they were probably more or less aware of the idea behind it. But with that being said, I think it is the power of these cards over the subconscious that ultimately led to the order, rather than any conscious thought on the part of the designers. No one will ever know for sure, I suppose. But because Tarot trumps prior to the TdM were not constrained to an established order, we do know that the positions of Strength and Justice aren’t inherent in the cards’ design. Knowing that, I think it’s safe to say that, no, it doesn’t really matter. It all boils down to personal preference.

I still think that Waite shouldn’t have tried to fix what wasn’t broken.

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*I’m excluding the Fool in this instance, because I think this card stands on a level all its own. I exclude the World as well, but it should be noted that, as card number 21, it would fall under the Magician and Strength in this set-up. You might notice that the World also usually will have implied infinity symbols somewhere on it.

**Of course, just to be difficult, Waite removed the hats of both these characters and prominently displays a conspicuous infinity sign over each. Why make the symbolism so obvious in your otherwise diluted cards (by which I mean he goes to great lengths in some cases to hide his symbols) if you’re just going to change the order, Arthur?!?

***I won’t go into specifics here, primarily because I’ve loaned my copy of the book to a friend and don’t want to mangle Pollack’s interpretation with poor paraphrasing. If you’re interested, go read the book!!!