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.”*

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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 Boötes 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.

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*Tarot: The Open Reading, page 64.

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