The Hermit is the ninth key of the Major Arcana and is one of the most enigmatic cards of the tarot. Often, when he turns up in a reading, he seems to halt proceedings somewhat. What do you say about him? How does he affect the adjacent cards? How does he affect the whole reading? In this article, I hope to cajole the Hermit to unfold and share some of his mysteries.
The Hermit stands alone upon a snowy mountain summit. He holds a lantern aloft in his right hand and a wooden staff in his left while he gazes over a precipice. His beard is long and white. His body is protected by a thick grey, ragged cloak. The light from his lantern illuminates the way ahead.
Symbolism and associations
|Old man||Wisdom that comes with age|
|Cloak||Ability to separate from the world/self knowledge|
|Mountain||Achievement/ spiritual attainment|
Understanding the Hermit
Tarot readers are well advised to spend some time learning about and contemplating the Hermit archetype. He is the source of wisdom, the elder whose purpose is to share his understanding. Never dismiss him as an old codger who is unwilling to engage with the world. His words, thoughts and insights are more valuable than jewels. They will serve you well throughout your life.
The Hermit shines his light on the truth – and one of those truths is that we are all made of light. Dig around in some basic quantum physics and you will discover that we are more space (light) than solid molecules – not that there is anything solid about molecules. Therefore we are more spiritual beings than we give ourselves credit for.
Hermits throughout history have always been looked upon with suspicion. They are other-worldy; not like the rest of us. How come they are so wise about aspects of life that they themselves are unwilling to participate in? Many solitaries have experienced life and have chosen this path in order to make sense of those experiences. The deep insights gained, push the Hermit to share them with the world, hence their calling as spiritual teachers and guides. They don’t have to be speakers or lecturers – often times, the hermit is a person who does not communicate very much, but who has valuable lessons to share if you are willing to be open.
Some people will be tempted to lead the hermetic life indefinitely, but for most, brief periods of withdrawal and introspection are sufficient. From a personal point of view, I don’t think enough people do this. Practices such as yoga and meditation can be the perfect way to communicate with your ‘inner life’. Sometimes solitude is forced upon us, and for some it can be enlightening; strengthening their bond with the world rather than tearing them away from it. So many people don’t seem to be able to be on their own. They seek company in order not to be alone with their own thoughts. What is there to be afraid of?
The Hermit teaches us that our guidance lies within ourselves and that we need to slow down, withdraw and listen to this guidance. When you are faced with a problem or an obstacle, you must stop flailing about looking for solutions because while you are in problem-mode you cannot be in solution-mode. Stop thinking and give yourself time to relax and the solution will make itself known.
The Fool’s Journey
The Fool has made a lot of progress on his journey. He has encountered archetypes who have taught him about his own powerful creative ability, relationships with parents and lovers; he has learned that strength is not about force. He is about to encounter the tumult of the Wheel but, before that, he has to learn who he is. He has to turn inward and assimilate his life lessons so far. The first time around, this experience will be necessarily brief. He begins to understand that possessions are not all they are cracked up to be. In fact, he discovers that by giving them away he gains much more. He realises that answers are readily available if he quietens his mind and listens or rather, feels for them.
When we first met the Fool, he was about to step off the precipice into the world. His carefree abandon served him well – his blind faith that he would be looked after worked. This time he is forced to stare into the deep, and only by illuminating it with wisdom and understanding will he survive the next step.
As he traverses the spiral of his journey, he will again and again encounter the Hermit, and will develop an even deeper understanding of the purpose of life, his life. His path will become clearer. He will feel the urge to share what he has learned. He, who so needed a guide in the beginning, now becomes a guiding light for others.
The Hermit in a reading
When the Hermit card appears in a tarot reading, stop and give it some thought. There could be a mundane reason why he is there – “You will spend some time alone, get used to the idea”. Or, he may be spreading his influence over the whole reading, and thereby, the querent’s life. Might the querent be very focused on success and materialism? It’s time they paused and contemplated their life path. Are they only giving superficial attention to the really important things? Here’s where I would say, “Pay attention to the little things, because one day you will realise that they were th big things”.
Perhaps the card has appeared in a relationship reading. Know that the querent may need to withdraw for a while OR that maybe it is their partner who needs to do so. Gently explain that this is a necessary process. It might lead to break-up or it might fortify the relationship. Emphasise the positives of having the luxury of solitude.
The reading might be about a change of direction for the querent. The Hermit would be pointing at the likelihood of a teacher or an older-and-wiser person who can help them. Sometimes this person comes in the least expected guises… and they don’t have to be physically older either.
The Hermit represents independent thought. He tells you not to accept conventional opinion. He never parrots other people’s words – he finds out for himself. He questions everything. He needs ideas to make sense. He never takes information at face-value until he has determined for himself its validity. These sorts of Hermits are not necessarily isolated, but instead they stand apart from the crowd. They often become leaders or gurus. The position of the card will tell you whether this is the querent or whether the querent will be encountering such a person.
The Hermit encourages us to be seekers, both for answers within and from people who can share their wisdom with us. He shows us that the most valuable way for us to learn and develop wisdom is to share what we have gained with others.