The Hermit is one of those ubiquitous tarot cards that many people have heard of, and is on the surface, quite easy to understand.
The card represents a person who is taking themselves away from the noise and distractions of everyday life, retreating to a place of peace and solitude.
The Hermit by David McQuillan, part of a series of artwork done by selected artists for the Amanda Palmer Tarot
It’s not about rest, so much as about making space to learn and grow, to study and develop understanding. The Hermit is a student – she already understands that many of life’s answers are tucked away inside her, and she seeks to unlock them through contemplation. Sometimes she is also a teacher – willing to share her learning so that others may also benefit.
The Hermit represents the desire to turn away from the getting and spending of society to focus on the inner world. He seeks answers within and knows that they will come only with quiet and solitude. There comes a point in life when we begin to question the obvious. We sense that there is a deeper reality and begin to search for it. This is mainly a solitary quest because answers do not lie in the external world, but in ourselves.
The Hermit represents a time for organising thoughts, for looking at our lives and seeing what lessons can be learned from our experiences. And it’s a time for ‘getting back to nature’, discovering our true selves, stepping away from modern life and letting instincts and the practical knowledge we keep unused inside ourselves to come out. The lamp carried by almost every depiction of The Hermit I’ve seen represents the light of inner truth, the knowledge that we all carry within us, but which can be lost when we get to caught up in the demands of everyday life. Anyone who has read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden will understand the transformative effects that taking that space and solitude for onesself can have upon a person:
There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses still. There was never yet such a storm but it was Æolian music to a healthy and innocent ear. Nothing can rightly compel a simple and brave man to a vulgar sadness. While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me. The gentle rain which waters my beans and keeps me in the house today is not drear and melancholy, but good for me too.
Men frequently say to me, “I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially.” I am tempted to reply to such — This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.
HD Thoreau, Walden; or, Life in the Woods
It’s hard to comprehend the many, many expectations which life places on a person. In my own experience, there are capitalit societal value-systems which promote the house-car-marriage-job way of life as the route to success and fulfillment, and that a person is defined by what s/he consumes or owns. There are gender value-systems, which say I should be this weight, that shape, have nice smooth legs and keep out of politics. There’s work, where I’m supposed to be fresh-thinking, but not too radical or challenging. There are social circles, where I should be always having the best fun possible, and cultural circles where I should like this and that, and scorn the other. Sometimes one of these influences will be stronger, and sometimes I struggle with the weight of it all pushing down on my shoulders. A lot of the time I’m thinking ‘fuck it’. But even so, there are always pressures on every one of us to fit in to some expectation or role.
The Hermit reminds me that these influences boil down to a pretty meaninless little puddle at the end of the day. As an archetype, she has taken this need to redress priorities to an extreme and has made a pilgrimage or even lifestyle out of solitude and deep thought. Back in the real world, sometimes all it takes is a few moments in the garden to realign my priorities and think ‘who am I living for?’ When I see this card in a reading, I know it’s time to step out of my usual day-to-day self and remember that there is more to me, and to everyone else, than what they often must present in order to get by.
The Hermit from the Tarot of the Fantastic Menagerie by Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.