The Hermit: Lighting Our Way
As with many archetypal motifs the Hermit (tarot card IX) can present as both a higher and lower modality of itself. In its lower representation, the Hermit may seek withdrawal from society because they feel insecure within communal life or hold contempt for other human beings. The higher representation can involve the Hermit withdrawing from society to pursue a relationship with the macro cosmic soul or to commune within the deeper recesses of their own soul.
The higher representation often involves a sort of inner pilgrimage – introspection, self-reflection, contemplation – the end goal being a stronger connection with both the macro cosmic soul and their own sagacious inner depths. In this case, the hermit condition can arise as a consequence of the Hermit having become ‘other,’ that is a different identity profile i.e. they’ve become ‘other-wise.’ By means of a long process of interior work, they’ve attained a refinement of consciousness beyond the societal norm.
Through such experiences, the Hermit rises above the usual group-think of the tribe. Their distance from the crowd is not due to a condition of self-satisfied contempt for other people, but evolves from stepping into their own individuated power and agency by giving birth to their higher and authentic self. They’ve literally become their own compass through finding their own unique voice. Yet because of this journey, the Hermit becomes somewhat ‘homeless.’ They’re no longer merely an automaton of their tribe, society, or culture and it’s this ‘homelessness’ that results in a deep, existentialist estrangement.
We have an example of this solitary condition of soul in the Gospels where there occurs the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15). Such words indicate that the fully individuated Jesus is lamenting the fact that he’s attained a mature gnosis (wisdom of both heart and mind) and will willingly impart this to others, but sadly, only a few people will have the ‘ears’ – intuitive hearing – required to receive and understand His words. It indicates that the quiddity of life can’t be so easily found on the surface of things because most people don’t yet possess the spiritual ears to ‘hear’ the pulse of the world’s mysteries, nor the pulse of their own soul’s deeper longings.
It leads those with a strong hermit archetype to often be misunderstood. They may even be seen as fools because through the common societal lens, they don’t always conform to normal behaviors and expectations. The Hermit can also be perceived as being aloof because they’re a threat to the tribal identity, or even demonized due to the negative shadow projection of the tribe. The projection is that this outsider holds negative judgments regarding the tribe’s collective psyche and accompanying social behaviors.
The Hermit has though occasionally begun life as a fool … a fool in the sense of being naïve, child-like (not to be confused with childish), and relatively innocent. In this respect, we’re reminded of Parcival of the Grail journey fame. Parcival – an archetypal figure – is raised as a child by his widowed and hermit mother in a forest. He knows almost nothing of the wider world. He lives somewhat uncouthly in – and with – nature. His life is rustic, simple, and virtually unmediated by human culture.
After Parcival ‘by chance’ meets some knights on horseback in the forest, he tells his mother that he too will become a knight and sets out to explore the world (a journey that’s really an inner pilgrimage and adventure of soul). His distressed mother sends him forth dressed in fool’s attire upon a limping horse. But because Parcival began his life’s pilgrimage as a fool, he’s well prepared to be radically receptive to the ever-fresh wonders of the world and to the clarion calls of the future. Incrementally, Parcival’s journey leads him through many soul struggles from fool to loner before he can finally embrace all of humanity with his ripened faculties of gnosis, wholeness, and humility.
How does this relate then to the hermit depictions in the tarot card? Well, the figure stands on a mountain peak, and this is the result of his striving upwards after emerging from the darkness of his unconscious. He holds a lamp in one hand and a staff in the other. The lamp shines forth with a six-fold light indicating that he’s now entered his own authenticity, power, and wisdom. This six-foldness reminds us of the Seal of Solomon, often symbolized by the hexagram, which speaks of a wisdom that’s moving toward a universal love … a love that embraces all of humanity and creation with this heart-imbued gnosis. The anonymous author writes in Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, “The Hermit of the ninth Card is the Christian Hermeticist, who represents the ‘inner work of nine’, the work of realizing the supremacy of the heart in the human being – in familiar, traditional terms: the ‘work of salvation’ – because the ‘salvation of the soul’ is the restoration of the reign of the heart” (p. 229). Now, these are words truly worth pondering.
The Hermit achieves the salvation of the soul by restoring the reign of the heart, and in this way, becomes a lamp that shines a light for fellow travelers on the inner path. He and his lamp of light are especially welcome when the traveler experiences the inevitable nights of disillusionment and despair as described in St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul.
But of course, the hermit archetype lives in each of us, inspiring us to reach for the higher octaves of ourselves, even while our current nascent version awaits its full voice. Joseph Campbell stated that the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek, and it’s precisely the Hermit who will lead us to this cave and give us the courage to enter. Resting upon the staff of consolidated gnosis and the grounded steadiness of composed experience, the Hermit with their lamp lights and reveals the way on our inner journey towards this very awakening.
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