Symbols - What does heaven look like
The Hermit is the ninth card in the Tarot pack. He is equivalent to a prophet or any figure who is a spiritual teacher or ‘guru’ inspired by direct but usually invisible spiritual experience. Other terms used to describe this figure are a ‘sage’ or a ‘Seer’ or a druid. In the older Tarots he was the Hunchback and the number of the card in those days was XI.
Usually the figure is an old man representing both the concept of wisdom, but also the possibility of many reincarnations.
He carries a lantern - usually in his right hand. Right hand and left brain go together thus we have an indicator that the illumination is also intellectual – one helped by the functions of reason. [see Brain split]. The card usually shows the surroundings as dark – thus the physical or shadow world in which ‘ignorance’ of the spiritual prevails. The lantern sheds light on the spiritual, it is a source of illumination.
There is the occasional use of the rod or staff as a symbol.
Most Hermits because they have to employ their intellect to explain and disseminate the wisdom they have gained cannot ‘fly’ and are occasionally shown with their wings tied denoting their inability to have any form of spiritual experience other than the invisible type
In the older Tarot cards this is occasionally symbolised by lameness where only the right foot remains, again symbolising the need for intellect – the use of the intellect has in effect hobbled the hermit.
The solitary nature of the hermit
The hermit is by nature a solitary self contained individual. Hermits are often intellectually extremely bright, which means they find the company of those less bright to be quite tiring. The hermit also has no need or desire to socialize; what marks out the hermit is the desire for peace and solitude.
They tend to be unassuming, lacking in ego, quiet, reserved occasionally a little taciturn. They are not unkind or lacking in patience, in fact patience tends to be one key characteristic they all have, but they do not achieve their ends through bombastic display or self publicity.
This is symbolised on the tarot card by the cloak which hides their true nature. Occasionally the lantern too is hidden under the cloak – they ‘hide their light under a bushel’.
Chastity and the hermit
Crowley has added a little sperm to his card denoting that he believed the source of many spiritual experiences is via sexual energy, but in all the other cards, the source of the hermit’s energy is via conserved sexual energy – chastity.
Thus the Hermit has to endure enforced chastity. He or she may love, they may long for human contact and ordinary love and sexual relations, but their role forbids it, which makes it an even more onerous one to have been given. They rarely marry, or if they do it is a marriage of friendship not a marriage for procreation and family.
Merlin, Jesus, the Buddha, all were ‘chaste’ and Merlin lost his power when he ceased to be chaste.
The need for chastity is occasionally symbolised by the nature of the staff held which represents the spine. There are no snakes curling up it showing sexual energy unleashed and it is often without a top or knob or any form of symbolic object to show the source of the energy is sexual.
Communicating very very complex ideas to people who may have no understanding of what you are attempting to describe requires great skill. The hermit has traditionally used analogy, parable, myth , poems, fables, stories, films, paintings and pictures.
Occasionally this idea of precision and the need for conciseness is shown in the cards by knives
“Tao Teh Ching – Lao Tzu
The sage squares without cutting, carves without disfiguring, straightens without straining, enlightens without dazzling. A great tailor does little cutting”
The card shown left is that from the Salvidor Dali Tarot pack
Agents of change
Traditionally, prophets are regarded as having a role in society that promotes change due to their messages and actions. They are agents of change and often hugely dramatic change.
Whereas the Hierophant uses philosophy to deduce his findings, the hermit knows because he is permanently in touch with the spiritual world, albeit only to receive the wisdom he [or she] was intended to receive and impart, but he ‘knows’.
The hermit also symbolises according to Cirlot “tradition, study, reserve, as well as patient and profound work”.
I think you can see that of all the roles, the Hermit’s is probably the most onerous of the entire tarot pack.
The Hermit differs from the Hierophant or the Knight, for example, because theirs is clearly a lone role – there is no Treasure, no reward. He or she gets much rougher treatment than the Hierophant, who is the conventional and accepted face of religion and philosophy. They have to endure chastity and loneliness. They cannot ‘fly’ so the comfort of guides and visible support is denied because of their need to use their logical and rational abilities.
There is only one stage above that of the Hermit from a spiritual point of view [if we discount the 'saint'] – the Fool and this role is rarely as onerous as that of the hermit.
The cowl the Hermit wears symbolically protects him and isolates him from the bleakness of the situation and the biting winds of derision and scorn.
Very often they have to face derision and appalling criticism and opposition because their ideas are so very different. The hermit is very often an outcast.
They are often shown bowed with the responsibility of the task given them [their destiny].
This is why the original Tarot pack used the image of the hunchback – a man bowed with the overwhelming burden placed on him.
One of the perhaps most frightening aspects of being a really important prophet or hermit is that you are destined to die early.
If the idea is extremely important spiritually and is likely to have far reaching consequences, if the impact is intended to be considerable, the spiritual world cannot afford for the person to become more important than the idea and the hermit has to die – violently, by his own hand, by the acts of lone killers or mad men or by the action of a crowd. But they die an early death.
There is as such an odd kind of supreme courage attached to this role which few seem to understand. If your idea is big, you know from the start that early death is your destiny – and the death you face may be a terrible humiliating or prolonged and painful one. It helps to explain the other characteristics of a hermit to know this.
A person destined to die in a horrific way, ideally should not have family that may become involved in the death or even try to dissuade him from the inevitable. And a person who faces inevitable early death possibly by violent hands is going to need a great deal of mental preparation to be able to steal himself or herself for it. All hermits know they are destined to die. And they also need the mental discipline never to explain what they know is likely to happen
But their names last in history for ever more – not that that is a consolation I suspect.
The Poems of James Russell Lowell
Shall we make their creed our jailer? Shall we in our haste to slay
From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away
To light up the martyr fagots round the prophets of today?
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