If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.
This marks the final week of Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and of Winter below the Equator. Thus the Wheel of the Year turns, and unsurprisingly, we are visited by yet another Major Arcana card. Let us welcome our ally and guide, The Hermit.
As you can see, the Rider-Waite-Smith artwork is not very complex. A grey-cloaked, white-bearded man stands on a snowy mountaintop, with a staff (or wand) in his left hand. With his right, he holds forth a lantern. Is he gazing down, or is he deep in thought with his eyes closed?
Note that the light in his lantern is the Star of David, a symbol of great power.
The six-pointed hexagram is a very old sigl, and not limited only to being a widely recognized symbol of Judaism. It is also a mandala that can be found on ancient South Indian Hindu temples, and symbolizes the nara-narayana, or perfect meditative state of balance achieved between Man and God.
To the alchemists of Europe, it was also a motif to do with the resolution of life’s dualities and opposites. The upwards pointing triangle (Fire) is conjoined with the downwards pointing triangle (Water) and represents the magical union of masculine and feminine.
It is a form that is found in a variety of occult and magical traditions, right up into modern times.
Who Is The Hermit?
A hermit (or hermitess) is a person who lives apart from ordinary society, usually for religious reasons. Hermits have played a long, important role in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism. Taoism also has a long history of ascetic and eremitical figures.
Hermits are also very important characters in legends and stories the world over. He or she often appears at pivotal moments, when all seems lost for the protagonist. He is the giver of shelter, healing, advice, or magical gifts to questing knights, missing kings, lost children, and other seekers.
In Europe, he appears as Merlin Sylvestris, from the period when the famed wizard went mad after the Battle of Arfderydd and fled to live in the wilds of the Caledonian Forest.
And The Hermit card is clearly a nod to the historic ancient Greek hermit, Diogenes.
Diogenes of Sinope rejected all worldly possessions, relished insulting Plato, lived in a wine cask (or possibly it was a bathtub), and was famed for searching both day and night with a lantern, looking for an honest man in a world of fools.
Henry David Thoreau was, arguably, one of America’s more noted hermits, if only a temporary one. As you probably know, he built a small cabin and for two years, lived at Walden Pond, Connecticut to explore a life of self-reliance, solitude, and contemplation.
In Asia, the hermit is well-known as the yogi ascetic or the Zen master, living alone, far from towns and cities, but who may occasionally welcome an apprentice. Hermits may live on simple plots of land away from society, or they may live on the streets, dependent upon the good consciences and money of passersby.
In such a life-choice, the hermit may seek to separate him- or herself from society’s distractions in order to focus on self-development, simplicity, prayer, penance, closeness with Nature, contemplation, and/or communication with the Divine One(s).
The Rider-Waite-Smith Hermit is not in beggars’ rags, nor do we see him in a hut, cave, or tub. Instead, he wears the robes of a monk, and carries the (possibly magical) staff of a traveler. In the Tarot, he is the spiritual solitary, and a teacher or guide, especially for those who may have lost their direction.
Saturn Direct, Venus Reborn
The Hermit often appears in a reading to suggest that this is an important time for us to seek within ourselves, and listen for the intimately personal truths of our existence. He often comes calling when we are on the brink of change, for The Hermit precedes the great turning point card in the Major Arcana, the Wheel of Fortune.
This Wednesday, the task-master planet Saturn, which has been grinding away in retrograde since the end of April, stations direct. At long last, if you feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels (perhaps accompanied by procrastination, static, and interference), you should begin to feel more in control of your time and your projects.
But since Saturn is one of the giant outer planets, although it is stationing direct, its motion will be slow, and barely discernible at first. So it is apropos that The Hermit ushers in this shift, because he is not one to push for action.
Instead, he would advise to take this moment to absorb how long and hard your journey here may have been, and learn from the many delays or detours you may have endured. Now, before you make your next step forward, pause on the mountaintop, hold your lantern high, and look within for the lessons that Saturn, Lord of Time and Karma, has offered you.
In addition, Venus, who has been hidden for a couple of weeks because of the Sun’s glare from our perspective on Earth, is re-emerging into visibility. This return from the “underworld” is also a moment of transformation, when Venus changes from being a morning star to an evening star.
In many traditions, Venus Hesperus (as the evening star) is a more organized, goal-oriented, and auspicious period than when Venus is the bright, but haphazardly aggressive morning star.
Astrologer Eleanor Buckwalter writes, “The Mayans associated the morning star Venus with lusts, music, and love. At the superior conjunction [when the Sun comes between Venus and Earth, rendering it impossible to see], the divine man faces the consequences of his sins, and in the evening phase, he takes vows of purity to atone.”
Sounds exactly like The Hermit. This is a reminder that there are times when we must go within, and listen for the deep truths of our existence.
Our Quest for Authenticity
The Hermit’s blessings for you as you choose your next steps should not be underestimated, for he is often the unexpected visitor who may offer magical gifts to those who are worthy, particularly the pure of heart.
The Hermit is the soul of integrity. He takes the higher road in all dealings, and lives with quiet simplicity. Who in your life offers this? How are you being called to cultivate these qualities in yourself?
This might not be the best week for partying or whirlwind socializing. Take some time for inner and outer quiet. Make space to breathe.
Who are your trusted teachers, and what sage advice might you need? Who might you turn to, for the insight and truth-telling you hunger for?
The Hermit shows us how to step outside of the herd, climb up the mountainside for solitude and clarity, and look within for understanding.
Poised on the edge of this new season, what are you leaving behind? What long-term vision is revealed when you raise your lantern and gaze towards the journey ahead? What path will you forge in the days to come?
May this threshold of grace and reflection be a solace and inspiration. May it bring clarity to your inner vision, and be a gift from where you might least expect it.
Most of all, undisturbed by outer pressures, and only when you are ready, may you step forward to make your path with the wisdom that is given only to you.