Our Fool, taking the lessons he’s learned from those he’s met on his journey, now withdraws himself from society to meditate on those lessons and seek meaning in his life. He climbs a nearby mountain and makes a home for himself in a cave, where he spends the next several years in solitude.
The message of The Hermit, the ninth Major Arcanum, is fairly clear on the surface. After all, the wizened philosopher, the guru at the peak of the mountain, is an archetype dating back millennia. Zarathustra, St. Anthony of the Desert, and even Yoda are all examples of the reclusive Hermit, dispensing wisdom to those who would seek it. But where does that wisdom come from? Is it granted from the Divine? Does it come from within? Or is it merely the sum total of life’s experience, viewed in hindsight?
Many depictions of The Hermit show us an old man atop a mountain, staff and lantern in hand. In some representations, we see an hourglass or some other indicator or symbol of the passage of time. Certain interpretations of the Tarot as a system view the Hermit as the final stage of a cycle that begins with the Fool striking out from the comfort of his home to embark on a journey of self-fulfillment. Throughout his journey, he encounters those who enjoy at least some degree of success or happiness in their lives, and, utilizing their advice and counsel, he strives to live a complete, rounded life. This cycle-completing interpretation is furthered by the observation that zero through nine comprises our base-ten counting system, and upon reaching the number 9 we can either start back over with zero or continue on with ten and eleven and so on.
In a Tarot reading, the Hermit can be representative of a need for introspection: that it is time to travel inside oneself to seek answers or understanding. It can also indicate that an answer to a question may already be found within—not necessarily by intuition, as with The High Priestess, but rather through contemplation of life’s lessons. Much like the Priestess and the Magician, the Hermit knows much, but his knowledge comes from experience and self-examination rather than from instinct or Divine intervention. He does not manipulate the world around him, but rather has been manipulated by it his entire life. He understands this and does not resent the world for using him. Instead, he acknowledges and accepts his place in the world, his part in the play. He is no longer concerned with the comings and goings of others, he only seeks to attain enlightenment.
The Greek philosopher and Cynic Diogenes is sometimes said to have at least partially inspired the card of The Hermit. Carrying his lantern through town in broad daylight, searching for “an honest man,” Diogenes’s isolation was self-imposed not because he drew into himself but because he pushed society away. He was an opposing force, intentionally contrarian and bearing little or no regard for customs and decorum. This, I think, is not our Hermit. Instead, we seek isolation inside ourselves, benefitting from our own experiences and not pushing everyone and everything away, but rather letting life outside continue on its way. It is one more step toward Transcendence, or Enlightenment or Nirvana or whatever your particular brand may be.
And from here, our Fool, now much older and wiser than at the start of the journey, has a choice. He can continue to search outwardly, wrapping his belonging back up in his pack and slinging his staff over his shoulder as he did when he was a young man, or he can continue forward and begin the next part of the cycle of life.