Saturday, May 20, 2006

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: The Hermit

[Please see the Introduction to this series for a brief synopsis of my approach to working with the major trumps of the Tarot. I am hoping to post a new meditation each Saturday. I use meditation here in the philosophical sense of the word, meant to denote an open-ended, free-form exploration of an idea.]


(Disclaimer: The Hermit is nearly always depicted as male, but there is no reason this archetype cannot be female. I refer to the card as masculine throughout, but please remember that it could be feminine.)

With the first seven cards, we traversed the pre-egoic stages of consciousness evolution as the Fool makes his/her journey toward transcendence. The second set of seven cards documents the evolution of the ego. The Hermit is the archetype that will guide the Fool along that path.

If we are to believe Jung, and there is little reason to doubt him on this topic, the human quest for meaning is the drive (maybe even instinct) that propels the development of the psyche, and especially the development of ego consciousness. The archetype so often associated with the quest for meaning is the Wise Old Man, the Senex, or the Hermit of the Tarot. The Hermit is the archetypal personification of that instinct.

In myths and fairy tales, when the hero gets lost or gets into trouble, it is often the Wise Old Man who saves the day with his guidance. Think of Yoda in the Star Wars movies, or Morpheus from The Matrix trilogy. Sallie Nichols (Jung and Tarot) correctly points out that this is true in our dreams as well. There is very often a wise figure who can lead us toward an answer if we are smart enough to follow (for variations on this theme, please see my article, "Listening to Raven: The Shadow's Role as Guide" at the CG Jung Page).

We might see the Hermit, then, as the emergence of a Higher Self, an internal Wise Old Man one can turn to for a non-attached perspective untainted by ego needs. Psychology also looks at this part of the psyche as the observer self, and good therapists seek to develop this capacity in their clients as a way to foster mindfulness.

The absence of a functional observing self, as we have so tragically seen of late, can allow a person to commit acts that might otherwise seem untenable. It can also leave a person seeking answers outside of oneself, either through the guru or through organized religion, and more often now, through a "spiritual advisor." All of these can be safe and effective methods of accessing meaning, and all of them can have serious shortcomings.

The fact that these methods are so prevelant means that few of us have made contact with the "guide" within, so we project that archetype of our psyche onto an external person or group. A fellow blogger, Jay, has recently written on the need for spiritual seekers to find the guru within as a way to avoid abuse by "teachers."

The Hermit stands as the reminder that this is an archetype we all carry in our psyches. In the development of the Fool, the Hermit shines his light of wisdom and experience on the path, illuminating the next steps. The Hermit provides an intuitive guidance, directing our young ego in the direction s/he needs to go to reach her/his potential.

One of the key elements of the Hermit is his isolation. He is free from the distractions of other voices, but he is also alone. That isn't to say that he is lonely, only alone. Here is what the Osho Zen deck has to say about this card, which it has aptly named Aloneness:

Loneliness is a negative state. You are feeling that it would have been better if the other were there - your friend, your wife, your mother, your beloved, your husband. It would have been good if the other were there, but the other is not. Loneliness is absence of the other.

Aloneness is the presence of oneself. Aloneness is very positive. It is a presence, overflowing presence. You are so full of presence that you can fill the whole universe with your presence and there is no need for anybody.

That aloneness is the source of wisdom, the quiet that allows the "still small voice" to be heard. Other decks, such as the Tarot of the Old Path (pictured above: The Wise One), refer to this card in terms of the wisdom the Hermit possesses. Some decks simply call the card Wisdom. All of this is in recognition that we can only access our wise higher self in isolation from the world.

As life gets more complex for the Fool, s/he'll need to have recourse to this inner source of wisdom. If more of us had access to this source within each of us, we would not need to project this part of ourselves onto others, and we could honor the guru within.


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