An old gentleman with a white beard in a grey hood holds a lantern in one hand and a staff in another in the well-known Tarot card called The Hermit. The origins of the word hermit are Greek, meaning “of the desert,” or “desert-dwelling” in reference to the ancient Egyptian Thebes desert where Saint Paul of Thebes, the first Christian hermit, fled while being persecuted by the Roman emperor Decius in AD 250. His simple, solitary life in the Thebes desert, where he dwelled in a cave, prayed often, ate dates, and died at a ripe old age of 113, reflects the ascetic existence that many hermits embrace – a life barren of many pleasures common or considered normal in our busy, privileged contemporary lives. Hot showers, decadent foods, comfortable clothes, trendy shoes, expensive gadgets… All these things a hermit has decided to go without. He has the strength to step away from things we often take for granted, things that make us feel secure or that give us pleasure. Many different religions have embraced the role of the hermit in their communities, including Buddhists, Taoists, Christians, Hindus, and Sufis – and oftentimes hermits are priests or monks who have left their church or wat to practice solitarily and over time are often sought after for their sage words and spiritual guidance.
When gazing at this card, we see the Hermit standing tall on some lonely perch, perhaps a mountaintop, with snow on the ground. What advice does the Hermit have for us, with his lantern swinging in the wind, a star of light shining out of it? Above all, he is telling us that if we have the courage to let go of our material wants, our spiritual desires will finally be heard. And that through following our spiritual desires, we will discover our purpose on this earth. We seek comfort and pleasure in our modern lifestyles, but too much comfort deadens us to our real purpose – we become comfortably numb. Only by being alone and stripping ourselves of our luxuries can we turn inwards, hear ourselves and unite with our true conscious. The Hermit asks us to see through the illusion that opulence brings, the noise it creates in our minds so that we cannot connect with ourselves. Wealth cannot silence emptiness, nor can it hide pain, nor buffer tragedy – only soften them. The sooner we see this, the sooner we realize we are all mortal, and the more we let go of the material, the easier it is to confront our ego, quiet our mind, follow our spiritual desires and discover our purpose. Heady tasks, are they not? That is why the Hermit raises his lantern, if but to shed light on the path ahead. Step by step, one at a time, is all it takes. He did not become a master overnight – nor will we. When this card appears in a reading, it is time to turn within, take stock internally and pay attention to our instincts as well as our intellect. It is time to listen. It’s also a time to look around us and see if we can identify the Hermit in our lives – for surely, there is someone in our lives acting as a guide to help us at an important crossroads of our life journey.
Perhaps one form of the Hermit is a powerful plant pairing of Frankincense and Myrrh. Both are actually resins or tree sap of Boswellia carteri and Commiphora myrrha – hardy trees which grow in Somalia, Ethiopia, the Arabian Peninsula, and some parts of India. Used together, they are excellent at moving stagnant blood related to rheumatoid arthritis, swollen joints, painful menses, and cysts or as an oral wash for sore gums and tonsils. Centuries ago, Egyptians were using these resins to embalm mummies, as the oils not only delivered a fresh aroma but also reduced decay. Later, churches throughout medieval Europe burned Frankincense and Myrrh as incense over charcoal, and this has recently been scientifically proven to reduce airborne bacterial counts by 68%. In relation to the Hermit, the burning of Frankincense and Myrrh reflects how cleansing this card is and how the combination of these three signifies deep purification. This powerful trifecta of cleansing and connection represents the blessings present when we strip ourselves down to our elemental cores, realize what is truly important in life and take the small but steady steps toward embodying our simple truths.
*Tarot reading is based on the Rider-Waite Tarot Card deck, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith
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