9. The Hermit
God cannot be found on facebook or at a festival. To experience the divine, silence and seclusion are required. A hermit withdraws from the world and leaves his possessions behind, to find the Light. The tarot card The Hermit stands for this quest. The big question is: is the man on the card still searching or has he found?
On all preserved tarot cards from the 15th century we see a man with a long gray beard and hourglass. In 16th century writings this card is called “The Old Man” or “The Hunchback.” Because of the hourglass, the card is nowadays often explained as “Father Time.” This association was intended by the artist as a cover for the actual meaning: a kundalini awakening.
Because of its shape and vertically flowing sand, an hourglass lends itself perfectly as a metaphor for the kundalini energy that flows from the pelvis to the head. Alchemical emblems from the same era confirm this interpretation.
Castello Ursino Tarot
Illustration from ‘Zoroaster Clavis Artis’ (1738).
The alchemist, in monk clothing, is (internally) purified by the kundalini energy (woman with jug and running water). The hourglass in his hand represents the same process. The god Mercury, with caduceus, pours a red liquid over the man’s head. This is the precious “Elixer of Life” (Elixir Vitae), pursued by the alchemist. This elixir of life is a metaphor for the changes that the brain fluid undergoes during a kundalini awakening.
The fact that the Visconti-Sforza card was called “The Hunchback” at that time, and not “Father Time”, rouses suspicion that something special is indicated with his hunched back. The cards that follow in the next centuries provide more clarity about this: variants appear with an hourglass on the upper back of the man, and with a pillar (a universal kundalini symbol) behind him (see below). We may infer from this that the hunched back on this card is a reference to an ‘awakened’ spine.
Another element that could be explained as kundalini symbolism is the curious double-brimmed hat (the two energy pathways that merge in the head during the awakening process). Added to this, it seems as if the old man – subtly – makes the sign of the sacred marriage (2 = 1) with his left hand. The fact that these elements may be seen as symbolism is mainly motivated by the way in which the card has developed in the following centuries.
Few cards have survived from the relatively unknown Castello Ursino deck, made for Alessandro Sforza. The Hermit / Time is one of them (above). The old man on the card holds his hourglass above a pile of rocks. This means is that the kundalini has been brought “to the top of the mountain” (to the head). The white, knotted scarf around the man’s waist refers to the two energy channels that are united at the pineal gland (the loop of the knot). The six buttons on the coat are a reference to the six chakras that the kundalini energy had to pass on its way to the top.
Right: tarot card from Italy, 16th century. The arrow through the hourglass is also a symbol of the kundalini energy, as we will see with other tarot cards. With his right hand the man makes the sign of the sacred marriage (two fingers together): in him the two energy channels (crutches) are merged into one.
In the iconogaphies of spiritual traditions, the pillar is frequently used as a symbol for the awakened spine. Below two examples of tarot card “Father Time” with a pillar behind his back. Also interesting is the money pouch that the man carries at the height of his lower abdomen. This is probably a reference to the (kundalini) “treasure” in the pelvis.
Late 15th or early 16th century (uncut sheet)
Tarot of Bologna
Illustration of a kundalini awakening
The Etteilla Tarot Deck from 1789, designed by the occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette, has its own unique numbering and interpretation of the cards. On card number 18 “Le Traitre” (The Traitor) – a name that refers to the predictive meaning of the card and not to the image – we see a monk with a high lifted burning lantern, in the style of The Hermit of the Tarot of Marseille, that we will discuss below. In front of the monk is a pillar and in the background three more pillars (the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening) to reinforce the symbolism.
Etteilla Tarot (1789)
In early Christianity, hermits sometimes literally lived on a pillar. Food and water were brought up to these so-called “pillar saints.” That this ultimate form of asceticism is rooted in symbolism can be deduced from the enormous serpent spiraling around the pillar on this plaque of Simeon de Stylite from the Louvre (6th century).
The Hindu god Shiva with a pillar on his head (Cambodia, 10th century)
On the Tarot of Marseille Hermit, the hourglass has been replaced by a lantern, but the meaning of the card has remained the same. The man on the card holds the burning lantern high: he has brought the kundalini fire to his head. The lantern is half hidden behind his cloak: it is an inner light. An additional indication that we must translate the image to the interior of the Hermit, is that it is daytime on the card; a lantern is not needed …!
Tarot van Marseille,
Jean Dodal (1705)
Tarot van Marseille,
Nicolas Conver (1760)
The candle in the lantern is a red “stripe”, corresponding to the red staff: both represent the spine with the kundalini fire flowing in it. On Jean Dodal’s card, the man holds his staff with only three fingers, with the middle finger sticking out slightly. The three fingers represent the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening; the middle finger refers to the awakened spine (in the “center of the body”).
The card now also has a name: The Hermit – L’Ermite in French. Nicolas Conver has opted for the Old French – and at that time already unusual – spelling L’Hermite, which is probably a reference to Hermetism: a spiritual tradition related to alchemy.
The outside of the Hermit’s cloak is blue and red: his masculine (red) and feminine (blue) energies are united. The inside of his cloak is yellow / gold; a reference to the divine light that burns in him.
Illustration from Wasserstein der Weysen (Siebmacher, 1704).
God lights a candle (the spine) in the interior of the simple and modest alchemist. A very joyful event, not intended for the powerful and the rich (stumbling around in the dark, in the background).
In the 19th century, the (kundalini) serpent makes an entrance. On the card of the Tarot of Lomdardije from 1810, three small serpents wriggle at the feet of the Hermit. Two of them are green in color, one is blue – the same color as the lantern. This is an indication that the snake and the lantern symbolize the same thing: the awakened kundalini. With the hand with which the Hermit holds the lantern, he makes the sign of the sacred marriage: in him the two green snakes (energy channels) are merged.
On the card of Oswald Wirth from 1889, we see a rising red serpent next to the staff of the Hermit. The staff has seven “rings”: a reference to the seven chakras that have been opened by the kundalini (the rising serpent).
Tarot of Lombardy (1810)
Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)
Château des Avenières (1917)
The Hermit of Château des Avenières also has a lantern, raised to head height. At the top of his staff (with seven colored beads) we see the Ankh-sign; a symbol from Ancient Egypt that stands for the awakened spine and pineal gland.
Instead of a red serpent, the designer of the mosaic has opted for a long red sash, two ends of which fly up in the air, and a third strip of fabric lies on the head of the Hermit. A creative finding for portraying the three energy channels. The volcano in the background confirms us that the kundalini energy in the Hermit has awakened and ascended to his crown. The dog sitting next to his staff symbolizes the sublimated (transformed) animal drives / energies.
A six-pointed star burns in the lantern of the RWS card. This hexagram represents the union of the opposites (the two energy channels). The staff of the Hermit extends to his crown and has the same yellow-gold color as the hexagram. The man’s long, slender silhouette and the color of his cloak are reminiscent of a pillar. If we compare this card with the RWS card The Tower, this seems no coincidence.
The snow suggests that the Hermit stands on the top of a high mountain; a reference to his expanded consciousness. On top of a mountain you are closer to God.
The Rider-Waite-Smith Hermit (1909)
Tarot card The Hermit stands for the spiritual seeker who has completed the process of God-realization. The hourglass, the lantern, the pillar, the staff and the snake, all represent the same: the divine energy in the hermit’s pelvis has awakened and flows through his spine to his crown. From a high, snowy mountain top, he looks out over the world he has conquered.
“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God,
and he will go out from there no more.”
This piece of art has been standing on the roof of the former Masonic headquarters in Mendocina, California since 1872. Its meaning is a secret that the Freemasons hide from the outside world. Only at the third, and highest initiation does a freemason learn what the artwork represents. We see Father Time, who braids the hair of a virgin. The braid reaches down to her pelvis. The girl holds in her hands a flask and a (broken off) branch of the acacia tree. A broken pillar stands in front of the virgin. The hourglass from Father Time is at her feet. It is not up to me to reveal in detail the secret of Freemasons. The whole artwork is a metaphor for the process of God-realization. The reader of this article should now be able to interpret all elements.
This article was published in Paravisie Magazine (nov ’19). Copyright Anne-Marie Wegh 2019
Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ
Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres