Skip to content

Nine & The Hermit

August 17, 2017

by Tony Willis     

The Tarot de Marseilles Hermit card depicts an old man with long white hair and beard. He wears a robe and a cloak with a pulled-back hood. In his left hand, he carries a walking stick and his right hand is raised up, holding a lighted lantern. The divinatory keywords given to the card by nineteenth century tarot experts were Wisdom and Prudence. The image was taken to represent a man searching for truth while engulfed by the darkness of ignorance. As questing for truth is self-evidently a wise thing to do, the Hermit was thought of as wise. As walking in darkness with only the weak light of a lantern for a guide is an undertaking fraught with danger, it was assumed that great caution was needed while one was looking for truth, and so Caution, or Prudence, became a keyword associated with the Trump.

tdm hermit    Arcane-Arcana-09-hermite-hermit

Nineteenth century tarotists with occult leanings adapted the simple Tarot de Marseilles image, having the Hermit preceded by a snake. No doubt they had in mind the Biblical quote, “Be ye gentle as doves and wise as serpents.” They also had the Hermit shroud his lantern with the folds of his cloak; in the Tarot de Marseilles version, the cloak hangs to one side of the lantern. This shielding of the light was supposed to indicate that the wise man protects his knowledge, and does not share it with fools or those not yet ready to receive it. Wisdom used often to be symbolized as a pearl, the Bible’s Pearl of Great Price, and there were adages about not casting pearls before swine.

PapusWirth09    9 knapp hall

The idea that one ought to shield one’s knowledge from the sight of others influenced another of the divinatory meanings the card accumulated over the years, that being, not to share one’s plans with other people as they may attempt to subvert them. Over time, the above notions became condensed into a simple formula: “Prudence and wisdom are the leading ideas conveyed by this card; badly aspected by other cards, however, it enjoins the necessity of secrecy, watchfulness and caution against hidden enemies and subtle intrigues.” This is from Richard Huson’s The Complete Book of Fortune.

Huson took as his template interpretations from The Book of the Occult & Fortune Telling, c. 1925 (“Someone is seeking to harm you, but the spitefulness at work against you will fail. If reversed, it means the opposite”), and Card Fortune Telling, c. 1921 (“Prudence and wisdom; but if the other cards are not good, it may merely mean trickery and lying. Reversed: secrecy, fear and needless caution”).

In reverse, confusingly, the card can signify either that the inquirer is in great danger of having her secrets revealed or of being duped by someone she trusts, or that she has become unnecessarily fearful, and is being held back by her over-cautious attitude to life. My experience is that readers adopt one or other of these interpretations, and that it works for them, whichever it is, with the alternative interpretation rarely if ever coming into play as far as that particular tarot reader is concerned.

Geometric symbols associated with The Hermit are the Circle and three Triangles arranged as shown in the diagram below. The Circle denotes the completion of a cycle. The cycle referred to is that of what are sometimes called Arabic Numbers. These run from 0 to 9, the common or garden single digits we use every day. After the number 9, these ten basic digits are repeated in various combinations in order to denote numbers higher than Nine – 10, 11, 12, 13, and so on. Nine is, therefore, the end of a sequence. As such it implies Completion and Perfection, insofar as that which is complete is also whole and may therefore be considered perfect.

In the same vein as Completion, the Greeks of past times called the number Telesphoros, “bringing to an end”, and associated it with the ninth month of pregnancy, in which birth most often takes place. At the same time, however, it is worth bearing in mind that the Eleusinian ceremonies of initiation were called Teletai, “perfectings”. Esoterically, the Hermit is regularly associated with initiation. If you look to the Papus version of the card (the second example given above), you will see the French word for Initiation inscribed above the Trump’s divinatory meaning, Prudence.

One other point, in relation to the divinatory meanings of the Hermit, is that the end of a cycle is a precarious time, on account of it being a disconnect. The uo-coming cycle might bring happiness and fulfillment into a person’s life but it might as easily usher in a period of distress, illness, or money troubles. All of which is reflected in the divinatory significances assigned the card by the wise tarot masters of former years.

Three Triangles can denote prolific fruitfulness where they stand for 3×3. As we have seen, the energy of the number 3 is concerned with abundance and multiplication. This message is also carried by the Empress in the tarot, Trump 3. Three times three, therefore, symbolizes a high level of abundance in whatever it touches. Hence, when we turn to the Minor Arcana, we find the 9 of Pence (or Pentacles) signifying, “Much increase of money or goods”, for Pence is the Earth suit, representing all things material. The 9 of Cups signifies “Complete success in emotional matters”, for the Cups suit deals with the affections. The 9 of Rods signifies “Great strength, energy, and health”, for Rods cards reference dynamism and vitality. Swords, being an unfortunate suit, the 9 denotes “Malice, cruelty, and despair”. In each case, a simple concept, such as love or material happiness, has been magnified or elevated, that being the effect of the number Nine when in fruitful mode on everything it comes in contact with. (I have had recourse to the card meanings favored by the Golden Dawn, but most books of instruction follow a similar pattern where the nines are concerned.)

scan0003But it is not Nine in fruitful mode that is represented by the diagram we find accompanying the Hermit in tarot decks such as those favored by Papus. (See right.) Here the central triangle is inverted. Only when all three triangles are upright does the energy denoted by the number 9 flow unhindered on the material plane. Were all three triangles standing on their apexes a most injurious figure would be produced, a figure wherein the whole of 9’s positive energy was turned back upon itself. Two triangles so positioned would describe a less severe, but still extremely thorny, state of affairs.

In the diagram associated with the Hermit only one triangle is reversed. The top- and bottom-most triangles are upright, the central triangle alone being upside down; but as it is sandwiched between two upright triangles, its power to damage, disrupt or cause chaos is mercifully diminished. It therefore mirrors the card’s meaning, “Someone is seeking to harm you, but the spitefulness at work against you will fail”, encompassing all similar delineations along the lines of “Trickery and lying from which the inquirer is protected.” As ever, though, the context is all-important. Even an upright Hermit laying between the Moon and the 10 of Swords can take on a negative connotation, the whole sequence predicting loss of goods or reputation (10 Swords) through the underhand dealings of others (Moon plus Hermit). But in other circumstances, the Hermit may denote nothing more than a blip, the evil designs of others thwarted by the inquirer’s vigilance or overturned by the hand of Fate herself before any real harm has been done.

In the Knapp-Hall tarot (see the fourth Hermit card above), the artist surrounds the sage unequivocally with the darkness of ignorance, but he presents a novel geometric representation of the number 9, namely a Pentagram (5) within a Square (4). The symbol resonates to the Hermit as a combination of High Priest and Supreme Monarch, Trumps 5 and 4. While this is a true representation, esoterically, of an initiate of the Grade Exempt Adapt, this geometric arrangement is rarely seen outside of instructional papers in the safe-keeping of certain schools of the Western Mystery Tradition. As it bears no relation to tarot reading as it is customarily performed, I shall say no more about it.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: