Today’s post is brought to you by Pop Tarot, my friend Jamie’s tarot-themed newsletter; I’ve written a guest post about the Hermit card (despite not knowing much about tarot myself), and you can read it for free there; here’s a preview:
“Never before had Brother Francis actually seen a pilgrim with girded loins, but that this one was the bona fide article he was convinced as soon as he had recovered from the spine-chilling effect of the pilgrim’s advent on the far horizon, as a wiggling iota of black caught in a shimmering haze of heat. Legless, but wearing a tiny head, the iota materialized out of the mirror glaze on the broken roadway and seemed more to writhe than to walk into view, causing Brother Francis to clutch at the crucifix of his rosary and mutter an Ave or two. The iota suggested a tiny apparition spawned by the heat demons who tortured the land at high noon, when any creature capable of motion on the desert (except the buzzards and a few monastic hermits such as Francis) lay motionless in its burrow or hid beneath a rock from the ferocity of the sun. Only a thing monstrous, a thing preternatural, or a thing with addled wits would hike purposefully down the trail at noon this way.”
–A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller
The Hermit may pass anything on, reveal any wisdom, share any knowledge – there is nothing the Hermit possesses that cannot be shared. Anyone might turn inward. Anyone might follow in his steps. Anyone might balance competing interests: a lamp for illumination, a cloak for concealment, the canny blending of conspicuousness and privacy. The illumination extends outward, forward, without; the concealment is of the body, the mind, the self. Whatever wisdom the Hermit has gained is not immediately visible and can only be passed along through speech or teaching. That wisdom, too, might prove evanescent – how many times in your own life have you said, This is the final truth about me, this and no other, I have found the truth at last, only for that realization to pass away, to be supplanted or forgotten by something else, more true than true?
The staff might rightly be called a tool of discernment; it can support the heavy weight of the body, test out shaky footholds, clear the path ahead of rubble, pick out the safest way forward, strike through a maze of brambles, navigate, steer, winnow, select, jab, administer punishment, beckon, gesture, direct, and steady.
The Hermit is alone, but hardly vulnerable – girded from head to toe, all in grey, the color of obfuscation, of fog, of obscuration. The eyes are closed, either in contemplation or as a gesture towards contradiction, absurdity, the holy-foolishness of the Eastern Orthodox yurodivy, towards a set of values not immediately recognizable as prudent/sane/self-protective.