Editor’s Note: If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article tells you how to use the spread. You can visit Sarah’s website here. –efc
By Sarah Taylor
After a period of significant isolation and/or introspection, you are ready to emerge, triumphant, with a sense of the resources you have gathered which are now able to take flight.
This week’s reading is about no small-fry stuff. The appearance of a major arcana card (one of the 22 archetype-driven cards in a traditional tarot deck) tends to indicate an experience that is deeper-reaching in nature than the everyday. It draws our attention to a process — sometimes apparent to others but often conducted behind the scenes in a person’s inner life — that is linked to transformation. When we encounter a major arcana card, we are encountering our own spiritual evolution… and I use “spiritual” here in the sense of the soul.
The Hermit is often not an easy card to go through for many of us, although there will be those who welcome it more than others. It points to a period of separation, physical or psychological, where we encounter our own dark night of the soul (see this definition in Wikipedia). When we embrace the archetype of The Hermit, we feel unable to fully explain or justify what is going on to others. We may feel out of the flow of things, we may feel misunderstood or contrary, we may feel abandoned. It is at times like this that we might feel that it is all a terrible accident, or that we have done something to ‘deserve’ it.
However, look at The Hermit. He is solitary, yes. His heavy cloak and the grey of the night sky behind him envelope him in the half-light, indeed. But, but… His face is gentle and wise. It is old, but not ravaged. He has a long, sturdy staff in his left hand; he has shoes on his feet. He seems warm. And, most importantly for me, in his right hand he carries a lamp. But this is no ordinary lamp. Inside, there isn’t simply a flame: there is a star. A celestial body. It might not be casting huge light, but the light is there — enough to reflect on to the staff to emphasise the presence of support, and enough to light the way ahead, and ultimately through the night and into the dawn. The Hermit does not rely on the daylight to see. Instead, he relies on the inner light — his own truth and connection to the divine. Isolation encourages him to look inside rather than around him. Hence his eyes are pointed downwards. He needs no outside cues to show him where he is going. He trusts that he has all the guidance he needs right there with him. It is that trust in the process that makes the journey more bearable.
The Hermit is very clearly separated from the other two cards. The figure of The Hermit himself has his back turned to the 6 of Wands and the 9 of Pentacles. The 6 and the 9 are bright and full of colour, the grey morphing into a deep blue, and then settling into a rich yellow — the light, perhaps, of the lamp once it has moved into the world.
And so a figure emerges from the dark night, and we are back into the world again. The man on horseback is young, supported by those around him, and is wearing and holding two laurel wreaths, symbolic of victory. This is very much a card that puts us back into the swing of things; and, it seems, with an acknowledgment that, in our absence, we have done something that is worthy of recognition — even if that recognition is simply a more subtle awareness of our place in things. The grey of the horse’s head reminds me of the grey of The Hermit’s cloak. As if there is support from that time as we emerge into our outer lives. We bring the experience of the Hermit with us.
And finally, the 9 of Pentacles. Here, in an image that is bathed in yellow from an invisible sun, we see a woman standing in what I take to be a garden, the wall behind her covered in grapevines, her right hand resting on the highest of nine pentacles gathered around her, her left hand a perch for a masked falcon. A snail edges along the ground at her feet, a detail that makes me smile. It feels inclusive. The woman is obviously successful in some endeavour, and it is time for her to release some of that into the world: as soon as the falcon is unmasked, it will fly from her hand. However, falcons were well-trained birds, and it was expected that once it had flown and performed the function it was meant to, it was to return to its owner’s hand. And I think here there might be a small caution for us: don’t become so focused on the physical, and on acquiring things, that we are unable to fully release those things that we can never fully possess. The woman’s headdress matches that of the falcon. Is she, in a way, just as owned by what she has, trained to return to it again and again with little questioning of the ability to fly free?
And so to the snail again. Nothing is ever added unintentionally in Pamela Colman-Smith’s illustrations. It is small, for sure. But unlike the vines, the woman’s robes, the falcon’s confining mask, the two mirrored trees in the background, it is not cultivated, and doesn’t fit the picture of perfection that the image seems to be striving for in some way. It moves unhindered in a highly regulated landscape. It is a tiny, but compelling, reminder that the isolation and introspection of The Hermit was endured for a reason. While other things vie for our attention, do we still make room for it in our lives now that that period is over?