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A. E. Waite was a key figure in the development of modern Tarot interpretations. However, not all interpretations follow his theology.
Some frequent keywords include:
The Waite version of the card shows an old man carrying a staff in one hand and a lit lantern in the other. In the background is a wasteland. Just beyond the wasteland is a mountain range.
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The Hermit has internalized the lessons of life to the point that he is the lesson. The Hermit, as a kind of shamanistic hero, has made the complete journey – both the withdrawal and the return. As Joseph Campbell said, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” (The Hero with a Thousand Faces)
There are two possible ways this card can be interpreted:
An old hermit walked around the village and the area day and night, and even in daylight still carried a lit lantern. One day the villagers had enough curiosity to ask him "Sir, why do you carry your lantern lit in daylight?" He said, "Because I'm searching for an honest man."
This is a story most often attributed to Diogenes of Sinope, one major contributor to the Cynic school of philosophy.
There are several different cycles embedded in the Major Arcana. One of them is 1-9, 10-19. The Magician to the Hermit; the Wheel of Fortune through The Sun. The Fool gains knowledge of the external world, meets the mysteries, finds the initial object of desire, finds mastery, finds knowledge, finds a new object of desire, leaves home, gains some strength, and withdraws for a time to integrate the lessons learned before starting on the next turn of the spiral, where the Wheel of Fortune spins us into a new adventure.
Alternatively, The Hermit may be the old man or woman, metaphorically, that we meet who gives us the insights or tools or training we need to confront the beasts of the forest, the sealed cave, the gated castle, the wormhole.
The Hermit is related through a cross sum (the sum of the digits) to The Moon. While The Hermit mostly integrates the lessons of the sunlit world, the Moon stands at the threshold of light and dark and churns the waters of life. In both cases, treasures can be uncovered through contemplation of what is brought forth. In both cases, monsters may be found.
A potentially dangerous aspect of The Hermit is his retreat, his isolation. We all need to retreat sometimes; retreat and renewal are necessary for growth. But The Hermit may be tempted to completely withdraw from the world, not because the journey is done, but because the dragons of the real are too daunting, or because the trivial pleasures of the cave are too intoxicating. Withdraw at the wrong time, stay withdrawn too long, and growth stops.
Some[who?] say that The Hermit represents the time we learn our true names, who we really are. The Greek philosopher Thales is reported to have been asked, “What is the most difficult of all things?” To which he is said to have answered “To know yourself.” The Hermit is given time to obey the Delphic Oracle’s demand: know thyself.
In some decks it is also called Le Moine ("The Monk") or Time or The Sage.
In the Mythic Tarot deck, the Hermit is depicted by Cronus.
In the Sacred Circle Tarot, the Hermit is the Shaman.
In the Psycards alternative Tarot deck, the Hermit is the Sage.
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