I’ve always thought that hermits and remote caves go together like bread-and-butter, pretzels-and-beer or salt-and-pepper; the sequestered hermit covets outer solitude to stimulate his inner vision. So what’s this guy doing out of his hole and on a mountain-top in the middle of the night? The answer would seem to be “aspiring;” he stands at the ultimate pinnacle where Earth meets Heaven, and is positioned to receive spiritual enlightenment of the highest order, or in the words of Paul Foster Case, “union of the personal consciousness with the Cosmic Will.” Once enlightened, his mission is to reveal the source of that wisdom to those below. Case describes this succinctly: “Although the Hermit seems to be alone, he is really the Way-shower, lighting the path for climbing multitudes below.” The number 9 signifies “completion,” and the Hermit has climbed as high as humanly possible to find what he was seeking; thus, he has nowhere to go but down, back into the world with his prize. But I don’t see him cheerfully handing it over to any fellow seekers he meets on the way down; more likely he will point back up the path and say “Just keep going. It’s up there!”
Case continues: “He stands in darkness . . .” symbolizing a wisdom that is “darkly incomprehensible to our intellects. The darkness represents also the hidden, interior, subconscious field of the Divine Operation. Yet he himself carries his own light, and holds it aloft for the benefit of those who toil upward toward him.” It strikes me, though, that his beckoning lantern will only be visible to those who have already climbed high enough under their own power to distinguish its light from that of the remote stars above. You have to already be “on the path” – and perhaps “around the last bend” – before you can “see the Light.” The Hermit’s remoteness still renders his wisdom hard to fathom, suggesting arduous individual effort as the only practical way to harvest his insights. Case, in talking about the exaltation of Mercury in Virgo, says “. . . self-training in right interpretation of experience . . . is what bears fruit finally in union with what is pictured here as the Hermit.” Ain’t no free lunch here.
Aleister Crowley chimes in with: “Illumination from within, secret impulse from within; practical plans derived accordingly.” Many of the traditional meanings relate to the correspondence of this card to the methodical, discriminating sign of Virgo: “prudence; circumspection” (Waite and Case); “wisdom from above (Case and Gray); “silent council;” guidance “on the path to material or spiritual goals;” openness to advice and aid (Gray). Crowley characterizes Virgo as “the lowest, most receptive, most feminine form of earth,” while Case observes that the Cosmic Will, as the cause of all particular manifestations, is related to “that which is basic, fundamental, and therefore at the bottom of things.” Thus, the Hermit is a link between the “lowest of the low” and the “highest of the high,” with Mercury (both ruling and exalted in Virgo) as the Magician uniting “above” and “below.” Case again: “Virgo is dominated, therefore, by self-conscious initiative, and represents the state in which the highest manifestation of self-consciousness is experienced.”
In more useful terms, the Hermit symbolizes pursuit of a lofty goal by dint of the “sweat of one’s brow.” A Mercurial epiphany may help, but you still have to reach a level of attainment – one laborious step at a time – where you can bring it to bear. This card suggests that a gratifying end may be in sight, but it’s no time to sit down and rest, waiting for the Hermit to swing by and drop it off. If you’re still standing at the bottom of the hill, it’s more a source of inspiration than fulfillment, too far removed to offer immediate satisfaction.