"The Symbolism of the Tarot: The Hermit" by P. D. Ouspensky (from his The Symbolism of the Tarot; 1913)

The Russian-born Peter D. Ouspensky (1878-1947) popularized interest in the occult in the early 20th century with his own ideas -- as in Tertium Organum in 1912 -- and the ideas of G. I. Gurdjieff in the posthumous 1949 book In Search of the Miraculous. Early in his career Ouspensky penned a short work on the images of the tarot, using the recently issued Waite-Smith pictorial deck as his basis. Here are his ruminations on the symbolism of the hermit.


After long wanderings over a sandy, waterless desert where only serpents lived, I met the Hermit.

He was wrapped in a long cloak, a hood thrown over his head. He held a long staff in one hand and in the other a lighted lantern, though it was broad daylight and the sun was shining.

"The lantern of Hermes Trismegistus," said the voice, "this is higher knowledge, that inner knowledge which illuminates in a new way even what appears to be already clearly known. This lantern lights up the past, the present and the future for the Hermit, and opens the souls of people and the most intimate recesses of their hearts.

"The cloak of Apollonius is the faculty of the wise man by which he isolates himself, even amidst a noisy crowd; it is his skill in hiding his mysteries, even while expressing them, his capacity for silence and his power to act in stillness.

"The staff of the patriarchs is his inner authority, his power, his self-confidence.

"The lantern, the cloak and the staff are the three symbols of initiation. They are needed to guide souls past the temptation of illusory fires by the roadside, so that they may go straight to the higher goal. He who receives these three symbols or aspires to obtain them, strives to enrich himself with all he can acquire, not for himself, but, like God, to delight in the joy of giving.

"The giving virtue is the basis of an initiate's life.

"His soul is transformed into 'a spoiler of all treasures,' so said Zarathustra.

"Initiation unites the human mind with the higher mind by a chain of analogies. This chain is the ladder leading to heaven, dreamed of by the patriarch."

Ouspensky matched the symbols into three sets of seven.

The first set of seven cards: I. Magician; 0. The Fool; V. The Chariot; IX. The Hermit; VI. Lovers; XV. The Devil; XII. The Hanged Man.

The contents of these seven cards, if taken in time, picture seven degrees of the path of Man in his way to the Superman, or if taken in the Eternal Now picture seven faces of Man or seven I's of man co-existing in him.

This last meaning represents the inner sense of the secret doctrine of the Tarot in its relations to Man.

This notion of some cards representing a progression through life has been variously adapted by other writers. For Ouspensky, a second set of cards referred to nature and the third to theosophy.