The Hermit: “For What Does It Profit a Man to Gain the Whole World But Lose His Soul?”

I am fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the United States, the Trinity Alps of far Northern California.  There are gorgeous rivers and streams and lakes, mountains, two national forests, a plethora of eagles, hawks, ravens, bears, trout, and salmon.  And there are only 13,000 people living in the entire county so you can still actually spend hours walking in the woods or sitting by a river by yourself.

We have thousands of tourists come through every summer and a sizable minority of them are just plain miserable.  It’s either too hot or it’s too cold, there aren’t enough cashiers in the grocery store, the ATM wasn’t working, the water in the river is too cold to swim in, it’s too quiet, it’s boring, the internet isn’t fast enough, etc., etc., etc.

It’s kind of sad.  These people have spent thousands of dollars to go to a beautiful, tranquil place to get away from their problems for a few weeks and it turns out that the main problem they have is . . . them.  They’re just not happy people. And they brought themselves with them.

Like the old cliche’ says, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

The Hermit is about a period of withdrawal from the world.  About getting out of the stream of time and events for a while so that you can either figure out or remember who you really are.  But, as we can surmise from the unhappy tourists in Trinity County, there’s a little more involved with that than just running away from home.

A researcher named Marsha Sinetar wrote a fascinating book on the subject called, “Ordinary People As Monks and Mystics, Lifestyles For Self-Discovery.”  She put ads in several papers across the country seeking out people who had chosen to withdraw from everyday life and based the book on her interviews with them.

Several things become obvious as you read through the book.  The first is that these people experienced a massive reordering of what they considered to be valuable (also known as, “their values.”)  At some point in their lives they simply decided that the new car, the big house, the fancy computers, the pay raise at the job, and yes, even the marriage to the, “perfect spouse,” and 2.5, “perfect children,” were all bullshit.  All of the things that we might ordinarily consider important and satisfying and fun had become unimportant distractions to them.

What BECAME important to them were, oddly, the things that used to be part of the human birthright but which many of us have lost in modern life.  Time alone. Time to think. Time to meditate. Being in nature. Reading. Silence. Contemplation.

And – again, oddly – claiming  these simple things which used to be free to every human being actually, “cost,”  them a fair amount. Most of them had to walk away from the high paying jobs and start doing part time jobs and learn to live on less money and with fewer possessions.  They walked away from the social status and from the concept that they were, “important people,” as defined by others and walked toward the concept of being, “important people,” as defined by their own hearts.  

Some of them became alienated from their families who refused to accept their new lifestyles.  “Why are you living out in the woods with a dog instead of finding a good husband and having kids?  What’s wrong with you?”

These are mainly seen as sacrifices by people on the outside looking in, though.  To the participants in the study they were very small sacrifices to make for having the luxuries of time and solitude.  

“Time, not money, seemed to be the element most coveted for their new life. . . they didn’t have to be financially secure, they just had to FEEL secure . . .”

And that was one of the biggest takeaways for me from this book.  Modern life, as most of us know it, is a thief. It steals our TIME and in doing so it steals our ability to think about who we are and why we’re here.  In exchange it gives us, “things,” – toys, computers, cars, houses, money – and then it hypnotizes us into thinking that those things are actually us, actually the life that it just stole from us.  

The Hermit is about throwing away the trinkets and finding the gold.  Taking back your time and your Self and your Soul.

Getting Real – The Hanged Man

I said in my original definition of The Hanged Man that having this archetype blow through your life is a lot like getting hit in the face with a two by four.  It involves an experience that is so painful, so truly devastating that you have to totally reevaluate how you relate to life and the souls around you.  

In other words, you have to have a new framework for your existence.  

We tend to focus on the central figure of The Hanged Man – the individual hanging from one foot with his hands tied behind him – and not see the background of the picture which includes the frame from which he is hanging.  The frame, though, is every bit as important as the person.

A.E. Waite chose to design the frame in a shape which is very much like a cross and evocative of Jesus, but that’s not how the frame was shown in the older cards.  It normally consisted of two living trees, one on each side, with a beam laid across their tops. It wasn’t a cross and had zippity doo dah to do with Jesus.

We can, perhaps, get a better grasp of what the inventors of the Tarot were getting at if we look at The Hanged Man from the old Marseille deck.


The name is Le Pendu, the hanging one.  It’s related to a slew of our modern words such as pendant, pendulum, dependent, and depend.  The commonality is that they all describe something that hangs from something else.

We all have a central point that our worlds (as we perceive them) hang from.  You might call it your, “identity.” Or perhaps your, “social fabric.” It’s made up of a myriad of factors that, blended together, make up the way that we see the world and our places in it.

“I’m a conservative hispanic catholic from New Mexico.”

OR

“I’m a liberal jew from Marin County.”

OR

“I’m an african american wiccan from Alabama.”

There are literally millions upon millions of variations, with each of us picking out and identifying with the things that make us feel unique and influence the way we perceive the world and our lives.  “This is who I am.”

The Hanged Man has had a forced realization that everything he believed in, everything he thought of as, “myself,” was an illusion.  Maybe it was a divorce that caused him to see that. Maybe it was the death of a child. Maybe it was an illness. Whatever it was he KNOWS that his previous life wasn’t real.

No, you aren’t your sports car because that can be taken away from you.

And you aren’t your house.

Or your brand new computer.

Or your family.

Or your religion.

Or even the color of your skin because, in case you haven’t noticed, you’re not taking that with you when you leave this beautiful world.

The Hanged Man has had that kind of a shocking realization.  That none of it’s really REAL. Everything he dePENDED on can vanish in the blink of an eye.  Everything he hung his identity from was an illusion. He’ll never see the world in the same way again.

And now he has to put himself back together, only this time in a way that IS real and that can’t be taken away from him.  He needs to reclaim his soul.

When you look at the trees in the old Marseille card it’s obvious that the branches have  been cut off. Everything that was once his life has been pruned away. BUT . . . the tips of the branches also look very much like buds in the Spring.  Full of life and ready to grow again.

Here’s how Eckhart Tole put it:

“Ego is no more than identification with form, which primarily means thought forms . . . What a liberation to realize that, ‘the voice in my head,’ is not who I am.  Who am I then? The one who sees that.”

The Hanged Man.