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The Hermit
The Hermit
from the Tarot of Marseilles

Previous Arcanum: Justice

9. The Hermit

Dear Unknown friend,
I am pleased to have arrived at this mysterious figure of a solitary itinerant. He carries a lantern to let light shine in the darkness. His blue mantle separates him from the desires and prejudices of race and family, reducing them to silence and hearing only the harmony of the spheres. With his staff he advances only after touching the ground through immediate experience, standing on three legs rather than two, and thus he creates certainty.

Saint Sergius
Saint Sergius
regarded as
the first staretz

He is the master of dreams for youths in every country, who have had their imagination haunted by the figure of a wise and good father, a hermit, who has passed through the narrow gate.

Which young Russian would not have undertaken a journey in order to meet such a staretz, a spiritual father?

Guru: Adi Shankara
with Disciples

Which young Jew from Poland, Lithuania, White Russia, Ukraine or Roumania would not have done as much to to meet a Hasidic tsadic?

Which youth in India would refuse to make every possible effort to find and meet a guru?

184-254 AD
150-215 AD
Saint Benedict
c 480-545 AD
(by Fra Angelico),
Patron of Europe

And was it otherwise with the youths around Origen Adamantius, Clement of Alexandria, Saint Benedict, Saint Dominic, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Ignatius of Loyola?

Saint Dominic
Saint Francis
of Assisi
Saint Ignatius
of Loyola
Hermes Trismegistus
Hermes Trismegistus
illustration from 'De Divinatione
et Magicis Praestigiis'
by Jean-Jacques Boissard, 1605

It was the same in ancient Persia around Zarathustra. It was the same for Hermes Trisgestimus, who became not only for Egypt, but for the entire Graeco-Roman world, the prototype of the wise and good father, the hermit !

There follows a lengthy, detailed, complex and revealing essay on Western philosophy. I wish it had been a set text when I read philosophy at Oxford. It is a brilliant and refreshing antidote to materialist empiricism and logical positivism.

Our Friend, Valentin Tomberg, continues by demonstrating how a philosophy which puts collectivity before the individual can justify Caiaphas ("it is expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish") and the Spanish Inquisition and Nazi Germany.

Darwin and Isaiah

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Isaiah, 18th century icon
Kizhi monastery, Karelia

The law of the struggle for existence that Darwin observed in the domain of biology will one day cede its place to the law of cooperation for existence, which exists already in the cooperation between flowers and bees, the cooperation in the cells of an organism and the cooperation in the human social organism.

This has been foretold almost 3000 years ago by the prophet, Isaiah:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,; and the calf and the lion and the fatling together and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah xi, 6)

The Antinomy "faith - empirical science"

For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed,
you will say to this mountain, 'Move hence to yonder place,'
and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.
                                (Matthew xvii, 20-21)
lamb and wolf

And the Twentieth Century replies:

lamb and wolf
"And science takes a grain
of hydrogen and releases the
energy imprisoned in the
grain, and reduces the
mountain to dust."

Is this because we have concentrated all our efforts on the task of penetrating the secret contained in a grain of hydrogen, instead of on the task of acquiring a mustard-grain of faith ?

To answer this question we must first take account of what faith is and what empirical science is.


The faith which can move mountains, must be equal to that which piled them up. It can neither be an intellectual opinion nor a personal feeling, however intense. It must be the union of the thinking, feeling and desiring human being with the cosmic being - God. The faith that moves mountains is therefore complete union - even if only for an instant - with God.

The faith, for which "nothing is impossible", is the union of the soul with God attained through effort of thought, through confidence in that which is worthy of confidence, through accepting testimonies worthy of faith, through prayer, meditation, contemplation, through practicing moral endeavour, and through other ways that help the soul to open to the divine breath.

Faith is divine breath in the soul, just as hope is divine light and charity is divine fire in the soul.

Empirical Science

To what may the fabulous successes that science has achieved be attributed? It is doubt in the first place. It is thanks to doubting the experience of the senses that science has been able to establish that it is not the sun that moves across the sky but the earth that moves round it.

It is thanks to doubting all-powerful fate that remedies for formerly incurable diseases were sought and found.

It is thanks to doubting past traditions that empirical science discovered biological evolution, hormones, enzymes, the structure of the atom, and subconscious consciousness.

But can the fruitfulness of science be attributed to doubt alone? Is it not necessary to believe in the possibility of such discoveries before proceeding?

The father of empirical science is doubt and its mother is faith. Let us compare the scientific creed with the Christian Creed.

Scientific Creed Christian Creed
I believe in a single substance, the mother of all forces, which engenders bodies and the consciousness of everything, visible and invisible.

I believe in a single Lord, the Human Mind, the unique son of the substance of the world after centuries of evolution: the encapsulated refection of the real world, the epiphenomenal light of primordial darkness, the real reflection of the real world - evolved through trial and error, not engendered or created, consubstantial with the mother substance - and through whom the whole world can be reflected. It is he who - for we human beings, and for our use - has ascended from the shadows of the mother substance.

He has taken on flesh from matter through the work of evolution, and he has become the Human Brain.

Although he is destroyed with each generation that passes, he is formed anew in each generation following, according to Heredity. He is summoned to ascend to comprehensive knowledge of the whole world and to be seated at the right of the mother-substance, which will serve him in his mission of judge and legislator and his reign will never end.

I believe in Evolution, which directs all, which gives life to the inorganic and consciousness to the organic, which proceeds from the mother-substance and fashions the thinking mind. With the mother-substance and the human mind, evolution receives equal authority and importance. It has spoken through universal progress.

I believe in one diligent, universal, civilising Science. I acknowledge a single discipline for the elimination of errors and I await the future fruits of collective efforts of the past for the life of civilisation to come.

So be it.
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in fulfilment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

The Cross

Is it necessary to choose between religion and science? Does it not suffice to give each of these two aspirations its place?

It is necessary to add to the horizontal aspiration the vertical aspiration, i.e. to live under the sign of the cross.

Moses and the tablets of law

This means to say that one separates the quantitive and the qualitative aspects in a clear way, and that one takes account of the precise difference between the function of a mechanism and the action of a sacrament.

Moses describes the sacramental in the book of Genesis; modern astronomy is in the process of describing the world machine. The "how" is the mechanism, knowable through quantity: and the "what" is the essence, revealed by quality.

The Synthesis of the Scientific and the Christian Creeds

Serpent and Cross
Moses set the serpent on a
pole to atone for the
Israelites forsaking God

Crucify the serpent. Put the serpent - or the scientific creed - on the cross of religion and science, and a metamorphosis of the serpent will follow. The scientific creed will then become a mirroring of the Word.

It will no longer be truth; it will be method. It will no longer say: "in the beginning was substance or matter", but it will say: "in order to understand the mechanism of the made world, it is necessary to choose a method which takes account of the origin of matter and of that which set it in motion from above".

The will-to-power, man's domination of nature, will gradually lose its moral indifference, and will be more and more inclined to good - it will be transformed into the will-to-service. This will call for changes in scientific method, so that wishful ignorance of the spiritual world will be abandoned as out of date.

Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole;
 And if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
                                                                                (Numbers xxi, 9)

We, who are in the desert of the present day, have need of the bronze serpent on a pole, in order to look at it and thus save our spiritual life.

Pierre Teilhardin de Chardin
Pierre Teilhard
de Chardin

France has had the honour of giving birth to the great Twentieth Century scientist and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
His Phenomenon of Man is the realised synthesis of the antimony "faith - empirical science". As a true scientist and a true believer he succeeded through his life's work in uniting the horizontal of science and the vertical of religion. He loyally accepted the cross of 'Voltarian' scientific doubt and 'Ignatian' faith.

Let us not fear to become like the Hermit of the Tarot, who is clothed in the habit of faith and whose doubt fathoms the ground - with his staff.

The Hermit

The Hermit

He who seeks true peace can never "take sides". He is committed to profound solitude. He is a hermit in his inner life, whatever his outer life may be. He will never be given the joy of plunging himself in national, social or political collectivity.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.
                             (Matthew v, 9)

The hermit refuses to take sides in the face of partial truths and prejudices. With his mantle,his lamp and his staff he is a "travelling salesman" for peace (which is prudence, and therefore solitude). There is no need to take pity on him. For he has his joys, and these are intense, for example when he meets another itinerant hermit on the way.

Then there are the joys of profound silence, full of revelations, and those of the starry heaven, whose solemn presence speaks in the language of eternity, and those of breathing the air of spirituality!

The Rainbow

God's covenant with Noah

The rainbow is the visible manifestation of the idea of peace, because it causes us to see unity in the diversity of colours. The whole family of colours presents itself to us as seven sisters who join their hands.

And God said:
This is the sign of the covenant
which I am make between me
and you and every living creature with you,
a covenant for all future generations.
I set my bow in the clouds,
and it will be the sign of the covenant
between me and the earth.
                 (Genesis ix, 12-13)

The Hermit walks around the 'equator' of living colours.

Wilhelm Ostwald's
colour solid


There are four kinds of peace.

  1. Transcendental (nirvana). Buddhist or Yogic meditation corresponding to the colour white.
  2. Immanent (catholic). Manifests all colours and corresponds to the 'equator' of the coloured body. It is the peace of brotherhood and mutual complement.
  3. Predominance (hegemonic). Tends to a particular colour (see the British Empire coloured red in 19th / early 20th Century maps of the world) and engulfs all the other colours.
    British Empire
    British Empire 1921
  4. Peace of Death (nihilistic). Corresponds to black and signals a levelling out of all diversity.

The Hermit's way is to walk round the equator of living colours.
way of peace is unity in diversity.

Is a contemplative, a hermit merely a passenger on the ship of life? One must guard against this superficial view. Prayer, divine service, study and a disciplined and active, austere life constitute an active endeavour, having in view the destiny of the voyage of man's spiritual history.

On the other hand a life of action can lead to narrow-mindedness. "What is the good of occupying myself with Eskimos, with whom I have nothing to do, when I do not even know sufficient people in my street?", says one who has chosen action at the expense of knowledge.

middle Ages Pilgrim
Pilgrim on the Camino Real

The hermit is walking. He manifests a third state beyond contemplation and action. He is in the tradition of the medieval pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela, and he is also for our time and for the future. The hermit of the ninth card is a man of heart, who has realised within himself the antinomy "knowledge - will" or "contemplation- action".

The heart alone can go out of the organism and become a traveller, a visitor, an anonymous companion to those who are in prison, to those who are in exile and to those who bear heavy loads of responsibility. No distance is insurmountable to love.

The heart is the centre of the the seven centres of man's psychic and vital constitution. The great work of spiritual alchemy is transmutation of of the substances of the lotuses (metal) into the substance of heart (gold).

See the following table:

7th Chakra

"The Unqualified Absolute"

Lessons related to spirituality
There is no mantra, this being the end rather than the means of yoga I am the resurrection and the life

The revelation of wisdom

The Sacrament of Extreme Unction
6th Chakra

"Command" or "The Qualified Absolute"
Lessons related to mind, intuition, insight and wisdom
for the centre between the eyebrows
I am the light of the world

Compassion filled insight

The Sacrament of Ordination
5th Chakra


Lessons related to will and self-expression.
for the larynx centre
I am the good shepherd

The creative word

The Sacrament of Confession
4th Chakra

"Not struck" - the pure sound of creation.

Lessons related to love, forgiveness and compassion
for the heart centre
I am the bread of life


The heart of man's psychic and vital constitution

The Sacrament of Communion
3rd Chakra

City of the shining jewel.

Lessons related to the ego, personality and self-esteem
for the umbilical centre
I am the door


The Sacrament of Confirmation
2nd Chakra

"Her special abode"

Lessons related to sexuality, work and physical desire.
for the pelvic centre
I am the way the truth and the light

Harmony and health

The Sacrament of Marriage
1st Chakra

"Root support"

Spiritual life lessons related to the material world.
for the centre of the base of the spine
I am the true vine

Creative Force

The Sacrament of Baptism

There are different methods here. We can chose between the method of vibrating particular syllabic sounds - Om, Ham, Yam, Ram, Vam and Lam - or the method of spiritual communion with the seven rays of the "I AM" or the seven aspects of the perfect SELF, who is Jesus Christ.

The work of salvation of the soul is the restoration of the reign of the heart.

The Tenth Arcanum: The Wheel of Fortune

Introduction to the Tarot

The Seven Miracles of St. John's Gospel by Valentin Tomberg


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