Magical Thinking: The Hermit in quarantine

I’ve been discussing tarot interpretations with a friend who had decided to pull a card a day and then re-create it with items in her house during quarantine. The very first card she pulled was The Hermit.

“Just pulled a tarot card that hit a bit close to home,” she messaged me.

Indeed, pulling the Hermit as a card during forced isolation can feel a bit like the universe is laughing at you. Even those of us generally disinclined to go out and and live it up are chafing under the strict imposition of social distancing. It’s important, but not going outside was a lot more fun when it was a choice.

Yet, even enforced hermitage can learn something from IX of the Major Arcana. After all, the most pressing question the Hermit poses to us when we draw it is “Why are you pulling away from the world?” or “What do you hope to achieve with your isolation?”

The Hermit is a very spiritual card, not in the same way as the High Priestess or the Moon, but because it is a card which represents the work of spiritual practice. A traditional hermitage, the kind pursued by monks, saints, and other holy persons is a drawing away from the bustle of daily affairs and the material world in an attempt to access a higher, inner plane of being. Whether you are persuing mediation, prayer, or even the simple act of drawing a card once a day and carrying its meaning with you; the goal is to pull away from the riptide of quotidian tribulation to really assess oneself and ones place in the grand scheme of life.

Often, if the card appears reversed or negatively aspected within a spread, the Hermit can serve as a warning. We often tell ourselves when we pull away from those around us and the questions and concerns of the every day that we are doing it to achieve something elevated, but that is not always the case. Instead, it can be out of fear — that we will be hurt or overwhelmed — or laziness — a “spiritual” isolation is inviolable by sciences and philosophy with which we might disagree — or confusion — we don’t know when or how to make a decision so we decide to do or be nothing. These are not worthy reasons to pull away from the mass and hubub of life.

So, in one way, the Hermit can be a warning about examining carefully and honestly why we have pulled away from those around us. Are we genuinely pursuing something greater, or are we attempt to slip our duties to those around us.

In mandated isolation (and we are all isolated right now, whether we are required to go into work or not, the form and shape of life has been drastically and significantly altered for all of us), the Hermit is also a reminder of what we hope to gain when we choose isolation and contemplation instead of action. The work of self-knowledge, spiritual awakening, or intellectual elevation is not something we can achieve if we go into it with purely selfish intentions. The law of spiritual feeling is one of universal love, an expansion of the ego until it is ultimately destroyed and we are able to recognize a universal totality of which we are but a tiny, insignificant, shining piece.

Why should this particular aspect of the Hermit matter when we are all as close to locked away as we can get? Because it is the reminder that we are not doing this for ourselves or to be alone. We are doing it because we belong to a wider, greater whole. And while we are unable to be close to one another, unable to hold one another or sit together, we are not retreating from the world. We must find new ways of sharing of ourselves with one another, new ways of being and of supporting one another. We can still elevate ourselves and each other, without physically lifting one another (so to speak).

We have an opportunity for quiet, for contemplation, for self-examination, and self-improvement (and I don’t mean, necessarily, learning a new instrument or finishing your novel, or even getting through your back log of reading to catch up to where you have always imagined wanting to be; the barriers which have inhibited those actions are likely still present, be they work, time, or anxiety). So now it is up to us to recognize that this a moment where we can reckon with ourselves about what we cherish and what we need to feel our best selves.

When I left for Athens, I decided (for once in my life) to pack less than I expected to need. So my hermitage has become not only a test of moderate social isolation, but also one of asceticism. The question has very much become, can I stand living with two pairs of pants, six black t-shirts, and a week’s worth of underwear? How many pens and pads do really need? How many pairs of shoes do I need?

I’ve realized that I wish I had brought more of my make up with me, I miss having a second pair of shoes, and that not being near my personal library is utterly disorienting. Also I can apparently play Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch for about six hours every day, making it my primary activity (both leisure and otherwise). My natural circadian rhythm is 10 AM to 3 AM, and I really don’t like eating first thing when I wake up.

Some of these things I already knew, like the breakfast thing, but others have been surprising, like the make up. And the fact that I wish I had slightly more variety in the types of socks I had brought with me.

I haven’t been able to do too much reading, because the things which have been holding me back, most notably a particular intellectual restlessness, continue unabated (perhaps even exacerbated) in quaratine. But I have been able to write more, as this very blog post evidences, because I’ve managed to maintain my most productive social relationships (and even expanded them to include people I have been unable to see as much or as often as I might like) without having to submit to those interpersonal exchanges I find the most draining and least helpful.

In short, the Hermit is a reminder that we can learn much about ourselves and where we position ourselves in the world by cutting back or cutting away at those things which are a given in the normal course of life. We may not have chosen the social and physical distancing which we are now experiencing, but that does not mean we cannot find ways to make use of it, seek within and beyond ourselves that which will make the here and the now bearable.

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