Tag Archives: magic

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.

2017.01.06 :

There are so many big and important things to say, but I’ve been sick for the last three days, and don’t necessarily show that much sign of getting markedly better any time soon. Today I spent swaddled up to my ears in warm clothing and blankets, with my nose buried in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, of which I understand remarkably little, but am enjoying very much.

In cleaning out some bits of our third floor (what we consider the attic, but which is a fully furnished living space with a crawlspace above), we determined that it was finally time to send a paper model of a magic castle that I had “helped” my father construct at some young age on its final journey. I found myself confessing to my mother that I had found the castle underwhelming as a child because it was inert. Some part of me expected the paper magic castle to come to life and was wholly disappointed when it did not.

I have since come to understand that the pleasure to be found with models of any kind is in the building. I’m not sure that I will ever develop a taste for it, if that is the case, as I do not believe I have entirely lost the expectation of independent motion from my creations.

It’s tough to describe, because as a dyed in the wool atheist materialist, I am not a believer in the occult, the spiritual, or the fantastic. Yet nevertheless, a healthy diet of fantasy novels in my childhood meant that I have lived with the expectation that at any moment books will move about or rearrange their contents or their characters will leap fully formed from the page, or that the darkness in my closet hides some terrible lurking beast or secret which I can almost see when the lights are out, or in fact, that all houses have secret doors which open into new, magical, terrifying places.

As an only child, my best companions were the ones I couldn’t see: be they story book characters or colorful personas that would parade through my mind, given life through my flesh or the bodies of my dolls and toys. I remember terrifying myself with a demon slaying epic I composed to a early 2000s European trance song. I played it out with a friend, and to this day wonder if he felt the bite of anxious urgency and real danger that flooded through me.

I believe and don’t believe, or rather, in the words of the famous X-Files mantra: I want to believe. I have always wanted to believe, and have very nearly managed it by letting myself get completely carried away by the words that make up the stories that paint vivid, damn near tangible images in my head.

Reading Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart as a child was so desperately bittersweet: I always knew my father had the kind of voice that would be able to bring characters out of the pages of a book and into real life. He’d very nearly succeeded with The Hobbit and Alice in Wonderland and the early Harry Potter books because I remembered those places, knew the faces of all those people, had walked with them and heard them, and gone on fantastic adventures with them. I could still remember what that was like. But never had any of the characters sat with me, or spoken with me, sitting on my bed, in my room, like Dustfinger did.

Her novels were the moment where I stepped back from fantasy, and distanced myself from reading, because it had started to hurt. I think I’ve only read The Thief Lord once, because the adventure was so good, and the characters so vibrant and engaging that I couldn’t bear the thought of visiting them again, only to have to part ways at the end of the book.

My mother and I have a long standing disagreement about the nature of books, and stories. She says the the end of any book is immaterial, because you can start over from the beginning, when no one as died, no adventures have been had, nothing is over, you can just do it all again, and again, and again. But I say that this isn’t true. Once the book is read all the way through, the ending is always the same. If you start over, the adventures have already been had, and the ending is written; those who will die, will die and have already died, and those who will live have already lived and already suffered.

I can’t remember, now, if my little fantasy worlds offered the chance of redemption. I know I spun narrative threads and kept them going as long as someone wanted to play, but I don’t remember if some endings were set in stone: if you could play through the European trance epic and slay all the demons, or if you, the hero, had to perish as the bass throbbed and the synthesizer​ faded out. My stories have always tended towards the cyclical and the fated. I have never been surprised that all roads lead to destiny, because prophesy is merely the art of reading the final chapter of the story before the hero has gotten there.