The Hermit is a typical image of Odin: He wears a grey cloak with either a pointed hood or a pointed hat, and you can only see one of his eyes over his white beard. He holds the lantern of his wisdom. This card is the flip side of the same coin that contains ᚨ (Ansuz): Ansuz is a Rune of communication and wisdom, whereas The Hermit is a card of wisdom which comes from introspection. Some Rune lovers associate this kind of wisdom with either ᛇ or ᛉ (Eiwaz or Algiz).
The Fool’s Journey
The Archetype of The Hermit is an old man on top of his mountain, looking out on the world and processing what he has learned. Odin is frequently depicted in his throne atop Hlidskjalf, the spire from which he can watch the goings-on of all the nine worlds. This is a place he can go to reflect on the wisdom he has earned from such wise counselors as Kvasir, Mimir, and Vafthrudnir. From on high, he is able to see more clearly that which was muddied when he stood within it.
The most prominent symbols in most depictions of The Hermit are the old man, the lantern’s light, and the snow. The lantern is the light of wisdom, and the white-bearded old man is what our ancestors used to think a wise person looked like. If you only look at his pointed hood and the hand holding the staff, this card actually looks like ᚨ (Ansuz) in many decks.
Unlike the other symbols, the snow does not represent wisdom. The snow represents his isolation. Before the invention of the snow plow, snow made it much harder for people to go to one another. The Hermit is a card of being away from other people. This is the opposite of the advice in The Havamal that “If you have a friend… go and visit him often.”
Some decks show other ways that introverts can acquire wisdom: by reading. In The Pagan Tarot (left), we see a woman reading books. We have a few dozen surviving medieval grimoires and thousands of pagan books published in the past two centuries.
The Modern Witch Tarot (right) on the other hand shows a woman reaching for her computer. It is unclear whether she is opening it or closing it. If she is opening it, she is about to be given access to all human knowledge (buried under a whole pile of misinformation). If she is closing it, she is closing herself off from the world to process that knowledge. Either way, she is taking a step in the journey of wisdom.
Only two of my decks showed dogs on them, but both are cards which connect The Hermit with death. Hyndla is shown in The Giants Tarot (left). She once rode with Freya on a journey related to the death of Ottar (possibly another name for Freya’s husband Odur). In The Thoth Tarot, the dog shown is Cerberus, the three-headed guardian of the underworld from Hellenic mythology.
Despite this death symbolism, this is not a card that means that one is going to die. The Hermit is a card of the wisdom needed to navigate the death of another. Hyndla first helps Freya, then Ottar, handle Ottar’s death. The Hermit is the card of the one who can navigate through the difficulties of death.