Jungfrau by Anthony Louis
Virgins, Hermits and Magi (Magicians)
On August 22, the Sun entered Virgo (the virgin), the zodiacal sign linked to the hermit card of the tarot. Historically, the purity and innocence of the virgin, as well as the celibacy and self-abnegation of the hermit, are traits believed to foster spirituality. Virgo is ruled by the mental and androgynous planet Mercury, associated with the magician (or magus) of the tarot.
The sign Virgo belongs to the element earth, one of the four elements described by the Greek philosopher Empedocles around 450 BC. The tarot’s earthy suit of pentacles or disks depicts typical scenes drawn from the down-to-earth, pragmatic and mundane situations suggested by the element earth. Virgins and hermits seek contact with the divine through the renunciation of earthly pleasures.
Virgins have played an important role in Western culture. Christianity tells us that the Virgin Mary was chosen by God to give birth to the Christ child. Three wise men (magi, magicians, astrologers) followed Christ’s star to Bethlehem. Throughout the centuries, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to virginal young people to relay her message to the world. In a well-known Hollywood movie, Mary, calling herself the Immaculate Conception, instructs Bernadette to dig a spring so that sacred water can flow. The Roman goddess Vesta, who was tended by virgins, is also associated with water flowing from a sacred spring. Many modern astrologers link the asteroid Vesta to the sign Virgo.
The vestal virgins of Rome were priestesses of the cult of Vesta, the goddess of the eternal flame that burns forever in the hearth. The virgins of Vesta were chosen as little girls by the pontifex maximus (high priest) to serve the goddess for a 30-year term, during which they had to remain chaste or else be buried alive. The vestal virgins were expected to officiate at religious ceremonies, fetch water from a sacred spring, attend to the temple and maintain an ever-burning hearth. Vesta’s mythology and her link with the sign Virgo suggest that astrologically she may be associated with work, devotion, commitment and service to others. The theme of the perpetual flame of Vesta repeats in the lantern that illuminates the way for the hermit of the tarot.
The word hermit comes from the Greek eremites, meaning one who lives in the desert. The first Christian hermit was Paul of Thebes, who retired to the wilderness in 250 AD. Hermits took flight to the desert to escape religious persecution, renounce worldly pleasures, atone for their sins and devote their lives to prayer and fasting.
In discussing the sign Leo the lion, which precedes Virgo, we made reference to the various mythological and allegorical stories about lions and hermits in Western culture. One of these had to do with Saint Jerome who, like Androcles, befriended a savage lion by removing a thorn from the paw of the beast. Jerome used his knowledge (ruled by Mercury) like magic to calm the ferocious lion. A noted church father, scholar and hermit, Jerome combined the intellectual traits of Mercury (the magician) with the attention to detail and willingness to serve found in Virgo (the hermit).
The Magic of Mercury
Mercury, the traditional ruler of Virgo, is linked to the magician card of the tarot. The Rider-Waite-Smith magician is a handsome young man who is manipulating objects that represent the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. The magician’s right hand is raised toward heaven and his left hand points toward the earth, reminiscent of the phrase used for centuries to justify astrology, ”As above, so below.” Mercury’s magic is the power of intellect, reason, logic, analysis and attention to detail. Modern technology, which would appear magical to the ancients, is a product of Mercury’s power.
The hermit is most likely the magician grown old. Experience has taught him that reason alone and technical know-how are not sufficient for spiritual understanding. The hermit has ”been there, done that” as the magician, and now seeks an inner path to spiritual enlightenment.
Questions Posed by the Hermit Card
When the hermit card appears in a tarot reading, we ask ourselves where we are on our spiritual journey. Are we caught up in manipulating the world of the four elements, like the magician, or are we able to withdraw into our selves for inner peace and understanding? Are we continuing to drink water from a sacred spring? Are we maintaining our perpetual flame, or have we let our spiritual fire die out? Do we need to renounce some worldly pleasure for a greater good?
Tarot Meditations While the Sun Is in Virgo
This is an excellent time to meditate on the tarot’s hermit and magician cards, as well as the suit of pentacles of the minor arcana. Study their images, look for their interconnections and reflect on how they relate to your inner and outer life at the end of the summer.
If you are interested in the connections between tarot and astrology, here are some books you may find useful.
The Complete Illustrated Guide to Tarot by Rachel Pollack, Element Books.
Llewellyn’s 2000 and 2001 Tarot Calendars by Llewellyn Publications.
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, Thoresons Publishing
Tarot and the Journey of the Hero by Hajo Banzhaf, Weiser Publications.
Tarot Companion by Tracy Porter, Llewellyn Publications.
Tarot Plain and Simple by Tony Louis, Llewellyn Publications.
What is the Tarot?
The traditional tarot consists of 78 cards divided into 22 major arcana cards (greater secrets) and 56 minor arcana cards (lesser secrets). The major arcana cards depict 22 spiritual lessons in allegorical fashion. The 56 minor arcana cards are similar to a modern deck of 52 playing cards and consist of four suits containing ten pip or numbered cards plus four court cards in each suit. The most influential tarot deck of the past century, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, was conceived by Arthur Waite, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith and published by Rider in 1910.