Let’s start our exploration of Virgo in the tarot with the Major Arcana. In the system I follow (which uses some but not all of the attributions of the Golden Dawn), the Hermit is associated with Virgo. Not the most obvious association, perhaps, given what we know about Virgoan qualities.
Of all the images of the Hermit that I’ve come across, the one that gives me clues on the Virgo connection is the one from the Thoth – specifically, in the sheaves of grain in the background. The sheaves have ripened; we can see the Hermit’s harvest. It’s become visible to the world - it’s seen ‘the light of day’. This begins to sound like the Hermit now – casting a light so that we can find our way. More traditional images of the Hermit often include a lantern as the sole source of illumination.
Virgo is the sixth sign in the zodiac. All the signs up to this point have focused on the individual and our inner world. Virgo is the last of these; after her, the emphasis turns to the outer, public domain. The word ‘completion’ is sometimes used as a meaning for the Hermit; we can see this in the harvest, but also in the ‘completion’ of the first half of the zodiac – the part of the journey around the wheel dealing with ‘self’ is complete, opening the way to a bigger arena to nurture and eventually harvest.
Virgo can be introspective, with much of its analytical and/or critical nature directed at the self, not others. There’s a taste of the Hermit here, particularly in terms of introspection – one of the traditional meanings associated with the card. The journey is taken alone, requiring courage and trust in oneself. In the Thoth deck, we see aspects of the ‘shadow’ side of the card in the three-headed hellhound, Cerebus. See how one head looks back? For me, that’s a Virgo trait – looking back to make sure everything’s been dealt with, all the details tidied up, before moving further along that contemplative path. The Hermit keeps his eyes down, watching the path for potential difficulties that might lie ahead.
The Hermit is also associated with meditation - withdrawing, even if only for a short time, from the outer world and turning our attention inwards. It's not a selfish desire, but a genuine need for solitude so that we can look at where we are and what we've learned. The female equivalent of the male hermit, historically, was the crone - the wise, older woman, who draws on what she's learned from her experiences.
When we think of the archetypal hermit, we often associate such withdrawal from society with self-denial. Hermann Haindl's Hermit focuses more on the joy that can come through closer contact with ourselves and the natural world.
The Shadowscapes’ Hermit also depicts withdrawal from the world; here we see a figure poised on a rocky pinnacle (representing Earth), “clear of the smog of humanity...the air attains...a purity he does not know he has missed until he breathes it for the first time” (Shadowscapes Companion, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, Llewellyn, 2010). As we complete our harvest and begin the introspective part of the year, our eyes will become accustomed to the darkness and we will be able to continue our journey.
Haindl Tarot created by Hermann Haindl, published by US Games Systems, Inc.
Secret Tarot created by Marco Nizzoli, published by Lo Scarabeo.
Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn
Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by US Games Systems, Inc.