In Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching, he offers this alternate wording of the opening line: “The force that can be forced is not the eternal Force.”
Which leads me to do something I usually avoid: identifying a Major Arcana card, in all its archetypal glory, with a particular fictional character. But in this case, I can’t help it. Obi-Wan Kenobi—or old Ben Kenobi, as Luke Skywalker first knew him back in the original Star Wars—seems to exemplify this card.
As Michael Tierra and Candis Cantin put it in The Spirit of Herbs: A Guide to the Herbal Tarot, “the Hermit has learned to help others with love and compassionate detachment. He has gone beyond the point of being critical . . . He no longer needs to convince others of what they should do . . . He is at the point of needing to be silent and allowing his light to shine.”
Obi-Wan has nothing to prove in Star Wars—that’s clear from his conversations with Han Solo. Han can disparage the Force and old Jedi superstitions to his heart’s content; Obi-Wan doesn’t bother arguing the case. He seems to regard Han with a gentle amusement instead.
By the same token, Obi-Wan doesn’t try to force Luke onto a particular path. “You must do what you feel is right, of course.” Granted, things take an ugly turn to bring Luke back on track—and I don’t think Obi-Wan wanted it that way!—but the point is that he didn’t nag Luke or try to convince the kid that his way was the only way. He waited until Luke was ready to make that decision for himself.
Obi-Wan exemplifies the classic interpretations of this card as well: solitude, monasticism, meditation, enlightenment and guidance. This is someone who seems to have found his way, and who can therefore shine light on the path for others. But it will be up to those others to make use of that light.
As a sidebar, do you need to be solitary or monastic to achieve enlightenment? Some traditions say yes, others say no, some see it as one stage of life, while others say it’s right for some people but not for others. I think the Tarot suggests that it might, at least, be an important step along the way.
If your character is considering these steps, though, she may not agree! Or maybe she does, but she’s in the midst of working and raising a family. How does she find a moment for herself, let alone the solitude to meditate or pray?
Can you name other fictional characters who are dead ringers for the Hermit? Have you written one as a mentor figure? Did you, like me, first encounter this particular Tarot card via the artwork of your Led Zeppelin IV album? Let me know in the comments. And, as always, if this card inspires a story, piece of art or meta of your own, leave a link!