Understanding the Hermit Archetype

Written by on August 28, 2012 in On Archetypes

Summary

The Hermit is sometimes depicted as an old man or old woman and is known also as the wise one or sage.  The Hermit typically lives in a mountain cave, sometimes deep in a forest glen in a hut or tree. He/she lives alone and is usually on the outskirts of a town or village. Seen as a guru or teacher the Hermit is often sought out for advice and counsel. The Hermit is associated with wisdom, introspection, creativity, connection to nature, silence, self-knowledge, and guidance.

The shadow includes, isolation, retreat, (giving up) unwilling to face external challenges, seduced by the pleasures of the cave.  The hermit retreats to the cave to turn his/her awareness to the non-material world. In nature, winter is an aspect of the Hermit archetype as nature withdraws and enters the deep underground, all activity is under the surface, unseen and unknown as the world falls asleep in the cold. Sometimes the shadow Hermit can be cold toward others at times, inaccessible in relationships, (i.e. hibernation) or simply selfish, unyielding and unkind. This is the Shadow Hermit in the winter nature.

Summer nature is a time of flowering, of expressing what you have learned during the winter period and sharing with others, offering guidance and light in a darkened world. Using the seasons to chart the rhythms of this archetype can help to work it from the shadow to the light. In ancient times, hermits often acted as guides for travelers and pilgrims seeking the sacred because they knew the wild forests and swamps and were able to help the lost find their way. They lived simply and grew their own food or lived off of the land. Many monks and nuns who found a lack of spiritual fulfillment in the monastery sought refuge in caves and huts in deep wild places. It is said that the hermit finds in solitude what the pilgrim seeks.

Shadow Hermit

Isolation- The Shadow Hermit especially in its winter nature wants to pull away from others and to not invest in relationships. They will often sabotage relationships in favor of isolation. They become happily withdrawn and safe in their turtle shell. They typically do not withdraw out of fear as much as out of need. They can become stagnant and any growth comes to dead halt. At worst, the Shadow Hermit can become a stinking swamp of inactivity and self-loathing. Too much time in the cave can result in a dead end life.

Giving up- The Shadow Hermit sometimes withdraws out of despair; quitting on life because the practice of living in the real world is too difficult. The Shadow Hermit will have a good story to tell themselves that they are not withdrawing out of despair or hopelessness but out of some desire to transcend the material world, to become a better person. But this is an excuse and the Shadow Hermit can fall prey to this kind of internal talk. The Hermit believes that there is always a safe haven in isolation but forgets the purpose of isolation is to return with new vigor and strength back to the world.

Unwilling to face challenges-The Shadow Hermit would rather defeat dragons in the dream world, than face real-world dragons, in real life situations. The Shadow Hermit would rather pontificate ideas of greatness than to plod along in reality. Not unable to face challenges, (the Hermit has courage), but unwilling to do so because this requires physical action and behavioral change. The Shadow Hermit struggles to transform wisdom into action.

Seduced by the pleasure of caveThe Shadow Hermit can become seduced by the pleasures of isolation and nature. The longer the Shadow Hermit is in the cave the harder it becomes to get out and it gets easier to make excuses to stay in where it is comfortable. The Shadow Hermit abandons any sense of duty or responsibility to others and finds people draining, preferring to concern themselves with only themselves. The isolation often leads to cynicism and jaded views of the material world as they retreat deeper and deeper inside. Sometimes becoming lost in their own inner world. Obviously sex is another issue that the Hermit must deal with. Celibacy is a way to pull back from others, avoiding intimacy and sharing. It is easier to be celibate than deal the with complications of a sexual relationship. Difficulties with or withdrawal from sex frequently play some part in this drawing back from life.

Superiority: Their ability to be alone convinces the Shadow Hermit that they have no need of others. They tend to keep others at arm’s length and refuse to show their vulnerabilities. They sometimes disregard the needs of others especially if they have become entrenched in their cave or if they have failed to care for themselves. The Shadow Hermit is known to complain about the dreadful world with its cities, roads and other modern inventions and long for a time where there was oneness with nature. With this mindset it is easy for the Hermit to consider themselves superior, considering that most of the society is entranced by modernity and progress. While it is vital that the Hermit must have time to withdraw and retreat to their sanctuaries they are not meant to stay there. The purpose is to return with the wisdom of their introspection. Sometimes this withdrawal comes from a fear of or sense of inadequacy in connection with external life and society.

The Enlightened Hermit

WisdomThe Enlightened Hermit feels the call to gain not just knowledge but wisdom. The wise old hermit so often seen in fables and myth guides the wayward and the lost to safety again. Sometimes they offer wisdom and guidance for the weary traveler. But they must first transcend the trappings of their own thoughts and dogma to achieve true wisdom. The Enlightened Hermit understands that they need to be separate from others and the world to find their way. Once they have found their own way, they can walk in the world and be a light and a source of strength for others.

IntrospectionThe Enlightened Hermit has the ability to ask useful internal questions. They do not shy away from deep thought or ideas that challenge their beliefs. They need this kind of stimulation to encourage the growth that will help them fulfill their potential. There is a strong need from time to time to to be able to withdraw in order to gather oneself together and return refreshed and renewed to participate in life more fully. Introspection is vital to the emotional and spiritual life of a Hermit. There are few people who enjoy the study of the inner life more than a Hermit.

CreativityThe Enlightened Hermit has a unique ability to enter the unconscious world of creativity and mine the resources for their own purposes. They are able to tap into the vast collective creativity when they are alone and separate from others. Their creativity will be stunted if this retreat into the cave is not honored. This time away allows them to return to a project with innovation and originality. The Enlightened Hermit usually feels a strong connection to the natural world, and will often choose to withdraw into nature. They find deep fulfillment in maintaining a connection to the purity of nature and will wither in a city environment. They must have at least some time in the forest, mountains or near natural bodies of water.

Self-awareness and Self-Discipline: The Enlightened Hermit has a keen sense of who they are and what their weakness tend to be. They can see themselves clearly and use this awareness to build a foundation for understanding human nature. They develop an aloofness toward themselves that allows for an impersonal inspection of their life. This detachment is nurtured during long periods of silence and separation. The natural asceticism of the Enlightened Hermit makes spiritual discipline a strong inclination. In fact, the Monk/Nun Archetype shares a number of qualities with the Hermit.

Guidance for self and others The Enlightened Hermit recognizes the needs of others and to become a fountain of support and guidance for those who seek them out. The Enlightened Hermit will not go around preaching to others, telling others what to do and how to do it. They are silent unless spoken to and only offer counsel or advice when it is requested. They feel no need to ensure that the seeker follows their advice. When the Enlightened Hermit is fully realized they are a connection for society with the essential knowledge of the earth. On the flip side, the Enlightened Hermit also seeks out guidance from a teacher or mentor, they can humbly accept counsel, they are willing to learn and receive from others.

Some famous hermits from history include St. Simon, Diogenes the Ascetic, Peter the Hermit, and Godric of Finchale. Modern hermits include, Emily Dickinson, Everett Ruess, and Henry David Thoreau.

Do I have the Hermit archetype?

10 Questions:

1. Do you need to spend a certain amount of time on a regular basis, away from worldly life?

2. Do you often disregard the support of others, often without realizing it?

3. Is it difficult to integrate the spiritual and material worlds? In other words, to live and practice your inner knowings?

4. Do you find too much social activity is a drain on your soul?

5. Is isolation in nature, away from civilization, appealing to you?

6. Do you find yourself avoiding necessary confrontations and feeling unwilling to take action that would improve your circumstances?

7. Do you think that self-denial can strengthen the soul?

8. Do you feel a connection to the unity of all life? Especially when you are outside of it?

9. When you are alone does “time fly?”

10. Do you feel a need (even in your secret heart) to reject worldly life and pleasures or dependency on materialism?

If you answered yes to some or most of these questions you may want to consider the Hermit archetype as one of your personal twelve.

Concepts to consider: 
introspective
thinking things over
focusing inward
concentrating less on the senses
quieting yourself
looking for answers within
needing to understand 
searching
seeking greater understanding
looking for something
wanting the truth at all costs
going on a personal quest
needing more
desiring a new direction 
receiving/giving guidance
going to/being a mentor
accepting/offering wise counsel
learning from/being a guru
turning to/being a trusted teacher
being helped/helping 
seeking solitude
needing to be alone
desiring stillness
withdrawing from the world
experiencing seclusion
giving up distractions
retreating into a private world

 

 

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  1. Aimee says:

    Thank you for sharing this article. It is beautifully written.
    Before I read this article, I identified myself as being a hermit, but in a negative way. Thinking of myself like the old, shut in, cat lady, but without the cats. Now I can identify myself as being a hermit with a positive awareness. I haven’t been introduced to the term, archetype, before. I am excited to do more research to learn about all of the different archetypes. 🙂

  2. Susanna says:

    Thanks for the comment Aimee! I am glad you can see that archetypes have both light and shadow. I will keep writing articles about different archetypes so check back often.

  3. Reva says:

    Thank you, Susanna. This totally nailed me. I have contemplated this archetype in myself for some time and come to many of the same conclusions but you took it much deeper and expressed it so well. Now I can share it with others who need help understanding me. 🙂

  4. Susanna says:

    Awesome! That makes the hours of labor writing about archetypes well worth the time and effort.

  5. Barbara says:

    Looking back through my life, I’ve always had the Hermit archetype, but have never had the opportunity to live alone, because I also have the Caregiver archetype. I’ve only been able to define my Hermit side lately as I’ve gotten old (66) and just told my husband yesterday that the great joy of my life is having the house to myself. And, today, found your description of the Hermit! Synchronicity. Thank you.

  6. Susanna says:

    Thanks Barbara, for reading. I love the synchronicity in life.

  7. mike says:

    Enlightening article. I read this receiving confirmation of qualities is my girlfriend very prevalent but now I fear misunderstood as I have taken them to have personal meaning on me. I read on with fervor looking for what this means fir someone in a relationship with a hermit but left helpless. Am I to leave her nature? She sometimes desperately wants to be different but can’t. She’s amazing and very loving. But those qualities are often elusive as I find her to be withholding. Please advise.

  8. Amy says:

    Hi Susan, thank you for going into such great detail with this archetype. I wonder if you can talk on how one makes the change from being in the shadow side to becoming an enlightened Hermit?

  9. Susanna says:

    Hi Amy,
    To move from shadow to light is actually pretty simple. Not always easy but simple. The first thing is awareness of the shadow behavior, what triggers it and how it behaves specific to you and your life. You are just as naturally able to be the enlightened version of the archetype as you are to be in the shadow, the difference is simply awareness. When we become aware of what we are doing the awareness itself is the light that casts out the darkness, it automatically brings a shift in thinking and behavior without all the forced effort. You will want to behave in a different (but equally natural) way when you see yourself doing something that doesn’t serve your higher good. Every archetype works this way. Your archetypes expressed in their enlightened states will be just as unique as you are as a person. Hope this helps. Studying and using archetypal patterns for self evolution is not a quick fix but a lifetime of interesting understanding of the self. By the way, thanks for commenting.

  10. That was a great read! Thank you for your time with sharing this with all of us. You will be rewarded.
    Andy Leo Koumi

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