Now that we have found that bright, enduring and inexhaustible light within VIII Strength, it is time to rekindle our Hermit's lamp, preparing for the long, dark road ahead into Underworld and Shadow.
Thus far on our Hero's Journey we have seen through the limitations of a dogmatic, prescribed approach to innerstanding ourselves and Source (V). We have overcome the temptation to stagnate in society's values of what "success" means (VII). Here in The Hermit we realeyes that to go further on this road we must do so alone, for no one else can descend into our Underworld for us and return with the true boon that the gods grant: SELF knowledge and the keys to The Uni-Verse that this state of being uncovers.
As we have seen throughout the Major Arcana, these rites of passage don't just represent our own journey to Selfhood, they also depict the Sun's rise and fall through the Zodiac. Having reached His peak in Strength (Leo), the Sun's energy must now begin to wane (IX is Virgo) as it heads towards Winter and it's "death" (and rebirth) at the Winter Sol-stice.
"As Above, So Below": if it is happening "out there", then it is also the path our inner sun (our ego, our sense of separate self) must take.
This is why The Hermit - in the Rider-Waite at least - is shown having reached the summit of the mountain (the outer world) but now has no other option but to descend. His lamp is burning bright with the vital forces unleashed in Strength, but he is fully aware that now that light needs to be put to use in illuminating the inner world.
Up until we pass through Strength we are content with the identity that society (parents/ schools/ medea) bestow upon us - the acceptable, socially-approved personality - but now we realeyes that this persona is not congruent with the fullness of our Soul, which includes both "acceptable" and "unacceptable" elements and which we experienced for the first time in XVIII. If we were to plateau here we prevent a reunion with all those aspects of ourselves that we have buried deep within our unconscious - collectively known as 'The Shadow'.
Until we gain The Hermit's wisdom that this Underworld must be faced, we will continue to feel inauthentic, like an actor who has no identity other than the characters he plays and who is lost in a sea of masks.
The only way to extricate oneself from inauthenticity and from remaining just another character in someone else's play is to become comfortable in sol-itude. We are constantly bombarded with the message that introversion and aloneness is something to be avoided, but this is the only way that The Hermit can introspect sufficiently to see through those labels and identities which are not his true essence and which no longer serve him, or his Quest. This quiet and often dark journey is also one which requires patience - another virtue which our society has done its best to erode. After the struggle with ego we overcame in Strength now comes a period of stillness and reflection; an intake of breath as we prepare to encounter the unknown.
And so The Hermit enters our life just as Gandalf entered Bilbo and Frodo's, hinting at a great adventure that lies outside of the boundaries of all we know ('The Shire'). This may occur in the form of an outer mentor, or as the inner guide that prompts us to evolve, to keep going and not just settle for success in the mundane world. His achievements are of an entirely different order: promising an evolution of consciousness; a quantum leap in self awareness.
Like Gandalf, who crested Caradhras with company, THE HERMIT looks down, the journey to the deep dark ahead of him, sensing that he must depart from the Fellowship.
Like the wizard, who knows that Fire and Shadow waits in those mines, we must overcome fear of our inner Balrog (XV) if we are to reach the albedo state ('The White') that Mithrandir achieved.
Most importantly, we must accept willingly (XII) that this struggle is to be faced alone and without conventional weaponry. Only a heightened state of consciousness (IX) can prevail against (transmute) such a regressive (inner) adversary as the Valaraukar.
~ A.J. Dunbar
'Gandalf' by Jerry Vanderstelt
'10,000 Rungs of Solitude' by Nico Photos
Gandalf and the Balrog - unknown