The Hermit is one of the major arcana cards in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot and other tarot decks based on the Tarot de Marseilles (or Latin Tarot). He may appear in other decks, as well, but his symbolism is the same, regardless of which deck contains him.
In the Rider-Waite (also known as Rider-Waite-Smith) deck, the Hermit is depicted as a tall, white-haired, bearded man wearing a hooded cloak and standing in the snow on a mountaintop. In his left hand, he holds a tall staff, and in his right hand he holds a lighted lantern that contains a six-pointed star. He is number 9 (IX) of the major arcana. The images on the card are rich with symbolism that give greater insight into its meaning.
Placement in the Major Arcana
Major arcana cards have special significance in tarot readings. In the historic development of the tarot which was originally created as a set of playing cards, major arcana cards were trump cards, so the Hermit is a trump card for game play. He has special significance in tarot readings as well. All major arcana cards, including the Hermit, represent archetypes. In this case, the Hermit represents the Sage archetype. Because major arcana cards don't belong to any of the tarot suits, their symbolism stands alone and indicates a particularly significant aspect of the reading the subject will want to give particular attention.
Number Nine (IX)
The number nine also has a symbolic meaning in tarot. Nine is a number of completion and attainment both in tarot and in numerology. Therefore, the Hermit may indicate the closing of a cycle of some kind or the attainment of something significant and long-sought.
Mountaintop and Snow
Like the number nine, the mountaintop on which the Hermit stands can indicate closure, achievement, or reaching the apotheosis of some aspect of life, such as spirituality, work, or other areas of life. The snow, which is white, represents enlightenment, truth, and spirituality.
The staff he holds in his left hand is a symbol of authority, signifying the Hermit has attained a high level of growth and authority, which he can deploy as a tool. The left hand represents the subconscious, so he has incorporated this into his subconscious and may not use this tool consciously; instead, it is fully integrated as a part of him. The left hand also represents receiving, indicating he is still receiving guidance in his path.
Lantern and Star
The lantern and six pointed star (the Seal of Solomon) represents wisdom. He holds this in his right hand, which represents his rational and conscious mind; he has consciously attained his knowledge and wisdom and wields it consciously. The right hand also is traditionally known as the "giving hand," which means he is ready to share his knowledge with those who seek it.
His cloak represents divine truth available only to those who are ready to receive it. The cloak is gray, which is a balance of black and white, or light and dark. The gray cloak suggests that through his understanding of divine truth, he has achieved balance of duality, incorporating both yin and yang into his being.
His name implies aloneness, and he is a lone figure on the card with no other animals, humans, or plants nearby. This indicates he has reached this pinnacle through his own inward contemplation.
Putting It All Together
With all of this in mind, when the Hermit appears in a tarot reading, he represents the attainment of truth and wisdom through contemplation and meditation. It suggests a time of deep contemplation by going inward to help you reach new understanding that will move you forward to new heights.
A reversed Hermit may suggest you need to take more time for contemplation and reflection, or it may be suggesting you are spending too much time in these activities.
The Hermit in Other Decks
The Hermit may appear in other decks, as well, with a different name but the same symbolism. For example, he might be called the Sage, the Monk, or even Time. When he appears in whatever form, know the message is about the journey inward to deeper contemplation and greater understanding.