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Listen to Hermits

Hermits appear in many myths. Two show up in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Generally, the mythological hermits are good guys, albeit odd. One has to be careful, however – sometimes evil beings disguise themselves as hermits. One of Spenser’s hermits is wise; the other evil disguised as good. And, whether benevolent or malevolent, hermits in mythology are usually rather ugly and a bit scary.

Myths are absolutely true, but they’re not real. They are stories that teach important lessons and reveal truth. Take, for example, the many different myths about heroes on quests – Odysseus in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Frodo in Lord of the Rings, and the many versions of mediaeval knights searching for the Holy Grail.[1]

Knights in the quest myths[2] encounter a Hermit who is a wise old solitary person with deep wisdom. Typically, the Hermit gruffly shows the hero what sins he has committed, then turns gentle and compassionate as the knight repents. Then the hermit shows the knight how to find what he’s looking for – the Holy Grail.

The Grail is the object of the hero’s quest and is symbolic of our search for the meaning of life, the nature of the Divine, connectedness with God, our true purpose and core identity. In the myths, the hero can’t find his way to the grail without the guidance of a hermit.

The hero, the knight on the quest, is us – you and me as we search for purpose, meaning, God. The hermit in the tale represents wisdom, both internally and externally. If we seek long enough, we will meet the internal hermit – the deeply introverted part of ourselves. If we stop and listen, that deep part of us will show us the way.

In real life some individuals are so deeply introverted and contemplative, that they, like the hermits in the myths, have deep wisdom. Those kinds of people rarely offer that wisdom. They never promote themselves. They are elders. They have to be sought out, and, once found, questioned about meaning and listened to deeply. They, like John the Beloved, live in the divine presence, soaking in wisdom. To come across such a person is a gift.

The quest to live in the secret place of God’s heart, the inner sanctuary of the divine, to find our core identity and true purpose in life, is a life-long mission that requires guides. The deepest parts of our psyches help guide us. Wise mentors, spiritual directors, help guide us.

But, to be guided, to eventually grasp the Grail, we’ve got to listen to the hermits.


[1] In mediaeval lore, the Holy Grail is the cup from which Jesus and the disciples drank at the Last Supper, which then came into the possession of Joseph of Arimathea, who, at the cross, used it to catch some of Jesus’ blood. He then later (according to legend) traveled to Europe with the Grail. In the myths, the Grail (purpose of life, connectedness with God) is guarded by the Fisher King, who represents Jesus. But the King is wounded and the kingdom is in disarray until an innocent fool asks, “Whom does the Grail serve?” The answer is that the Grail serves the Fisher King. Once the question is asked, the Grail becomes a cornucopia, the King is healed, the kingdom is filled with joy and abundance, and the innocent fool (who is also the Knight errant) discovers his true purpose in life.

[2] The Grail Story has many versions, beginning with Perceval, the Story of the Grail, a French poem by Chrétien de Troyes. A German version: Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach. A Welsh version: Peredur son of Efrawg, which is a loose translation of Chrétien's poem. The German poem Diu Crône (The Crown), in which Gawain, rather than Perceval, achieves the Grail. And the English versions in which Galahad is the hero. The Queste del Saint Graal, is a follow-up in which Galahad finds the Grail.

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