Occasionally there’s an art project where I know I want to make it come together, and I have the best ideas, but I haven’t quite figured out the details. But the concept is there so strongly that it comes up in my dreams, that’s how hard I’m thinking about it. The Hermit assemblage is one of those pieces.
When I was first figuring out which species to associate with each of the Major Arcana, several hornbill species leaped out with regards to the Hermit; I was able to get a slightly damaged black-casqued hornbill skull from the Bone Room that was perfect for the project. Tree-nesting hornbill species find crevices high in the tree’s trunk; the female hornbill then walls herself up in the crevice, closing off all but a tiny hole in the opening with a mud wall. Through that opening her mate brings her food, and she gets rid of her waste (and later that of her chicks). Except for the male’s visits, she is all alone while she incubates the eggs. She is so dedicated to this task that she moults all of her flight feathers; even if she opened up the nest, she’d be unable to fly away.
The Hermit is often considered to be a male character in the tarot, so I really enjoyed turning that on its head with the female hornbill. All people, regardless of sex and gender, are capable of productive isolation to one degree or another; it is not only men who go off to be shamans and seers. And the hornbill does come out with something of value–new feathers for herself, and the work she put into creating and nurturing the new generation. She is the shaman who goes off into the wilderness and brings back something valuable for her community, in this case new life. She renews herself as well, and when she finally opens her nest, she has strong, beautiful new flight feathers to carry her back onto the sky.
In the hornbill’s bill there’s a fig I sculpted and painted. Hornbills are omnivorous, though figs are a favorite when in season. A hermit is never completely isolated; she takes the experiences of the world (signified by the fig) and in her quietude transforms them into something new and amazing. Without some connection to the outer world, her efforts are for naught. And the nourishment keeps her strong for when she’s ready to rejoin the outside community again.