What is a hermit?
A hermit is a person who lives apart from society. Traditionally, this has meant living alone and self-sufficiently, but not always. The word "hermit" is derived from the Greek eremia for "desert," in reference to the Desert Fathers of the fourth century; and eremos came to mean solitary. The Latin equivalent is solitarius.

The term recluse is often taken as a synonym but it has a more behavioral sense to it, while the term "hermit" often retains its deliberate, even spiritual sense. For example, the famed eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica defined "hermit" as "a solitary, one who withdraws from all intercourse with other human beings in order to live a life of religious contemplation." However, the American Heritage Dictionary defines "hermit" as "a person who has withdrawn from society and lives a solitary existence; a recluse."


What is eremiticism? What is a cenobite?
Eremiticism is the term describing the way of life or system of being a hermit. The term is used to distinguish religious forms of living. A monk or nun living in a community of others, as opposed to living as a hermit, is a cenobite. Cenobite (as opposed to eremite) is derived from the Greek  koinos, meaning community.


Why does a person become a hermit?
In every religious tradition, the individual has been advised to withdraw within the self, separate from the world, in order to achieve inner peace, if not insight. What has differed among these religious cultures is the degree to which this inwardness is permitted, even cultivated. Eastern cultures have encouraged, respected, even admired the decision to become a hermit. In the West, the primacy of social and external life has often opposed or put strictures and sanctions on hermits.


Are there other reasons for seeking solitude?
One need not be religious or spiritual to appreciate the ability to find space for oneself, to seek self-expression, and to be indifferent to or choose not to conform to the ways of the world. A spiritual tradition or culture has often been the context, but some individuals have created their own philosophical reasons for pursuing solitude. Others have discovered renewed creativity from limited periods of solitude. As long as solitude is voluntary, not forced by psychological illness or institutional confinements or oppressions, solitude has been universal.


What about people who live apart from society but seem to have "problems"?
Solitude must be an option based on a mature level of consciousness. Enforced solitude is not at all what we refer to here. Psychological and mental problems, social conflict, addictive and violent behavior, imprisonment, diseases - all have been factors in isolating people from society. Even voluntary solitude such as survivalism or egoism is not the solitude to which we refer. These concepts have no relation to the tradition of solitude and eremiticism seen over the centuries and across all cultures.


How can one be a hermit when daily life is so complex?
An Eastern passage describes the true hermit as one who can be in a crowd. Of course, that is not a literal eremiticism, but the point that matters is the consciousness of the individual. The responsibilities and entanglements of the world must be understood for what they are, from a philosophical or spiritual perspective. How to go about it?

Externally, simplifying one's life is the best path toward peace of mind, and peace of mind is a prerequisite to solitude. At that point, solitude can begin to enhance and strengthen the conviction of how external things are precisely that: external.

In the Zen tradition, one is bidden to begin practicing (i.e., meditating) at once, not to begin by trying to analyze one's responsibilities and entanglements and present life situation or predicament. Meditation will begin to put all these externals into perspective.

In the Christian tradition, one is bidden to give up what one has and follow the master, which is to say, the Way. The point here, as in Eastern tradition, is to simplify one's life as soon as possible, and the results will begin to manifest themselves if the individual is honest. This process may culminate in solitude and eremiticism in a person so disposed.

In the philosophical tradition, one is bidden to identify with mind and nature and to observe the harmony of the universe as a wonder. Every philosophical tradition has been open to this sense of being, usually without hostility to spiritual tradition (distinct from institutions) because the philosophical tradition actively seeks the perennial in all wisdom traditions. 

How many hermits are there or have there been? How have they done it?
It is the purpose of Hermitary to explore these questions and provide information. You are always welcome to communicate with us at the e-mail account listed on our home page. Thank you for visiting!