IX. Soft as Chalk

Time or the Hermit, inspired by the song Soft As Chalk

No time! No time!
Now I have got all the time in the world.

Joanna Newsom, “Soft As Chalk” (Have One On Me, 2010)

Image Description

A cloaked woman lifts a lantern, leaning on a walking stick. She is surrounded by dark brown mountains and the sky is purple and dusky. She stands in a circle of white mushrooms by the side of a stream. Behind her in the shadows and across the stream lurks a dark brown bear. Her cloak is decorated with triangles and diamonds. The cloak’s hem has a pattern of lemniscates, while her dress has a pattern of crescent moons opening to the right. Her lantern has a carving of a flying dove over the light.


The ninth trump has two common identities. One is Time, typically an aged Saturnine figure hobbling along with a crutch. The other is the Hermit, a sage who has retreated from society to find his own path.

The character on this card faces the East, raising her mourning-dove lantern to what will become dawn. The cloak’s pattern anticipates the Sun (see XIX. Sprout and the Bean). The waning crescents on the hem of their dress represent the decline at the end of this decade, while the lemniscates recall eternity and “neverdoneing lawlessness.” As in other cards, the number seven is used as an indication of time. The seven mushrooms are Amanitas, a genus often symbiotic with pines, which contains some of the best known deadly and psychoactive mushrooms.

Accustomed to solitude, this character is on the defensive. The peace of hermitage has been disturbed by the unknown in the form of the black bear, who lurks just outside the lantern’s light. Thus, this card is not about the stasis of the sanctuary, but a moment of disruption and potential crisis. IX sits in the liminal space of not-quite-night-not-quite-morning, but time will quickly change that.

Selected Meanings

Time, retreat, isolation, rest, awakening, wisdom, obscurity (literal and figurative).