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A hermit, also known as an anchorite or anchoress, is a person living in voluntary seclusion, usually for religious motives. The practice of hermitism appears among early Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.

Hermits often lived in caves, forests, or deserts, but some of them preferred an isolated cell in a monastery. Male hermits predominate, though perhaps the most famous English hermit was the anchoress Julian of Norwich.

Hermits in religion

From a religious point of view, hermits choose that form of life in order to come closer to their deity or deities and/or to spend most of their time in meditation, contemplation, and/or prayer (sometimes also preaching, as with John the Baptist).

Hermits renounce all the pleasures of life, beginning with sex, following with luxury and cleanliness, a good diet, etc., and ending in most cases with the contact between them and other people. They try to reach sanctity by means of this way of life, and Catholicism has canonised many of them. (The term saint also occurs in Hinduism and Buddhism.)

Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing, a 19th century psychiatrist, referred to the desire of reaching sanctity as an hysteric manifestation.

John Chrysostom exemplifies the misogynist hermit; he said that it was preferable to remain single than to have to bear the burden of a woman (among other contemptuous concepts on women).

Anthony the Great exemplifies the psychotic hermit: he suffered hallucinations, characterised by visions of demons tempting him with beautiful women to commit sexual sins.

Gautama Buddha could also exemplify the hermitic way of life, having abandoned his family for a solitary quest for spiritual enlightenment. Compare Simeon Stylites.

Hermits in philosophy

Diogenes the Cynic, an ancient Greek philosopher, led an ascetic life in a barrel. When Alexander the Great came to him one day and offered to grant him a wish, Diogenes asked Alexander to step out of his sunlight.

Hermits in medicine

From a psychiatric point of view, hermits suffer religious mania, a mental alteration characterised by misogyny (misandry in case of women), hysteria, and often psychosis. The tendency to self-reclusion characterises schizophrenia, and occurs not only in schizophrenia itself but also in pre-schizophrenic persons.

Hermits commonly experience hallucinations, as well as hearing voices (psychotic characteristics).

See also