At last, we come to the final installment in this series that has
given meaning to my life once again taken a lot more of my waking time for the past week than I had ever expected it would…both for good and for ill, I think, but there we are. It’s been worthwhile to think about some of these things for me, even if many of my answers have been idiosyncratic or entirely inadequate, and in some cases incomplete or lacking…but, that’s what makes it interesting that I did this, rather than someone else, who would have entirely different answers about a huge number of the questions, including those ones with relatively “objective” answers based on their own interests and preferences, etc.
Fun stuff, eh?
So, now we bring the whole thing to a close with a Deity very close to my own heart.
1. Write a basic introduction for the Deity.
Oh, Hermes…where do we begin?
Hermes is a very complex and interesting Deity of the Greek pantheon, who is most familiar as a God associated with messengers, communication, and travel, but also with such diverse activities as herding, language, thievery, magic, trade and merchants, athleticism (especially wrestling), and He is also one of the main psychopomp Deities of the Greek pantheon. All of these things, in one way or another, all involve transition and the transfer of one thing to something else, an active process of translation (and thus also interpretation, which in Greek is expressed by hermeneusis, and likewise of guidance in some fashion or other.
If one thinks in the broad dualistic (but nonetheless useful) terms suggested by Nietzsche of the Apollonian and Dionysian forces or elements in culture and religion, and attributes the actual Deities Apollon and Dionysos to those forces of logic and rationality versus ecstasy and instinct, respectively, then there is a third position available, suggested by Kerényi, which is the Hermetic, the force (and the Deity behind it) which mediates between the two and allows the transformation, transfer, and translation of one into the other. In fact, Herems’ role in relation to Dionysos and Apollon often follows a pattern that can be discerned in exactly that fashion…at least in some readings!
To say any more would be to do an entire dissertation on Heremes, and that’s not the intention here; but, I think this does give a relatively strong flavor for His characteristics with which to begin.
2. How did you become first aware of this Deity?
I had heard of “Mercury” as early as the second grade, when we were studying the planets (and Hermes does have some astrological knowledge/teaching associations as well, so that’s appropriate, in a way!). In the fourth grade, when we were studying Halley’s Comet (this was 1986, so the year it was visible again…though I never saw it), I learned of a French satellite that was going to be sent to study the comet, which was called Hermes, which I learned was the Greek messenger God. In the fifth grade, when we did a fuller and more properly direct study of mythology, I found out more about Him; and in the seventh grade, we got deeper into mythology, and were shown a filmstrip that was narrated by the Three Fates, and I remember the Hermes bit especially well, because They commented on how fun and enjoyable He was! 😉
When I was finally allowed to come into my own as a polytheist, though I was certainly familiar with Hermes, I didn’t think to get involved with Him, and it actually took going through a whole Celtic thing and then eventually becoming an Antinoan in order to really get properly acquainted with Him in a cultic context. As Hermes was a more major syncretism of Antinous than many had emphasized, He’s been looming rather large for me in that area of my spiritual life ever since, and has colored a great deal of my experiences with Antinous, as well as having several that were Hermes-specific, too.
3. What are some symbols and icons of this Deity?
The most frequent ones are the winged sandals and winged helmet, as well as the caduceus, which I’ve seen in two different forms: the serpent-entwined staff (with or without wings on the top of it), and a staff with a circular piece on top that has horns on it, which looks somewhat like the astrological symbol for Mercury.
Also, herms–whether a small pile of stones, or an upright pillar with a phallic carving on it and often a sculptured head on top–are also symbols of the Deity.
Animal associations include the turtle, the ram, the hawk, the cock, and the rabbit.
This list is not exhaustive.
4. Share a favorite myth or myths of this Deity.
The Homeric Hymn to Hermes has one of my favorite bits in it, which is the following (in H.G. Evelyn-White’s translation):
Then, after the Son of Leto had searched out the recesses of the great house, he spake to glorious Hermes: “Child, lying in the cradle, make haste and tell me of my cattle, or we two will soon fall out angrily. For I will take and cast you into dusty Tartarus and awful hopeless darkness, and neither your mother nor your father shall free you or bring you up again to the light, but you will wander under the earth and be the leader amongst little folk.”
Then Hermes answered him with crafty words: “Son of Leto, what harsh words are these you have spoken? And is it cattle of the field you are come here to seek? I have not seen them: I have not heard of them: no one has told me of them. I cannot give news of them, nor win the reward for news. Am I like a cattle-liter, a stalwart person? This is no task for me: rather I care for other things: I care for sleep, and milk of my mother’s breast, and wrappings round my shoulders, and warm baths. Let no one hear the cause of this dispute; for this would be a great marvel indeed among the deathless gods, that a child newly born should pass in through the forepart of the house with cattle of the field: herein you speak extravagantly. I was born yesterday, and my feet are soft and the ground beneath is rough; nevertheless, if you will have it so, I will swear a great oath by my father’s head and vow that neither am I guilty myself, neither have I seen any other who stole your cows — whatever cows may be; for I know them only by hearsay.”
So, then, said Hermes, shooting quick glances from his eyes: and he kept raising his brows and looking this way and that, whistling long and listening to Apollo’s story as to an idle tale. But far-working Apollo laughed softly and said to him: “O rogue, deceiver, crafty in heart, you talk so innocently that I most surely believe that you have broken into many a well- built house and stripped more than one poor wretch bare this night,22 gathering his goods together all over the house without noise. You will plague many a lonely herdsman in mountain glades, when you come on herds and thick-fleeced sheep, and have a hankering after flesh. But come now, if you would not sleep your last and latest sleep, get out of your cradle, you comrade of dark night. Surely hereafter this shall be your title amongst the deathless gods, to be called the prince of robbers continually.”
So said Phoebus Apollo, and took the child and began to carry him. But at that moment the strong Slayer of Argus had his plan, and, while Apollo held him in his hands, sent forth an omen, a hard-worked belly-serf, a rude messenger, and sneezed directly after. And when Apollo heard it, he dropped glorious Hermes out of his hands on the ground: then sitting down before him, though he was eager to go on his way, he spoke mockingly to Hermes: “Fear not, little swaddling baby, son of Zeus and Maia. I shall find the strong cattle presently by these omens, and you shall lead the way.”
Thus, dear friends, the first fart joke in literature of which I’m aware, attributed to Hermes! (You can see why the Fates thought Him funny, eh?)
5. Who are members of the family/genealogical connections of this Deity?
Hermes’ mother is a nymph called Maia, and as a result of His doings with Apollon, He is able to get Her admitted to Olympus as a Deity (in this, He has something in common with Dionysos!). His father is Zeus. He was the paternal grandson of Kronos and Rhea, and the maternal grandson of Pleione and Atlas–and the latter comes up in a number of cases in reference to Hermes. For the various Olympian Deities, this is a fairly simple and commonly-accepted family tree; the Orphic Hymns have Him as a son of Dionysos and Aphrodite, however, at one point, to which we’ll be returning momentarily.
Children of Hermes include Pan by Penelope (in a tradition given by Pausanias in relation to the Arcadian city of Mantineia; a number of other sources give Him as the father of Pan as well. Priapus is the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, or else the son of Aphrodite and Dionysos (thus making Priapus either the son or the possible brother of Hermes!). Always with Aphdrodite, though, Hermes was said to have been the father of Hermaphroditos. With Iphthime, He was the father of three Satyrs associated with Dionysos, according to Nonnos: Pherespondos, Lykos, and Pronomos. He was also said to have been the father of Eleusis with Daeira (Who might be Hekate), and is likewise said to have had a tryst with Brimo, Who may also be Hekate and thus the incident is the same as or similar to the one with Daeira.
In (at least) one text, He is said to have been the father of Antinous.
He has a huge roster of mortal offspring as well.
6. What are some other related Deities and entities associated with this Deity?
In addition to all of those listed above, He has a special relationship with Dionysos, and likewise comes into close contact on a regular basis with Zeus as His messenger, and also Hekate and Persephone in His chthonic functions.
Amongst His various loves, one mortal male stands out above the rest: Krokus, who eventually became a flower, and died in a manner very similar to Hyakinthos in relation to Apollon (i.e. by a discus accident…you’d think They’d have learned to wear helmets when practicing that sport after one disaster!). Ptolemy Chennos also attributes Him with a romance with Polydeukes, the immortal brother of the Dioskouroi. Interestingly, perhaps, in relation to the latter name, Hermes is also credited with a special relationship with Herodes Attikos’ trophimos Achilles.
7. Discuss this Deity’s Names and epithets.
Hermes has a HUGE number of epithets, and I will only give a few of them here.
One of his major epithets is Argeiphontes, “Argus-slayer,” since He slew the many-eyed monster Argus that had been set up by Hera to guard Io, thus clearing the way for Zeus to have his way with Io. Kyllenios refers to His and Maia’s origins on Mt. Kyllene. Pompaios and Diaktoros refer to His role as a guide. Logios reflects Hermes’ connection to language. Thievery and trickery-connected epithets include Pheletes, Dolios, Klepsiphron, Mechaniotes (is that why car mechanics are such crooks?), Poikilometes, and Polytropos. Herding epithets include Nomios, Epimelios, Kriophoros, and Oiopolos, and Buhphonos is “slayer of oxen” (in reference to His early deed in relation to Apollon’s cattle). He is both Propylaios and Pronaos, “before the gates” and “before the temple.” Hermes is also Eriounes (“luck-bringing”), Charmophron (“heart-gladdening”), Euskopos (“good/far-sighted”), and Masterios (“of searchers”). Agonios and Enagonios refer to His role in sacred games and athletic contests, Promachos to His being a champion, and Agoraios refers to his role in the marketplace.
A newly-attested epithet, but one fully in line with His traditional associations, is one that is in a processional song I received in a dream several years back, which we used in part of the Roving Hero/ine Cultus ritual at PantheaCon in 2015. This epithet is Hegemon, which essentially means “leader,” but also “discoverer,” or “leader-into-discovery,” as it were.
8. Discuss variations on this Deity (aspects, regional forms, etc.).
I’m going to use this section to talk about some syncretisms of Hermes, not because I think They are aspects or regional forms of Him, but because in the ancient world, many would have seen Them as such…but in a way, it highlights how effectively Hermes can (and has and does!) work with other pantheons…as a God of translation and interpretation, it makes a great deal of sense, and I’ve written on Him as a God of syncretism before as well. So…
In addition to Antinous, Hermes is syncretized to Mercury in Roman culture, and through Mercury, further syncretisms develop. The “Gaulish Mercury” is likely to be Lugus; and the “Germanic Mercury” and the wide variety of Mercury epithets given in Germanic contexts probably refer to the Deity we eventually known as Odin. There has also been a possibility floated that Hermodr in Norse myth might either share a common cultural/linguistic ancestry with Hermes, or may be some sort of adapted form of Him.
In Egypt, as a result of syncretism, Hermes is linked with Thoth (via his epithet Hermes Logios) and becomes Hermes Trismegistus, and He also gets linked with Anubis (as his epithets Hermes Chthonios and Hermes Psychopompos) to become Hermanubis. Both of these combined forms then function as separate Deities, which have Their own interesting careers. A further combined form in Egyptian contexts is the PGM‘s Hermekate, and yet another is Hermantinous, which is attested as a personal name and possibly as a syncretized Deity.
9. What are some common mistakes people make about this Deity?
I think one major mistake that is made relates to the previous section, i.e. syncretistic identities being taken as equative rather than translational. This has a long and esteemed history, however, and includes such modern individuals as Alan Moore, and not-quite-as-modern-but-still-recent ones like Aleister Crowley as well (as occurred in a trance session with Victor Neuburg). While I do think there is a good deal of evidence–in contrast to Diana, Minerva, Mars, and a few others–for a direct relationship between and even identity of Mercury and Hermes together (even if They began separately), the same is not and never has been true for Thoth and Hermes (even outside of Hermes Trismegistus), which seems to be the most common such equative syncretism assumption, even amongst some ostensible modern (“hard”) polytheists.
10. What are common offerings for this Deity (both historically and via your own experience)?
In my experience, Hermes seems to “like it all”: any kind of food, money, art, incenses, oils, flowers, hymns and poetry…you name it, Hermes can probably appreciate it. I have not yet been able to offer Him any of the more traditional offerings of particular animals, as was done in the ancient world, but I’m not opposed to the idea.
11. Talk about festivals, days, and times sacred to this Deity.
This one is kind of tough for me, because I don’t follow the Hellenic calendar, and thus I don’t know what many of the traditional dates would have been (outside of the 4th of the lunar month being for Him). In my Antinoan practice, May the 15th is a date for honoring Him (as well as His mother, Maia); this was also the date of Mercury’s Roman festival, and on which a temple to Him in Rome was founded in 495 BCE.
12. What are some places associated with this Deity and their worship?
The number of local cults to Hermes in the Greek world were huge. He was also honored in every gymnasium and palaestra, and likewise all of the hermai were places to honor Him, at crossroads and boundaries and so forth.
13. What modern cultural issues (if any) are closest to this Deity’s heart?
In many ways, all of the modern problems we’ve been facing for the last decade and more have some relevance to Hermes: economic disaster, the refugee crisis, difficulties in international travel, the spread of the internet and all of the problems it has caused, corruption and duplicity on corporate institutional and governmental levels, and a general lack of hospitality towards others (something He is very concerned with in ancient Greek culture) are all matters over which to worry, and in which I suspect Hermes as well has a keen interest.
14. Has worship of this Deity changed in modern times?
Undoubtedly…and, I think that Hermes would have it no other way. Perhaps more than any other Deity from the ancient world, I’d suspect Hermes would be good at adapting to innovation…if not being at the roots of some of it Himself. Khaire Herma Hegemon!
15. Are there any mundane practices that are associated with this Deity?
Buying and selling; using money; speaking and writing; travel;
stealing library books…you get the idea. 😉
16. How do you think this Deity represents the values of Their pantheon and cultural origins?
As a Deity associated with travel, and the need for hospitality that travelers experience, there is no one better than Hermes to represent those values and ideals. All of the innovation and the success of the Greeks, and the Romans after them, as far-reaching cultural forces are, I think, due in large part to the influence of Hermes, and the upholding of what we might call “Hermetic values,” ultimately.
17. How does this Deity relate to other Deities and other pantheons?
Extremely well! (See above, #8.)
18. How does this Deity stand in terms of gender and sexuality?
With Hermekate as a form and Hermaphroditos as a child, I think Hermes is quite fine with gender diversity, though He is Himself male. It’s also pretty obvious that He, like practically everyone else in His pantheon and culture, would have been descriptively bisexual.
19. What quality or qualities of this Deity do you most admire?
While there’s a ton about Hermes that I like, for the moment I’m going to go with His speed; one of his epithets, Poneomenos, means “busy one,” and His ability to get things done quickly is something I admire hugely. I have been praised on occasion for being able to write a large amount of text quickly, but I am still not as fast as I’d like to be…if I were as fast as Hermes, I’d have less of a time management problem!
20. What quality or qualities of Them do you find the most troubling?
Even though Hermes is said to be very favorable toward and friendly with humans, nonetheless He is a Deity known for his wiles and His falsehoods. Thus, even with types of divination that are relatively mechanical and to a certain extent “foolproof” in terms of their outcomes and interpretations (as were often associated with him, e.g. astragalomancy), nonetheless it always makes me wonder whether He’s having one over on us on occasion…and if a particular matter ends up not going as predicted, is it a good “get-out-of-jail-free” card that it is known He’s tricky in that fashion? Hmm…
21. Share any art that reminds you of this Deity.
I’m going to have to go back to iconography for Him on this occasion…because why not?
This is an especially lovely image of Hermes by Wayne McMillan that was done relatively recently, and I have to say I love it, down to the color chosen for His cloak. Lovely job, Wayne! Check out more of his stuff, along with art by Markos Gage, at Pan Fine Art.
22. Share any Music that makes you think of this Deity.
I’m going to do eight…because why not?…and, Hermes!
This last one is a nice one to end with…not only for Hermes, but for this whole series, in a way! 😉
23. Share a quote, a poem, or piece of writing that you think this Deity resonates strongly with (outside of their own myths or scholarship about them).
That old cliché, which I once had a banner of in my dorm room (that my dad gave me):
Knowledge is power.
24. Share your own composition which is a piece of writing about or for this Deity.
Here’s an old one from The Phillupic Hymns:
watching them going crossing
over and back out again
i stand silent witness
guardian and support
lintel of every doorway
“one who is not an initiate”
outside of the mysteries
because for me there is no
beginning or introduction
or going in and seeing
no phallus on this herm
as sign of protection
for it is a root a seed
a start but i have none
“know thyself” i say
advising by word and form
for those who know how
to interpret these things
for this is what i am
the interpreter mediator
the most basic medium
of thought mind word
symbol sign sense
there is no me apart from
these things nor is there
a you outside or inside
of these things identity
is but a whisper on wind
of moving vibratory particles
in a vast space empty
only known because it moves
carrying point to point
the message of movement
a dance only seen
from a distance that sees
what sign symbol sense
can create what means
meaning again is “a way
or manner by which events
happen” thus not a thing
with independent essence
but again a dance
a way of moving
and what am i but
the movement the moment
static or dynamic
the particle the pattern
the ripples outward
from first forms of chaos
so all coming and going
is me and even you
have been in the chain
of being since before being
and knowing yourself
consists in nothing more
than seeing the moment
but not mistaking it
for the spaces in between
25. Share a time when this Deity has helped you.
Every time I’ve sat down to write, or have gone anywhere (especially air travel and international travel, and anything long-distance), for the last 14 years or so…
26. Share a time when this Deity has refused or has been unable to help you.
For all that Hermes is connected to sleep and dreams, I have been a horrible insomniac for almost my entire life. I suppose it’s a trade-off: I get loads of ideas (in the form of words!), and so those keep me awake more often than not, or end up waking me up. (I do wish I could remember some of my dream songs better…I just had an awesome folk song in a dream a little over a week ago, and when I woke up I sang it once…and then had to go do my blood sugar or something, and promptly forgot it. Damn…well, at least I remembered the Herma Hegemon one from years ago!)
27. How has your relationship with this Deity changed over time?
I’d say I’m more involved with Him now, and over the last 10 years, than I had been ever previously, and I find I lean on Him more and think of Him more frequently and want to do more for Him as time goes on. I suspect this will continue.
28. What are the worst misconceptions about this Deity that you have encountered?
I think one of the worst is that Hermes is little more than a “trickster”…He’s so much more complex than that, and I think just lumping Him in with that theorized group/archetype of Deities is a huge mistake (even beyond the mistake of archetypalism generally), because if that is seen as His primary attribute, then almost everything else is called into question.
For example, sit with this: what if Hermes doesn’t actually lead us to our afterlives, but instead just shows us a complex illusion as we fade into nothingness? Yeah…that would be something a trickster would do. Is that what Hermes does? It’s perhaps an open question, but nonetheless if one takes the whole “trickster” thing as Hermes’ essential characteristic, then pretty much all else that is said about Him or attributed to Him has to be taken with a large salt mine. (Perhaps He’s lied the whole time, and He’s still stuck in a cave with His mother in obscurity, for that matter…you see what this does?)
29. What is something you wish you knew about this Deity but don’t currently?
Among a million other questions, I’d love to have good enough Greek skills to be able to do something with the “Encomium for Hermes and Antinous” that was partially preserved in an Oxyrhynchus Papyri text…I tried this a few years ago, but had no luck. What we have of the text is only partial anyway, but it would be great to know what else there was…
30. Do you have any interesting or unusual UPG to share?
The original version of the Herma Hegemon song occurred in a dream, and was sung as I was going down an escalator in what I think might have been the Geneva airport! I then had to use it to invoke Hermes in order to power my way through security, in a not-very-peaceful manner…!?!
31. Any suggestions for others just starting to learn about this Deity?
In modern polytheism, we talk about a number of different Deities being “Gateway Gods.” By this, what is meant is any Deity that often appears toward the beginning of someone’s practice or inquiry into polytheism, Who then introduces them to other Deities, and then perhaps does not have a long-term relationship with the person, though sometimes They do. One such Deity that is commonly spoken of as a Gateway God for those who become involved in Greek polytheism is Dionysos. But, I think another common one is Hermes, and Hermes is kind of literally a “Gateway God,” as reflected in his epithet Propylaios (which is one I quite like!).
So, I’d say that there is almost no bad way to start learning about Hermes–do it through reading, do it through practice, do it by traveling around or going among people in a crowd or a mall or a farmer’s market and listening for kledones, and so forth. Hermes is one of the most accessible Deities there is, and one of the most approachable, and thus there almost isn’t a bad or non-effective way to get in touch with Him…it may not be effective for you initially, but unless He is entirely ill-disposed toward someone (which I’m sure has happened at some point, but I am not aware of it in anything I’ve ever heard), I don’t think it will be a permanent situation.
And, that wraps up this series! I hope you’ve enjoyed this! Thank you to all those who have been reading and commenting on these posts! If it is your will, keep doing so! 😉
(Now back to writing some things privately…and shorter pieces on the blog!)