30 Days of Hermes: Aspects, Regional Forms, and Misconceptions

Day 8: Variations on this Deity

“Hermes, while wandering in a rocky and desolate place, gave himself over to meditation and prayer. Following the secret instructions of the Temple, he gradually freed his higher consciousness from the bondage of his bodily senses; and, thus released, his divine nature revealed to him the mysteries of the transcendental spheres. He beheld a figure, terrible and awe-inspiring. It was the Great Dragon, with wings stretching across the sky and light streaming in all directions from its body. “ (from the “Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus”)

8. During the Renaissance, there was a revival of not only ancient themes in art, but a renewed interest in the sciences. Astrology, Alchemy, the physical sciences... all were being explored without watchful eyes of the dominant Catholic Church. And so were the greek Gods resurrected from the obscurity of the Middle Ages. Gardens and homes were decorated with Herms, piping satyrs and dancing nymphs. And so, Hermes was brought back from the edge of retirement into a new game of metaphysics where He was the Master Magician. Primarily centered in the Europe countries of France, Italy, England and other cultural centers at the time, Hermes evolved into the patron of all magick, Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus. A mythological sage who founded what is now Hermetic philosophy, some believe He was a human that lived around the same time as Moses...others a compilation of several deities and pre-Christian prophets. The fragmentary works which have managed to survive include the Corpus Hermeticum and The Emerald Tablet.

As I already described in my last post, Hermes was known throughout many different regions...pretty much wherever the Greeks or Romans occupied. In Gaul Hermes/Mecury was combined with the local deity Cernunnos. Mainly associated with hunting and wild animals, Cernunnos was assimilated in urban life as Roman provinces sprang up all over Europe; Cernunnos took on currency and trade, realms usually reserved for Hermes/Mercury in the Hellenic pantheon.

The Reims Altar, Musée Saint-Remi, Reims

“Hunting was important to the inhabitants of Val Camonica (Anati, 1961, p.173; however hunting did not form a major part of the Gaulish economy in the historic period, so it is unlikely that a god who maintained only that meaning would have continued to be worshiped. Further, other than the antlers, the iconography does not suggest hunting. There is one possible representation in which there is any obvious connection with hunting. In this statue from La Celle-Mont-Saint-Jean, an upright man with the remains of antlers on his head holds a bill in his left hand and a bow in his right (Fig. 11; MacCana, 1970, p. 67.) The presence of the bill is enough to show that if this deity was associated with hunting, it was not with hunting alone. In fact, he is here shown as holding a tool connected with the wild and animals, and a tool connected with the domestic and plants.” (Ceiswr Serith).

Day 9: Common mistakes about this Deity

9. Unlike other Gods, it does not seem Hermes appears as anything other than a man; unlike His father Zeus who is well-known to approach and mate with beautiful women as a shower of gold, animals, plants, etc. Either young or old, He is cunning and isn't seen unless He wants to be. May think His winged feet and helmet are the sure give-aways, but often He appears merely as a man, or an invisible being, to help or deliver messages from the Gods to people (or other divinities). He seems a rather approachable, loving God but as all the Olympians, Hermes has a wrathful side should someone be brave (or stupid) enough to press their luck. Hermes with His magick staff has turned some folks into stone, others into animals (specifically a hawk in some instances), and can be overly persuasive to get the job done.