Hermes, Messenger of the Gods from Tales of the Ancient Greeks
Hermes, the Lord of the Crossroads
Hermes, God of the Crossroads, is also the god of trade, profit and commerce, of story telling, quick thinking, magic, illusion, and trickery.
You will also hear that among his many talents and honours, he is the God of Thieves. But Hermes himself is no thief, nor does he actively encourage antisocial activities, he is more the patron of cunning.
It's this devious street-smart aspect that marks him as the God of Guile and therefore held in esteem by orators, poets, politicians, thieves and liars.
A much more important aspect is his influence over boundaries and of the travelers who cross them. As the Messenger of the Gods he moves effortlessly from one place to another. And so he is cherished by those who come to a crossroad.
The Significance of Crossroads
The magical transition
Any threshold, any area of transition, is steeped in magic and legend and the most significant of these is the Crossroads where the veil to the otherworld is thin.
Crossroads, like doorways, are potent with the transcendent powers of gods, spirits, and the dead. They symbolise the necessary transition from one phase of life to another, and from life to death.
Oedipus killed his father at a crossroads. A three-way fork in the road was ruled by Hecate, goddess of ghosts and magic, and statues of Hermes, Lord of the Crossroads, (called herms) stood guard at cross junctions.
Hermes, Patron of Travelers
And the Bringer of Dreams
Hermes may be the robber and cattle rustler, the prince of tricksters and the thief at the gates, but he is also the bringer of dreams and the patron of travellers.
Little statues honouring him were erected at crossroads and a small pile of stones was placed at the side of the road with each traveller making an addition to the pile. (We still see this custom followed today).
But the god of the crossroads is also the governor of the tongue, the guide of intelligent speech and the inspiration for clever ideas.
Inspiration from on high
In the modern world, we are well used to the image of a light bulb to symbolise a bright idea. To those who lived in the ancient world, the image of Hermes was used in the same way as cartoonists use that light bulb.
To denote that Aha! moment. the ancient writers sketched Hermes arriving on the scene with inspiration from on high and carrying a message from the gods.
"I sing of Hermes,luck-bringing messenger of the deathless gods, giver of grace, guide, and granter of happy boons"
Hermes the Trusted Messenger - Assisted by his winged cap and sandals
Hermes is the Messenger of the Gods, known for his speed and efficiency. His image is still used today, we are all familiar with the logo for a floral delivery service.
Hermes was able to move speedily with the assistance of his trademark flying sandals and winged cap.
These handy accessories were crafted for Hermes by the talented Hephaestus, the Smith of the Gods.
Hephaestus also designed and built Pandora who was escorted (accompanied by that mysterious box which she was told never to open) to her husband by Hermes. There was none other who could be trusted to make a safe and speedy delivery. .
Hermes came from Mesopotamia
From Gud to Zeus
We meet Hermes first in in ancient Mesopotamia. To the Sumerians he was Gud, a god favouring welcome rains, agricultural fertility and harvest abundance.
To the Assyrians he was Nebo, the "herald.", the heavenly secretary, keeping track of the words of the gods. Nebo was the son of Marduk, he who had became king of the gods by slaying the Dragon Tiamat, thus establishing order in the universe. It was Nebo's duty to be the scribe of the divine, writing down the laws and edicts of Marduk and communicating them to the people.
Marduk later became the Greek Zeus and then the Roman Jupiter. His son travelled with him during these transformations, with Nebo becoming Hermes and then Mercurius, also known as Alipes "with the winged feet".
The Conquered Nations welcomed Hermes
They recognised him as one of their own
Hermes was almost instantly popular among the nations conquered by Rome.
Like the Romans themselves, who made their Mercury from the Greek Hermes, the subjugated peoples could recognise the god as their own, with only a Roman name.
The Celts knew him to be their Lugh, their God of Light and of many skills. To the Germans he was immediately accepted as the Great Wodan.
Why the Greeks Matter
I love Thomas Cahill and devour his books. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea is the fourth volume in his Hinges of History series.
The Greeks invented everything from Western warfare to mystical prayer, from logic to statecraft, poetry, drama, philosophy, art, and architecture. In all of the books in his series, Cahill makes the distant past matter!
Hermes has a distinctive Hat
And wonderful sandals
You know Hermes from works of Classical art by his characteristic petasos on his head and his staff, the caduceus.
A petasos is a style of hat, usually made of felt, with a broad, floppy brim worn by farmers and considered characteristic of rural people. Hats are important, they define the status and occupation of the user as seen in Significant Hats in Culture. Mercury's petasos usually has little wings attached.
Hermes carries a Caduceus
The caduceus is a staff with two snakes wrapped around, a symbol of commerce and originally a herald's staff with two white ribbons attached. The ribbons eventually evolved into snakes in the figure-eight shape.
These days the caduceus, with two serpents criss-crossed around a staff topped by a round knob and flanked by wings, is the symbol of the medical profession. A symbol first representative of wisdom, eloquence, and communication, it has became the common logo for those in the health profession.
Staffs and serpents are commonly found together, the combination of the serpent and the bird symbols is associated with healing, wisdom, and transcendence.
The serpent and bird is typically reserved for powerful mythic figures, humans of unusual distinction (like shamans and mystics), or for royalty, who are often considered of divine origin.
Give him a message to carry for you
© 2008 Susanna Duffy