Hermes (Greek: Ἑρμής, transl.: Hermés) was, in Greek mythology, one of the Olympian gods, son of Zeus and Maia, and possessor of several attributes. A very old deity, he was already worshipped in pre-Greek ancient history possibly as a god of fertility, of flocks, of magic, of divination, of roads and trips, among other attributes.
Over the centuries his myth was extensively expanded, becoming the messenger of the gods and patron of gymnastics, thieves, diplomats, merchants, astronomy, eloquence and some forms of initiation, besides being the guide of the souls of the dead to the realm of Hades, just to name a few of his best known functions.
With the domination of Greece by Rome, Hermes was assimilated to the god Mercury, and through the Egyptian influence, he also suffered a syncretism with Tot, giving rise to the character of Hermes Trismegistus.
Both assimilations had great importance, creating a rich tradition and perpetuating his image throughout the centuries until contemporary times, exerting significant influence on the culture of the West and of certain eastern areas around the Mediterranean, reaching as far as Persia and Arabia.
The first literary descriptions about Hermes date from the Archaic period in Greece, and show him being born in Arcadia. Already on the first day of his life he performed several feats and displayed various powers: he stole fifty cows from his brother Apollo, invented fire, sacrifices, magic sandals, and the lyre.
The next day, forgiven for stealing the cows, he was invested with additional powers by Apollo and his father Zeus, and in turn granted Apollo the art of new music, and was admitted to Olympus as one of the great gods.
Later numerous other writers expanded and embellished his original story, even making him a demiurge, and multiple versions of it appeared, not infrequently diverging in various details, while preserving its most characteristic lines. He was one of the most popular gods of classical antiquity, had many loves and fathered numerous offspring.
With the advent of Christianity, he came to be compared to Christ in his role as interpreter of the will of the Logos. The figures of Hermes and his main badge, the caduceus, are still known and used today for their symbolic value, and several authors consider him the tutelary image of contemporary Western culture.
Hermes was apparently first mentioned on tablets written in Linear B by the Mycenaean civilization, dating back more than a thousand years before Christ, but the identification of the name is unclear, and its etymology is in any case controversial.
To some it is simply unknown, or it has no Greek origin. It may have derived from hermeneus, meaning interpreter. Plato, voicing Socrates, tried to establish an origin of the name, saying that Hermes was connected with speech, interpretation, and the transmission of messages, all activities connected with the power of speech (eirein), and he supposed in the course of time eirein had been embellished and transformed into Hermes.
The most current idea is that it was derived from herma, an altar or road mark dedicated to him from ancient times. Guthrie and Nilsson believe it means "he of the heap of stones," the primitive form of hermas, but this origin is also disputed.
The origins of the myth of Hermes are uncertain, and opinions vary between considering him an indigenous god, worshipped since the Neolithic, or as an Asian import, perhaps through Cyprus or Cilicia well before the beginning of written records in Greece.
What seems certain is that his cult was established in Greece from quite a remote time, probably making him a god of nature, farmers and shepherds. It is also possible that he was from the beginning a deity with shamanic attributes, linked to divination, atonement, magic, sacrifices, initiation and contact with other planes of existence, in a role of mediator between the visible and invisible worlds.
Among the functions most commonly linked to him in Greek literature are those of being the messenger of the gods, and the god of language skills, of eloquent and persuasive speech, of metaphors, of prudence and circumspection, also of intrigue and veiled reasons, of fraud and perjury, of wit and ambiguity, so he was the patron of orators, heralds, ambassadors and diplomats, messengers and thieves.
As an inventor, he is said to have invented fire, the lyre, the syrinx, the alphabet, numbers, astronomy, a special form of music, the arts of fighting, gymnastics, and olive cultivation; measurements, weights, and various other things.
For his constant mobility and other intellectual and relational qualities, he was considered the god of commerce and social exchange, of wealth from business, especially sudden or unexpected enrichment, of travel, of roads and crossroads, of borders and boundary or transitory conditions, of changes, of thresholds, of agreements and contracts, of friendship, of hospitality, of sexual intercourse; he was the god of dice, of draws, of good luck; of sacrifices and sacrificial animals, of flocks and shepherds, of fertility of earth and cattle.
His ministry to Zeus was not limited to being a messenger, but he was also charged with serving his cup, thus he was the god of banquets, and driving his chariot.
He was also the one who carried the souls of the dead to Hades, and who directed the dreams sent to mortals by Zeus. In limited aspects, he was also a god of medicine, associated with Higeia and able to restore virility, ward off plagues, aid childbirth, and heal with certain plants.
The first descriptions of the myth of Hermes date back to the archaic period of Greek culture. One of the most important is found in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, an anonymous creation from the 7th or 6th century B.C. that deals with his birth and early exploits.
The Hymn opens with a greeting to the god, calling him Lord of Mount Cilene and Arcadia, of the flocks of sheep, and messenger of the gods. It also names him as the son of Zeus, the fruit of his adulterous love with Maia, a nymph daughter of Atlas and Pleione, the oldest, wisest, and most beautiful of seven sisters, the Pleiades.
Living in a cave, hidden from human eyes and especially from the notorious and tempestuous jealousy of Hera, Zeus' wife, Maia gave birth to "this ingenious child, this skilful planner of artifices, the chaser and catcher of cattle, the shepherd of dreams, this citizen of the night who lurks at the thresholds.
It did not take long to show his divine origin: born in the morning, he was already playing the lyre at noon, and in the evening he stole Apollo's cattle.
When he came out of the cave, he came across a turtle, and said that it announced good luck to him. At the same time, he gave it gifts: as long as they lived, the turtles would be a protection against the evil eye, and when they died, they would learn to sing beautiful songs.
He then took it and brought it inside, killed it, and used its shell to make the body of the first lyre. With sheep intestines he made seven strings, which he tuned in harmony. Soon, with the instrument he had invented, he accompanied his own singing, raised in honor of his parents.
Feeling hungry, he went out to spy on his surroundings, already imagining his craftiness. The sun was setting, and Hermes headed for the mountains of Piera, where the divine cattle grazed. From the herd he took fifty cows, and drove them, tugging them with a stick, along labyrinthine paths to avoid being followed on the tracks.
He also made them walk backwards, for the same purpose, and made himself a pair of magic sandals out of date palm and blueberry leaves, so that he could slide down the path and proceed quickly, leaving no recognizable footprints. An old vinedresser saw it, but was warned not to report it to anyone.
As he drove his cattle towards his cave, he stopped by the river Alpheus, fed the herd, and gave them a drink. At the same time he invented fire by rubbing laurel leaves with a stick of wood. Thus he built a fire and roasted two cattle, reveling in the aroma.
He divided the meat and fat into twelve portions and placed them in a high place, as a monument to his feat. As for the rest of the spoils, he burned them in the fire, threw his sandals into the river, put out the fire, hid the other animals in Pilos, and eliminated all traces of his actions.
Then he returned to the cave, passed through the keyhole through the gate in the form of smoke or mist, and lay down on the cradle as if nothing had happened.
But his mother had observed everything, and scolded him, saying that by conceiving him Zeus had created a good problem for gods and men alike. Hermes however replied vigorously, fearlessly asserting his divine origin and claiming equal treatment with his half-brother Apollo. If Zeus denied him, he would then become a prince of thieves.
If Apollo pursued him, he would destroy his shrine and take his gold. When Apollo arrived with his flock, he noticed the lack of fifty cows and began his search. He found the vinedresser, who, though he didn't accuse Hermes of the theft, gave some vague hints.
A bird flew as if in augury, and Apollo immediately suspected Hermes, but was perplexed to see the confusing tracks the herd had left, and the strange markings on Hermes' sandals.
So he went straight to the grave where Hermes was born, and found him pretending to sleep, in his cradle. He scrutinized the place with his light, but did not find the cattle, and demanded that the baby reveal where he had hidden him, under severe threats.
Hermes denied any knowledge of the affair, and claiming his young age, said he could never have been the author of the theft. But Apollo was not deceived, and between annoyed and amused, calling him a deceiver and a trickster, he predicted that in many a night Hermes would penetrate men's houses and silently deprive them of their goods, and take the cattle from the poor shepherds.
Thus he would gain fame as Master of Thieves. He took the child in his arms and brought him to the court of Zeus, so that the dispute could be settled. Even before his father the boy denied the charges, and Zeus, laughing, ordered him to reveal the hiding place of the cattle.
Obedient, Hermes carried out the command, but seeing Apollo that the child could kill two cattle while still so small, he feared his future strength, and tried to prevent him from growing up by tying him up with thick willow branches, but the boy broke them off, fell far away, and upon touching the ground immediately grew so large that they covered all the cattle, surprising Apollo.
Then Hermes took the lyre and began to sing the entire theogony, celebrating Mnemosyne, goddess of memory, above all the gods. Delighted, Apollo said that his song was well worth fifty cows, seemed superior to anything he himself, as god of music, knew, and that the contest could end in peace.
And he vowed to make his brother a leader among the immortals, promising to grant him many gifts. Hermes, praising his brother, said that in turn he would give him the knowledge of this new song and of playing the lyre, recommending that he practice them with dignity.
He gave him the lyre, and said he would take care of the flocks. Apollo then gave him his own staff and ordained him as a divine shepherd. Then he took the cattle back to their origin and ascended to Olympus. For himself Hermes made another instrument, the syrinx, a kind of flute.
But Apollo, fearing that in the future Hermes would deceive him again, asked his brother to take a solemn oath never to play any more tricks against him or his possessions, to which Hermes consented. When peace was made between them, Zeus sent his eagle from heaven as a sign of approval, sealing their alliance.
Satisfied, Apollo promised him new benefits: he would make him rich, honorable, and famous, skilled in everything he undertook that was good, both in word and deed, and able to bring everything to completion, but he could not share with him the gifts of prophecy and knowledge of Zeus' will, which only Apollo possessed, prevented as he was by his father from doing so.
In compensation, he gave Hermes three winged virgins, who taught divination and spoke truth when fed with honey. They also had the power to bring things to their end. If Hermes decided, after learning it, he could teach such an art to some men of his choice.
Zeus confirmed Apollo's gifts over Hermes, and added others: he gave him command of divinatory birds, lions, bears, dogs, and all the flocks of the earth, as well as making him a messenger to Hades, a function of great prestige.
Other archaic sources added episodes to his story. Homer and Hesiod often portrayed him as the author of skillful or deceptive acts, and also as a benefactor of mortals. In the Iliad he was called "the bringer of good fortune," "guide and guardian," and "excellent in all wiles," was one of the divine allies of the Greeks against the Trojans, appeared to bring Ares out of the bronze vessel where he had been imprisoned by Otho and Ephialtes, favored Forbas with riches.
He protected Priam and using his magical powers took him invisibly among the Greeks to Achilles to retrieve the body of his son Hector, also teaching him how to sensitize the enemy. When Priam succeeded he took them back to Troy in the same way.
In The Odyssey he helped the protagonist, Odysseus, by informing him of the sad fate of his companions, transformed into animals by the power of Circe, and instructed him how to protect himself from her spells by chewing a magic herb and how to act before her; he conveyed to Calypso Zeus' order that she release the same hero from his island, to continue his journey home, and after Odysseus killed his wife's suitors, Hermes gathered their souls and took them to Hades.
In The Labors and the Days, when Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create Pandora to disgrace mankind, punishing Prometheus' act of giving fire to men, each god granted her a gift, and Hermes' was lies and seductive words, and a dubious character. He was then charged with taking her as a wife to Epimetheus.
The classical authors documented the breadth of the myth by leaving accounts of other episodes. Aeschylus showed Hermes helping Orestes kill Clytemnestra under a false identity and other stratagems, and also said that he was the god of searches, and of those who look for lost or stolen things.
Sophocles had Odysseus invoke him when he needed to convince Philoctetes to enter the Trojan War on the side of the Greeks, and Euripides had him appear to help Dolon in spying on the Greek armada.
Aesop, who had allegedly received his literary gift from Hermes, placed him in several of his fables, as ruler of the gate of prophetic dreams, as god of athletes, of edible roots, of hospitality; he also said that Hermes had assigned to each person his share of intelligence.
Pindar and Aristophanes also document his recent association with gymnastics, which did not exist in Homer's time, Aristotle systematized the concept of hermeneutics, the science of interpretation, translation, and exegesis, from the attributes of Hermes. and Eudoxo of Cnidus, a mathematician, named the planet now known as Mercury as Hermes, a change that occurred thanks to later Roman influence.
Several other writers of the Hellenistic period quoted Hermes and expanded the list of his accomplishments. Chalimachus said that he disguised himself as a Cyclops to frighten the Oceânides disobedient to their mother, and that he was the god of easy learning.
Philostratus called him the god of wisdom, philosophy, and rewards. One of the Orphic Hymns is dedicated to Hermes Khthonios, indicating that he was also a god of the underworld.
Aeschylus had called him by this epithet several times. Another is the Orphic Hymn to Hermes, where his association with athletic games is celebrated in a mystical tone.
Flégon of Trales said that he was invoked to ward off ghosts, and Pseudo-Apolodorus reported various events: He participated in the Gigantomachy in defense of Olympus; he put Hercules up for sale as a slave to atone for the death of Iphitos;
he was given the task of taking baby Dionysus to be cared for by Ino and Athamas, and then by the nymphs of Asia; he accompanied Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite in a beauty contest; he favored the young Hercules by giving him a sword when he finished his education, and he lent Perseus his sandals so that he could slay the Gorgon more easily. The Thracian princes identified him with their god Zalmoxis, considering him their ancestor.
Throughout Hellenism Hermes acquired a particularly important status as an image of the Logos and interpreter of the divine will, and went from being a mere expressive character to acting creatively, taking on functions of a demiurge, an addition that is attributed mainly to the Stoics, Gnostics, and Neoplatonists.
Apparently at this time the fusion of Hermes with the Egyptian god Tot began, which came to flower in the figure of Hermes Trismegistus.
Smith said that the identification went back to the classical period, and that the Neoplatonists believed that Plato and Pythagoras had learned from him, but the currently accepted dating of the Hermetic literature is much later. His name does not, in fact, appear recorded until between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.
The Roman Hermes: Mercury
When Rome came in contact with Greek culture, it operated a syncretism of its ancient deity Mercury with the Greek Hermes. Until then only a god of commerce, Mercury was invested with all the other characteristics and attributes of the Greek god.
However, it is possible that Mercury himself was an import from Greece, since Roman annals report that the cult was established among them at the behest of the Sibylline Books.
Roman writers also made their own contribution to the Hermes myth, adding various other stories to it and presenting alternative versions of already existing traditions. Since that time both gods have become in practice indistinguishable, although not without some resistance, such as that offered by the fairies, a Roman priestly class, who never recognized the identity between the two.
The literature, however, attests that the assimilation was wide and of lasting penetration, especially from the reign of Augustus onward.
Hyginus spoke of their association with the word and the alphabet, adding that he had invented or explained the languages of the world to men, that he had created the constellation of the Triangle to compensate for the dimness of the Ram and to mark its position by placing it above the latter, and had created the constellation of the Hare, to honor its fertility.
He also said that the planet Mercury was consecrated to him because the god was the first to establish the sequence of months; he also called him the inventor of the art of fighting. Statius and Gaius Valerius Flaco confirmed his connection with the underworld and with the power to command the spirits of the dead;
Ovid, Antoninus Liberal, and Virgil repeated several stories from the original Greek myth, including some that illustrate occasions when Hermes exercised his wrath or was the executor of Zeus' vengeance, turning Aglaurus to stone because of his envy and for having hindered his access to Herse, whom the god desired;
turning Agram into a bird because he had insulted him; killing Agrio and Orio for refusing to follow the laws of hospitality, throwing the house of Chelone into a river and turning it into a turtle for refusing to heed the invitation to Zeus' wedding with Hera.
Also in this period the Greek Pausanias included in his Description of Greece a valuable listing of several of their places of worship in Greece, identifying statues and narrating derivations of their myth.
The Romans, expanding their territories over a vast region, identified several local deities with Mercury, increasing the complexity of syncretism around the original Hermes and the forms of his worship.
Among them was Mithra, an important solar god from the east, with several mercurial statues found in Mithreus in Lusitania, Hispania, Numidia and Germania, having acquired solar traits; Cissonius, Arvernorix, Eso, Iovantucaro, Moco, Visucius, Dumiatis, Artaius, Gebrinius, all Celtic minor deities;
but also with Lugus and Toutatis, widely venerated pan-Celtic gods, and Odin another great god, this one from Germania. Fusing him with the Egyptian god Anubis, they formed Hermanubis, though this had a diffusion limited to the Alexandrian region, but through him traces of Helios were assimilated, giving birth to Helios-Hermanubis, who was in turn identified with Serapis.
Another syncretism of enormous subsequent influence which was completed during the Roman period was the formation of Hermes Trismegistus, or "Hermes thrice-great.
According to one of his stories, Hermes had traveled to Egypt and given it laws and writing, and Tot was an immensely popular god in Egypt, connected with time, fate, cosmic order, law, wisdom, culture and knowledge, religion and civil institutions, rituals, the occult and magic, and was also a judge and guide of the dead.
There being several points of contact between the two, in the assimilation Hermes acquired the status of priest, philosopher and ruler, and Tot was also magnified in his country with several attributes of the other.
The origins of this fusion are unclear, but it seems to be due in part to the establishment of Greek settlers on the Egyptian coast, and by the early Christian era there was already a solid tradition attached to this character, who had become known in large areas of the ancient world by virtue of his philosophical and religious doctrine.
Fowden said that Trismegistus could be described as a truly cosmopolitan deity, and that the result of the fusion was something greater than its constituent parts, a god who was placed among the principal ones in the Roman pantheon.
Much literature was produced about him, and it was claimed that he himself left doctrinal writings in a collection that came to be known as the Corpus Hermeticum, whose content is an eclectic gathering of elements of religion, philosophy, divination, theurgy, ritualistics, esotericism, magic, astrology, science, politics, and alchemy, influenced by various Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Christian currents of thought.
The conceptual complexity that surrounded him was such that some writers, like Cicero, went so far as to subdivide him into several different Hermes, and at least part of the Roman world saw him as a wise man, even divinized, but not as a true god.
Plotinus, Apollonius of Tyana, Lactantius, Tertullian, and Ammianus Marcellinus considered him so, and therefore his philosophy, the so-called Hermeticism, could be seized upon by the early Christians and survive as a precursor to the Christian faith.
Reception of myth in the Middle and Modern Ages
The tradition of Trismegistus radiated westward as well as eastward, finding throughout the Middle Ages major centers of preservation, albeit selective, in the Byzantine Empire, Persia, and Arabia, but even medieval writers in Europe still considered him an authority.
Peter Abelard, St. Bonaventure, and St. Thomas Aquinas saw him as a great philosopher, and Albert the Great cited him as a reference in astrology. Among the Arabs Trismegistus was most often associated with the prophet Idris, who in the Koran appears as a figure exalted by Allah.
According to Moore, by the late Middle Ages the character of Hermes-Mercury was more strongly linked to the philosophy of Trismegistus; iconography of the time sometimes depicts him as a scribe or bishop.
As for Hermes-Mercury, some of the early Church Fathers compared him to Christ as the vehicle of the Logos, and he was associated with several other characters in the Judeo-Christian tradition, such as Moses, Metatron, St. Paul, St. John the Baptist, and Enoch, thus he was also present in the origin of modern European religious culture.
According to Mircea Eliade he was one of the few gods of the classical pantheon that did not succumb in the face of the rise of Christianity. Lawson stated that part of the symbology connected to the archangel St. Michael is an inheritance from Hermes, remembering that ággelos in Greek means messenger, and is the origin of the word angel; Hermes was ággelos áthanáton, the messenger of the immortals.
This association seems proven by the number of French chapels dedicated to St. Michael erected over ancient temples of Mercury, who had been largely syncretized to corresponding Celtic gods. Examples in the British Isles have also been attested.
Medieval traditions made similar associations when they described St. Michael as the one charged with leading the dead into the Eternal Light, and medieval cemeteries were often consecrated to him as the protector of the dead, referring to Hermes' function as psychopomp, the conductor of souls into the realm of Hades.
A post-antique cameo was found with an image of Hermes bearing the inscription "Michael". Taylor noted that the image of Hermes as guardian of the flocks is the prototype of the Christ figure as the Good Shepherd, especially when he was figured as Hermes Cryophorus (Kriophoros; the one who carries the lamb), and compared the figure of his mother Maya to that of the Virgin Mary, who embodies the same attributes of a Great Mother.
The so-called Renaissance flourished from a look to the past, recovering Greek, Roman and Eastern traditions, and in this spirit Hermes and Mercury, already considered one and the same god, appeared on the European cultural scene reinvigorated, contributing to nourish the main current of thought of the time, Humanism, through various aspects, and also inseminating the coeval iconography.
By this time Trismegistus was in the general view humanized, not being considered a god, but a great philosopher, contemporary of Moses and inspirer of Plato and the Neoplatonists. His eclectic philosophy had an enormous impact on the humanists and occultists of the Renaissance, who interpreted this diverse heritage within the Christian optics.
The classical iconography of Hermes-Mercury was part of a wave of reappraisal of Greco-Roman art, contributing to the development of a new form of representation of the human body, which, after being despised in the Middle Ages, re-emerged ennobled and idealized.
One discovered in ancient mythology veiled symbols of high wisdom, the same truths preached by Christianity, and from this conceived the idea that all religions are in essence equally worthy, and that the form of myths had been created to protect the Truth from vulgar profanation.
Myths in parallel served as the interpretative basis for an incipient Psychology, providing explanations for various psychic and characterological expressions, and processes of nature and man, hitherto without any available explanation.
Hermes-Mercury was the model of the perfect orator of the Renaissance, when rhetoric was again being cultivated with great enthusiasm and influenced the consolidation of an entire formal and pedagogical system that penetrated various fields of art and culture and was one of the foundations of the foundation of Academism.
Hermeneutics is also responsible for another part of the transmission of the memory of Hermes to the modern world, a discipline dedicated to the interpretation of the literary and cultural tradition, named after the god who was the messenger of the gods and interpreter of their will for mortals. Heller said that without Hermes no hermeneutics is possible.
Hermes-Mercury equally popularized through astrology as ruler of the signs of Gemini and Virgo, influencing relational, communicative and cognitive aspects, and through astrology and alchemy - areas where Trismegistus was of particular importance - resonated with practical sciences and the philosophy of science until the 18th century.
As examples, Copernicus justified his heliocentric theory from Trismegistus' belief that the sun was a visible god, and later Isaac Newton dwelt closely on alchemy and wrote a commentary on The Emerald Tablet, part of the Corpus Hermeticum, attempting to unite science and spirituality.
In alchemy Hermes-Mercury played a central role, and its material symbol was the metal Mercury, which because of its ambiguous qualities - the only metal that remains liquid at room temperature - gave rise to a great deal of new alchemical myths.
It was considered the divine essence in the world, fixed and volatile, possessing in itself the properties of the Moon and the Sun, silver and gold, and was therefore seen as hermaphrodite. Scientist-alchemists like Newton and Boyle believed that Mercury was the basis of all metals, and that it could be extracted from all of them by suitable methods.
It was the "permanent water," the primordial water of Creation, over which the spirit of God moved, the principle par excellence of all transformations, the greatest of solvents, capable of decomposing all metals, receiving the name "water of death," but it was also from where transmuted metals were born, thus being called "water of resurrection" and "fountain of baptism.
As all alchemy was itself a symbol of the process of spiritual purification for the attainment of Redemption, Hermes-Mercury was the guide of souls, the very Savior who leads the individual from the darkness of ignorance to the light of ultimate realization, being at the origin, the means, and the end, and being an image of the philosopher's stone itself, which transmuted all impurity into gold, carnality into spirituality.
For all these reasons, an abundant visual and literary imagery about Hermes has since multiplied again. Among the famous painters who have depicted Hermes or Mercury are Andrea Mantegna, Sandro Botticelli, Bartholomäus Spranger, Claude Lorrain, Dosso Dossi, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Antonio da Correggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Hendrick Goltzius, François Boucher, William Turner, and Frederic Leighton; among the sculptors, Benvenuto Cellini, Giambologna, Antico, Adriaen de Vries, Antoine Coysevox, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, François Rude, and Augustin Pajou.
Poets who have mentioned him or dedicated poems to him include Dante Alighieri, Gérard de Nerval, Rainer Maria Rilke, William Blake, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John Keats,and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, among many others.
Connections and descent
Hermes had a great number of loves with goddesses, demigoddesses, and mortal women, and begat numerous offspring. Among the immortals, with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, he had Hermaphroditus, and some versions of the myth give him as the father of Eros, conceived with the same mother; In some stories he was father or son of Priapus.
Pan was the fruit of Hermes' loves with the nymph Dríope, or, in some versions, Penelopeia, a nymph, or Penelope, wife of Odysseus. He seduced Brimo or Hecate on the shores of Lake Boibes, with Deira he begot Elêusis; he had a relationship with Breast, the goddess of persuasion, taking her as his wife; and he tried to court Persephone, but was rejected. With Carmenta he begot Evandro; with an unidentified nymph he begot Daphnis; with Ocirroë, Caicos; with various Oréades, he had nymph daughters.
Among the mortal women, he loved Aglaurus, princess of Attica, who gave birth to Cérix; Acale, princess of Crete, who gave birth to Cidon; Antianira, who gave him two sons, Aetius and Aeuritus; Apemósine, who was killed by her brother before giving birth; Aptale, who was the father of Eurysthen; Eriteia, princess of Iberia, who gave birth to Norax;
Creusa or Herse, princess of Attica, who gave birth to Cephaeus; Iphitime, who bore him three sons, Ferespondo, Lico, and Pronomus; Chione, who gave birth to Auteus; Ctonophylle, queen of Sicily, fathering Polybus; Clithie or Theobule, mother of Myrtle; Libya, princess of Libya or Nauplia, mother of Libis; Philodamia, princess of Argos, mother of Phallis; Polymele, mother of Eudore, and Tronia, princess of Egypt, who bore Arabo.
She also had romances with some men, according to some versions of her story. These were Crocos, whom she accidentally killed in a game of discus, and whom she later transformed into a flower;
Amphion, to whom she is said to have granted the gift of singing and skill with the lyre, by whose art she worked wonders, and Perseus, to whom she also manifested special protection. The Romans gave her one more love, Larunda, with whom she begot the Lares, important domestic deities.
Worship and epithets
His oldest seat of worship was Mount Cilene in Arcadia, where myth says he was born. Tradition says that his first temple was erected by Lycaon, son of Pelasgo. From there the cult was taken to Athens, and from there it spread to all Greece, and according to Smith his temples and statues were extremely numerous.
Lucian of Samosata said that temples of Hermes were seen everywhere. After assimilation by Rome, they multiplied all over the area of the Empire. In many places his temple was consecrated together with Aphrodite, as in Attica, Arcadia, Crete, Samos and in Magna Grecia.
Several ex-votos found in his temples revealed his role as initiator of young people into adulthood, among them soldiers and hunters, since war and certain forms of ceremonial hunting were considered initiatory trials.
This function of the god explains why some images found in temples and others in vases show him as an adolescent, and from iconography in which he appears with satyrs, from literary narratives, and from his worship combined with that of Aphrodite, it is evident that among the initiations Hermes sponsored was sexual.
Hermes, as the patron of gymnastics and wrestling, had statues in every gymnasium, and was worshipped also from the sanctuary of the Twelve Gods at Olympia, where the Olympic Games, the most celebrated of all, were celebrated. His worship there was performed at an altar consecrated jointly to Apollo.
His special festival was the Hermaia, which was celebrated with sacrifices to Hermes and athletic and gymnastic games, and was established possibly in the 6th or 5th century B.C. Aeschines said that the laws regulating the Hermaia had been established by Solon or Dracon, but there is no documentation of gymnasts before the 4th century B.C.
However, Plato mentioned that Socrates attended a Hermaia. Of all the Greek festivals involving games, the Hermaia were the closest to the character of an initiation, not least because participation in them was restricted to young people (ageneioi) and boys (paides), excluding adults.
The awarding of prizes did not contemplate only pure and simple victory, but various other aptitudes. Having an initiatory character, the winners of the Hermenaeans returned to their cities as heroes and adults who had acquired honor (timé). The Hermaia of Pelene became particularly popular, attracting competitors from distant regions.
Its prize was a thick cloak. On the other hand, the Hermata acquired a reputation as an occasion when adult men sought out young men as lovers, which led to the creation of laws in Athens in the 4th century BC against the presence of adults at the games.
This was due to the abusive use of a sacred festival for profane purposes, and not because there was a censorship of the homosexual male relationship, for it is known that at that time Greek society, within the context of paideia, saw such a relationship as beneficial and useful for the education of the young man, having also an initiatory feature.
A document has preserved the regulations of the Hermata celebrated in Bereia, in Macedonia, already in the Christian era, and its partial transcription is of interest:
"The gymniarch shall celebrate Hermaia in the month of Hyperbereteu, shall sacrifice to Hermes and offer as a prize one weapon and three others for physical fitness (euexia), good discipline (eutaxia) and diligent training (philoponia) for competitors up to thirty years old.
The gymnast will choose a list of seven men from among those present, who will judge the contest of good discipline, must draw lots and choose three who must swear by Hermes that they will judge precisely those who are in the best physical condition, without favoritism or hostility of any kind.
The winners will receive crowns that day and will be allowed to attach a sash to the head of whomever they wish. At Hermaia the gymniarch will also organize a torch race for boys and young men. The priests shall receive, when celebrating the Hermaia, from each person who attends the gymnasium, no more than two drachmas, and shall celebrate them in the gymnasium, and shall appoint successors for the future Hermaia.
The coaches must also sacrifice to Hermes at the same time as the priests, and must receive no more than one drachma from each boy, and must divide the meat of the sacrifice among themselves.
The winners must dedicate the prizes they receive to the next gymnosiarch within eight months, or else the gymnosiarch will impose a fine of one hundred drachma. The gymnastarch has the power to flog and fine anyone who keeps talking or does not compete fairly in the games, and also if anyone cedes victory to another..."
Among the items consecrated to him were the palm tree, the turtle, the rooster, the goat, the number four, various kinds of fish, and his sacrifices involved incense, honey, cakes, pigs, lambs, and young goats.
Because he was connected with eloquence, the tongues of the sacrificed animals belonged to him. In the sanctuary of Hermes Promachus at Tangagra a strawberry tree plant was grown under which he was believed to have been raised, and in the Feneos hills ran three fountains which were sacred to him, for it was believed that he was bathed there at his birth.
A statue of Hermes guarded the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Thebes, and there were some in Tangra in which he appeared carrying a lamb (Cryophore), for a legend said that he drove away the plague from the city by carrying a lamb around the walls.
Homer said that the last libations of a banquet were dedicated to Hermes, and Pausanias that in his time there were statues of him in every gymnasium, following an ancient custom that was then being copied by the barbarians. In many cities there was a statue in the market square. One form of worship was oracular, like the one established in Farai.
A statue of Hermes Agoreus stood in the market square of the city, in front of which was a heart carved in stone, with two oil lamps tied with leather bands. The supplicant should burn incense on the heart, light the lamps, and place a local coin on the right side of the altar.
Then he should whisper his question in the statue's ear, then cover his own ears and leave the marketplace. When he was gone, he would open his ears, and the first word or phrase he heard would have a divinatory character.
Among his cult images the most common were the hermas, placed on all roads to delimit borders or mark distances, at the entrances of houses, at neighborhood divisions and market squares.
The hermas were square pillars with only the god's head carved on top; often a phallus also appeared, reinforcing his association with fertility and his power against the evil eye and evil spirits, since the symbol of virility was also considered protective, being linked to the warrior force.
Their earliest forms were simple stone mounds, or a stone pillar with no carving at all, but Herodotus claimed that Ithiphilic herms were as old as the pelasgos, the pre-Hellenic people who had taught the Athenians to carve them. Pausanias said that in Eleia the main worship image of Hermes was an erect penis on a pedestal.
Hermas were also common in Greek gymnasiums, stadiums, and hippodromes, as well as being installed in the Roman Circus Maximus. His sacredness was protected in mysteries that became part of the Mysteries of Samothrace. He was also one of the patron gods of the Mysteries of Elêusis, as he was the god who escorted Persephone to the underworld, and each spring brought her to the surface.
His various functions and powers were described by his numerous epithets, of which some are: Acacesius, he who cannot be hurt, or who does not hurt; Agetor, leader, conductor, or guide; Agoreus, president of assemblies and markets; Argiphontes, slayer of Argos;
Catharibates, conductor of souls to the underworld; Cthesius, protector of estates; Eriúnio, Dôtor Eaôn, giver of good luck; Numio, Epimélio, protector of shepherds and pastures; Promaco, champion or winner; Propileu, protector of the entrances, and Pronau, of the entrances to temples; Trichelus, guardian of the crossroads; Enagonius, ruler of gymnastic games;
Hermeneuta, the interpreter and translator; Diactore, guide, minister, messenger; Agelo, divine messenger; Felétes, thief, and Arcos Feletéon, king of thieves; Clepsiphro, Mecaniota, deceiver, schemer; Polytrope, mobile, swift, in many places; Poneomenus, busy;
Dais Hetairos, party companion; Charidot, giver of joy; Acacetus, graceful; Scidemonus, glorious; Aglaos, resplendent, splendid; Crato, Cratus, strong, powerful; Masterius, master of quests; Pompey, guide; Eriunius, very useful. The multiplicity of aspects of Hermes, in Walter Otto's view, should not be a cause for confusion. As he said,
"In the conception of a deity of his type there can be no purpose in differentiating early and late qualities in search of some line of development to connect one with another. In spite of their multiplicity they are in fact one, and if one special trait appeared earlier than others, it still remains the same meaning which has found a new avenue of expression.
Whatever one may think of Hermes in primitive times, a splendor emanating from the depths must have at once dazzled the eye so that a whole world was perceived in the god and the god in the whole world."
The image of Hermes varied as Greek art and culture evolved. In archaic times he is usually a bearded, mature man, wearing the costume of a traveler, herald, or shepherd. In classicism and Hellenism he is usually depicted naked, with an athletic bearing, as befits the god of the lecture and gymnasts, or with a cloak, a formula that became predominantly fixed for centuries to come.
When he is represented as Lógio (orator), his attitude is consistent with the attribute. A famous statue, now known as Hermes Ludovisi or Hermes Lógio, depicted at the opening of the article, is attributed to Phidias, and Praxyteles created another, also very famous, showing him with baby Dionysus in his arms.
In all eras, however, going through the Hellenistic, Roman, and throughout Western history to the present day, several of his characteristic objects are present as a form of identification, but they do not always all appear together.
Among these objects is a wide-brimmed hat, the pétaso, much used by rural peoples of antiquity to protect themselves from the sun, and which in later times was adorned with a pair of small wings; sometimes the hat is not present, but may then have wings rising from the wig.
He carries a staff, called a rabdos (rod) or skeptron (scepter), which is referred to as a magic wand. Some early sources say that this was the stick he received from Apollo, but others do not give the provenance.
It seems that it may have been two sticks, in time merged into one, one a shepherd's staff, as recorded in the Homeric Hymn, and the other a magic wand, as some authors say.
His staff also came to be called the kerykeion, the caduceus, at late dates. The earliest representations of this staff show it as a golden rod crowned by a shape resembling the number eight, though sometimes with its top truncated and open.
Later the staff became two intertwined serpents and was sometimes crowned with a pair of wings and a sphere, but the ancient form remained in use even when Hermes was associated with Mercury by the Romans.
Hyginus explained the presence of the serpents by saying that once Hermes was traveling through Arcadia when he saw two intertwined struggling serpents. He placed his caduceus between them and they parted, and thus said that his staff brought peace.
The caduceus, historically, did not appear with Hermes, and is documented among the Babylonians from around 3,500 BCE. The two serpents wrapped around a staff were a symbol of the god Ninguiszida, who served as a mediator between men and mother goddess Istar or the supreme, Ninguirsu.
From Babylon it passed to Syria, whose god Simios had the caduceus as his symbol. In Greece itself other gods could carry a caduceus, but it became mainly associated with Hermes.
It had the power to make people sleep or wake up, and also made peace between litigants, as well as being a visible sign of his authority, used like a scepter. It was represented at the entrances of houses possibly as an amulet of good fortune, or as a purifying symbol. The caduceus should not be confused with the staff of Asclepius, patron of medicine and son of Apollo, which bears only a serpent. The staff of Asclepius was adopted by most Western physicians as an emblem of their profession, but in several medical organizations in the United States the caduceus has taken its place since the 18th century, although this usage is declining in favor of the other symbol. After the Renaissance the caduceus also appeared in heraldry in various coats of arms, and is presently a symbol of commerce. In Brazil the caduceus is one of the symbols of accountancy.
His sandals, called pédila by the Greeks and talaria by the Romans, in the Hymn were made of blueberry and date palm branches, but were described as beautiful, golden and immortal, made with sublime art, able to carry him along the paths with the swiftness of the wind.
Originally they had no wings, but in late artistic representations they appear. In certain images the wings sprout directly from the ankles. They could also carry a bag or sack in their hands, and wear a cloak or cape, which had the power to confer invisibility. His weapon was a golden sword, with which he killed Argos; he lent it to Perseus to kill Echemon.
Readings of the myth
Some scholars believe that Hermes' connection with theft arose as a derivation of his image as a shepherd, as shown in the account of the deception he foisted on his divine brother, Apollo, by stealing his cattle. This possibly reflected the customs of the Greek herding tribes of the Bronze Age.
As we can read in Thucydides, predatory cattle expeditions on neighboring tribes were common at that time, and were seen as praiseworthy exploits, attended by kings and large numbers of shepherds and taking the form of a war. The first description of this story appears in the cited Homeric Hymn to Hermes, but it is not clear whether the Hymn records the early identity of the god or is a product of later culture.
In other literary evidence, such as in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and Hesiod's Theogony and The Labors and the Days, from about the same time, the god is depicted as a thief, but is not connected with cattle rustling.
His customary epithet was "the Trickster," and in this sense he is the prototype of the Trickster. However, since the myth of Hermes arose in Greek prehistory, well before Homer, Hesiod and the Hymn, it is possible that there a distinction between deception, theft and stealing was not as sharp as it later presented itself.
These early descriptions of Hermes as a thief make use of a word that derives from kléptein, which literally means "to remove or act in secret" and "to deceive," which does not necessarily imply either theft or even less robbery, which are violations of property.
Hermes rather appeals to intelligence and agility, to ingenuity and subtlety, while cattle-stealing expeditions were more connected to the violent character of the heroes. In fact, the god of cattle rustling most often cited in literature is Hercules, not Hermes, who remained primarily associated with deception, cunning, and subtle skills.
For Taylor, Hermes was a central figure in the process of transforming Greek society from a nomadic matriarchal culture based on banditry to one founded on masculine, sedentary, and urban values, operating a major shift in social, religious, and economic structure, as well as in individuals' understanding of the world.
It was he who guided the transformation of cattle-raiding, war and revenge into commerce, law and government, refining society through arts, communications and science. He thus represents the civilizing impulse and the principle of creativity. Riker added that Hermes is more than a socioeconomic myth, he is a representation of one of the deepest capacities of the psyche, which began to be understood in the Archaic period: the power of transformation.
By making a lyre out of a tortoise and ram's guts and distorting sacred oaths, he changed nature into culture, changed divine language into human language, the strange into familiar, the obscure into consciousness, convention into adaptability, the incommunicable into articulation and interpretation, a raw world into a world humanized by meanings and values.
Also linked to dubious activities was his reputation as a master of ambiguous oaths, and also of diplomacy and negotiation, which is evident in the reading of the Hymn. When Apollo suspects him as the perpetrator of the theft, he says he will "swear" innocence, but does not swear, only declare it.
Again he does this before Zeus, and further, says that he is trustworthy and incapable of lying, and, twisting his words, states that he did not take the cattle to his house, nor did he cross the threshold of the entrance with them, both statements true, for he had hidden the cattle in another cave, but used as if to prove that he was not involved in any way.
At the same time, invoking his young age, he turned the accusation against Apollo, demanding reparation for the outrage of the accusation and threatening revenge.
Even though his guilt was immediately obvious to Zeus, he does not arouse his wrath, but rather amuses him by his ingenuity. He is ordered to reveal the hiding place to Apollo, not explicitly to return the cattle, and this opens up the opportunity to negotiate on his own behalf.
"Easily placating the son of the glorious Leto" (Apollo), Hermes sings, and his singing marvels Apollo, who says that such an art was worth the fifty cows. It should be noted that Hermes demonstrated enough tact to steal only cows, and no bulls, for to do so would affront his brother's manhood.
Next, Apollo asks him for another oath - the great oath on behalf of the waters of the Styx, which even the gods could not violate - that Hermes would never cheat him again, but he does not swear, only shakes his head affirmatively. Such types of oaths of promise but not of expression, or of double interpretation, were common in Greek society in the spheres of ritualized friendship, commerce, and diplomacy, and were also perfect oaths for thieves, all activities of which Hermes was patron.
Also patent is his ability to dodge extreme situations, to hide, conceal, and not be easily arrested, as he proves by changing his identity, flying with his sandals, pretending to sleep, turning into smoke, and hiding the tracks of cattle, and then breaking the bonds Apollo imposes on him and obtaining favors through his personal charm, manipulation, inventiveness, and talent for bargaining.
Other stories, along these lines, extended his elusive powers by saying that he could assume any form he wanted and by giving him a cloak that conferred invisibility.
Moreover, the deceptions he operates are often connected with the magical arts, typical of tricksters in all primitive cultures, and even when he stole Apollo's cattle he did so by his supernatural powers, displayed at various stages of the event.
In his other stories several times he is first and foremost a skilled magician, being invested, by the developing tradition, with several additional powers, such as that of holding and releasing, turning things and people on and off, and of mediating connections and social interaction.
He also became the god who prevented the souls of the dead from leaving their tombs, and allowed them to do so only one day in the year, on the festival of the Anterastes, so that they could receive the offerings of the living. Magic was also involved in the arts of sexual seduction, and it was common to perform incantations to attract the desired person, and to pray in a low voice invoking Hermes as the intermediary of the liaison.
Seduction involved the use of skillful and convincing speech, and Hermes appears as one of the patron gods of love and seductive speech, commanding the magic words, mysteries, and amorous whispers. One of his epithets was "the Whisperer". Another element that associated him with magic was his caduceus, which had the power to make people sleep or wake up.
The Homeric Hymn has been interpreted by Johnston, Fletcher, Haft, and other authors as the prototypical narrative of Hermes' function as initiator, for several reasons. Cattle rustling, as already cited, was an activity historically linked to honor-clad predatory expeditions, a practice that had ancient origins among Indo-European peoples.
In the Hymn Hermes rejects the reproach of his mother, who considers him still a baby - although he was - and protests against his mother's desire to keep him bound to her, childishly, in a cave, while he wanted to be worshipped on an equal footing with Apollo and personally provide for his mother.
When he goes with Apollo to retrieve the cows, Apollo says that he doesn't need to grow any more, and tries to lock him up.
However, later Apollo recognizes his brother's value, grants him several gifts, and allows him to teach, signifying that his initiation was successful and that he himself had in turn become an initiator. On the other hand, Hermes serves as Apollo's initiator into an unknown form of music, which was connected to the art of eloquence.
Through this, Hermes and Apollo will maintain a close bond and share several common qualities, and their joint worship at Olympia confirms this. This goes back to the tradition of strong male relationships in Greek society, with a mature man facilitating a young man's entry into the adult world.
His ultimate canonization happens when after the whole process Hermes is admitted to Olympus. Other elements that make the Hymn an account of an initiation are the chants that Hermes chants: in the first he sings among other things his own divine origin, establishing the justification of his claim to recognition as an equal to the greater gods.
In the second, he sings the story of the creation of the universe and the genealogy of the gods, praising their qualities, signifying that he recognizes precedence and powers that must be respected.
With these songs, it becomes clear that his success depends partly on himself and partly on external factors, taking into account both the value of the individual and the social group he wishes to insert himself into, leaving the domestic sphere and abandoning a transgressive character typical of youth and entering a much wider world laden with the responsibilities of maturity.
The whole story of the theft still sounds like a simulation of a conflict, rather than a real conflict, which was common in initiation rites.
Gardaphé and Brown have made an association of the myth, based on the dating of the Hymn, with the emergence of democracy in Athens and the development of a sense of individualism in Greek society around the 5th century BCE.
His transition from trickster to god is said to reflect the rapid change in the then social hierarchy, with the formation of a bourgeois merchant class independent of the aristocratic and landowning organization that had previously prevailed.
At this time Hermes became the god of the lotteries with which public servants were elected, a practice that according to Aristotle was an expression of the principle of equality among citizens.
Brown has also suggested that the intrusion of Hermes into music, an art where Apollo was the patron, signifies the bourgeoisie's claim to elevation of its cultural status by moving into a sphere previously dominated by the aristocrats.
For Zore, Hermes, by his own evasive, anarchic and dubious character, makes us aware of the limitations of the Enlightenment project, which guided the culture of the 19th century and part of the 20th century, of the ambiguities of contemporary culture, and of the risks involved in all hermeneutics, which can lead to nihilism, paradox, an idea that "anything goes", and distortions in the interpretation and application of Justice.
On the other hand, it is the god that provides understanding and penetration into confusing and intricate areas of interpretation; for its two sides, it is a god that can guide and enlighten or confuse and lose.
Samuels, Matthews, Ketola, and other authors have expanded the association of Hermes with commerce by saying that he is a figure who symbolizes the ambiguous conditions of today's globalized market economy, characterized by diversity, universality, innovation, positive partnership systems, and also contradiction, lies abuse of rights, ambition, fraud, envy, impostures, and all kinds of subterfuges and strategies to deceive and win the competition, aspects that have repercussions on and/or are influenced by the internal and external politics of nations and the current collective psychology, and favor the desacralization of human life, among other serious problems.
Samuels noted that such difficulties are inherent in the economic system and can hardly be eliminated, for "the problems arising from the psychology of theft persist because society appreciates the results of the subtle psychology of bargaining" in areas beyond the trade of material goods, but then Hermes becomes a symbol of synthetic understanding and realistic adaptation to present conditions, the first step towards being able to combat its negative aspects.
Presence in contemporary culture
After the end of the world of antiquity Hermes reappeared strongly in the Renaissance, when all classical mythology was studied again, but he remained in a secondary position, behind Apollo, whose image dominated Western culture until the 18th century.
According to Neville and Serres, in the 19th century, with the rapid development of science, technology and industry, the tutelary nume became mainly Prometheus, the titan who had created mankind and given it the fire he had stolen from the gods.
However, in the 20th century, the Apollonian and Promethean values went into decline, emphasizing a patriarchal, imperialist, heroic, and misogynistic model, seeking to impose structures and concepts supposed to be perennially and universally valid.
Thus, several authors state that the present is an age of plurality, change, negotiation, speed, complexity, communicability, and the versatility of Hermes.
Also an age of Hermes because it has already become clear that a mechanical and exploitative domination of nature can no longer be sustained for long, and Hermes, as the god who taught mortals the laws of sacrifice and instructed them in the veneration of divine powers, has become an image of respect for the natural world and the feminine principle.
His figure, more that of an anti-hero than a hero, has been recovered in various areas of culture. Neville has stated that her presence is so great that the whole contemporary Western culture suffers from a kind of "hermetic inflation," with an excess of mobility, relativism, loss of stable values, moral dissolution, manipulation of information in the media and politics, commodification of culture, the arts, health and knowledge, a view shared with Crouse, Samuels and partly with Barcena.
In Taylor's view, the radical modifications in Greek society sponsored by Hermes millennia ago are a good mirror of the transformations that contemporary society is going through, and that in order to succeed in preserving the sustainability of life on earth we must appeal to Hermes' creative gifts.
In the same line of ideas, Hatch, Kostera & Koźmiński think that Zeus, Ares and Hephaestus as symbols of leadership have been being displaced in favor of Hermes, Athena and Demeter, with a more communicative, dignified and rejuvenating profile, being able to take risks, share responsibilities more easily than the other models and avoid paternalism or authoritarianism.
He is present even in popular culture, where he is remembered more for being the messenger of the gods and, if only under the name Mercury, for belonging to the universe of astrology, which is disseminated through predictions in almanacs, magazines and newspapers of wide circulation.
He appears in post offices, in commercial associations, and his caduceus is on the coat of arms of several cities and organizations. Companies, periodicals, products and people adopted his name.
In Brazil, Hermes da Fonseca, former president of the republic, and Hermes Aquino, musician, were famous. Internationally, the Hermès brand of luxury goods is very prestigious, carrying a family name.
A martyr of Catholicism was named St. Hermes, and a French commune in the Oise department, a Marvel Comics character, ten British Navy ships, a line of Handley Page Aircraft Company planes, a United States Army missile project, a European Space Agency space shuttle project - although it was not carried out - and an asteroid are also named after the god.
The stylized effigy of Hermes was made official as the symbol of Greece's postal service, and the country issued stamps with his image.
In anthropology, Hermes has been helpful in understanding the figure of the trickster, present in many ancient and modern aboriginal cultures. In psychotherapy, since Carl Jung's work with archetypes, Hermes has become a tutelary image of the individuation process and psychic healing, and is considered a principle capable of interconnecting and relating discordant aspects of the psyche and bringing them to a healthy and functional integration.
Its very association with activities usually called unworthy, such as stealing and deceit, enables it to penetrate psychic constellations whose outer expression is socially condemned, and to understand them from the perspective of the patient's individuality and humanity. In myth Hermes is often called "the friendliest god of mortals," and to him "no strangeness was strange.
Having been called the psychagogue or psiocopompo, conductor or guide of souls, and pedagogue, guide of the young, he is a symbol also of the psychotherapist himself, in his role as the sensitive, dynamic, and adaptive guide of the process of analysis and healing, and a prototype of all who teach and initiate.
Moreover, studying the collective psyche from a geographical perspective, it has been recorded that region-specific myths and legends often manifest themselves in dreams of the local population, and the well-known Jungian psychoanalyst Marie-Louise von Franz pointed out that "she had never analyzed an Italian, male or female, in whom motifs from classical antiquity have not appeared fully alive in his dreams," and cited several examples of dreams involving Hermes, which reinforces the idea that beyond just being part of a tradition, it remains an active image operating on an unconscious level, surfacing on occasion to the conscious.
Italo Calvino, who in his own words paid "special tribute" to Hermes-Mercury, offered Hermes and Hephaestus as the two guides for modern writers, saying that the writer's work must take into account the time of Hermes and the time of Hephaestus, one bringing a message of immediacy of the certainty that only legitimate intuition can confer, and the other enabling him to submit the intuitive idea to the long, patient, thorough work necessary for the proper articulation of form, when ideas and feelings are sedimented, matured, freed from all impatience and all ephemeral contingency.
In recent New Age and occult literature his name is also commonly invoked. In the field of classical studies Hermes remains a figure of great interest to the disciplines of iconography, archaeology, cultural history, art, religion and society, and several others. Since the nineteenth century the Corpus Hermeticum in particular has been receiving new and intense scholarly attention, in association with advances in Middle Ages and Oriental studies.
Some unpublished texts have been rediscovered from these efforts, illuminating the spread of Hermeticism to previously unsuspected regions such as Persia, Arabia, and more, and the resulting debate has presented new and thought-provoking aspects on established concepts.
Renaissance of the cult
With the resurgence of neo-pagan cults in contemporary society, Hermes is again being worshipped de facto as a divine power.
This trend began to appear in the 19th century, in the wake of the Romantic movement, when medieval subjects, archaic folklores, and myths from antiquity received new attention throughout Europe as part of a process of creating national identities.
It also served as an alternative to a materialistic, mechanistic, science-dominated worldview, and also to a religiosity exclusively centered on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Its practitioners felt myths as an active part of their lives, and God as an immanent force in nature, expressed through a multiplicity of forms.
Through these aspects, many neo-pagans took positions linked to environmentalism, counter-culture, feminism, and pacifism, while others turned to magical and esoteric practices, and in this sense, the influence of Hermes Trismegistus was again very sensitive.
In contemporary Greece there are groups dedicated to the worship of the ancient Olympian gods, including Hermes. They managed to legally reverse the ban on paganism in 2006 and won their official recognition as a religion in 2007.
The Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes, founded in 1997, is one of the groups that has attracted the most attention, claiming to have about two thousand followers and one hundred thousand sympathizers, including branches in several other countries.
Their stated goal is "to defend and restore the Hellenic Ethnic and Polytheistic Way, Religion and Tradition, which has been heavily dominated by the Christian Orthodox Church and the shadowy Byzantine paths (ethos)." They do not intend a superficial return to ancient forms, but to be governed by humanistic values, as first expressed by their predecessors, and to tread on the path of virtue, tolerance, and civilization, in the spirit of paideia.
For them the gods are exalted, impersonal, immortal beings who selflessly serve the universe by regulating the processes of nature, but consider them integral and inseparable parts of a whole that includes man and nature.
They use cult images in an anthropomorphic way because they believe that the subtle theology understood in myths can be better appreciated through their translation into concepts and images more easily accessible to human understanding.
The ritual consists of invocation of the deity, recitation of hymns, and bloodless sacrifices expressed in offerings of flowers, fruit, incense, perfumes, and libations of wine, milk, and honey. Usually the worship takes place around an outdoor altar. The Temple of Hermes website suggests as ritual practices making offerings of coins, strawberries, libations, and incense; playing dice or cards, and saying prayers.
Other groups include the Societas Hellenica Antiquariorum, promoting the study and fostering of the "Hellenistic Idea," intending to establish the classical Greek language, protect historical sites and resurrect ancestral values, and strive for the officialization of ancient religion.
Its general principles are similar to those of the Supreme Council, in the same way as the Hellenion group, the latter being careful to expunge from the Greek tradition the interpolation of Renaissance-derived interpretations and Hermeticism that include magic and shamanism.
The Church of the Hellenes, however, has a bellicose and militant stance against anything that opposes Hellenic sects, seeking, as they say, to eradicate, in a "holy war," "all feminine emotions such as friendship, tolerance, and love. The Hellenic Warrior has only one thought, one target: the merciless extermination of the enemies of Hellenic religion and culture... with Machiavellian ethics, cold logic, and relentless pursuit of the target."
In short, neopagan practice in Greece has been the subject of much controversy, receiving especially acid criticism from part of the Orthodox Church, but the fact that it has achieved state recognition indicates that it is becoming a movement of significant expression in Greek society.