Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tetelesmenoi Hermei

Hermes, simplistically known as the "Messenger of Gods" becomes more complex the more you delve into him, follow him around and learn from the wisdom of the messages he carries and dispatches. It is no wonder why this enigmatic and warm god became the one deity Karl Kerenyi was fondest of, in his life and journey.

The more I dig beyond the surface of the Messenger, the more in depth the road becomes. Among a few past Hellenistic forum discussions the question arouse as to why certain divinities seemed more popular than others, and in particular Hermes was one mentioned. But when it is of his divine nature in traveling from the world of man to that of gods, to the heavens and to the underworld it doesn't surprise me that more of us are responsive to his inquiries, noticing and welcoming him into our lives. I am still learning of all the titles Hermes carries, along with many areas he is keen with: pompos or diaktoros ("guide"), angelos ("messenger"), eriounios ("luck-bringer") akaketa ("benignant," "gracious," witness of a gentle death-god), enodios ("by the road") and hodios ("belonging to a journey"). An Etruscan inscription has turms aitas meaning "Hermes of Hades" as his chthonic aspect.

He is the god of travelers, of journeymen. But isn't our lives a journey in itself? Having a guide not only in the literal sense of the act, but in the allegorical as well would seem helpful. Inciting ideas, dreams and epiphanies - the trickster god taking and giving: to his amusement, to our bereavement. Hermes is hegetor oneiron ("ruler of dreams") and with his Caduceus his brings sleep and wakefulness to men. The offerings left on the roadside were called hermaion, but it was also the word for windfall, as things that are of accidental discovery for gain. The residue of the chaotic windfall, Kerenyi wrote, which is shaped to the meaning of the god.

"In every cosmos accident remains fundamental, a residue of the chaotic condition, and this is true also of the Hermetic cosmos."
Of the crossroads and of the night - polythropos ("gate-watcher"), nuktos opoetera ("nocturnal scout") and Kerenyi and Walter F. Otto both felt that they understood Hermes as the Greeks understood Night.
But the darkness of night which so sweetly
invites to slumber also bestows new vigilance
and illumination of the spirit. It makes
it more perceptive, more acute, more enter-
prising. Knowledge flares up, or descends like
a shooting star -- rare, precious, even magical

And so night, which can terrify the solitary
man and lead him astray, can also be his friend,
his helper, his counselor.
-- Otto

The image of Hermes started out as his namesake originates from, as a herm, a pile of stones at entrances of homes and roadways. This image was seen as a mediator, but also connected him to the home. Guiding souls (psychopompos) from the realms - paths, underworld, roads - back to the life and warmth of the home. Mediator of the between, night and of day, men and spirits, gods and mortals: propylaios ("before the gate"), pylaios ("the one at the entrance"), storphaios ("cunning," "versatile"), psithyristes ("whisperer") and hermeneus ("interpreter"). As a god I feel the closest to, one I keep in my thoughts daily and carry his symbols not only on my person but at work as well, I feel that I am part of tetelesmenoi hermei "initiated into the Mysteries of Hermes" as Kerenyi himself had inscribed onto his grave. However, I feel (that like all mysteries) much will remain enigmatic and will require a lifetime of contemplation in order to truly learn and comprehend the experience. Kerenyi quite well described it in his book:

The reality of Hermes world proves at least the presence of a standpoint from which it is revealed; more than that, it testifies to something active that is not merely revealing itself from that standpoint, but that is ever again suddenly present and drives the world to give concrete expression to the Hermetic works of art and illusion. The source of this experience and configuration of the world, which at the mention of Hermes' name breaks into the light of day (and broke forth also without mentioning his name, only less clearly), is Hermes himself. It must possess the complete Hermetic breadth, from the phallic to ... From here we are as yet unable to move on with any perspicacity, for on the basis of the classical tradition we have to complete the foregoing sentence with: ... to the guidance of souls, an activity that stretches beyond life. Here Hermes remained completely enigmatic to us.

Qui animas ducere et reducere solet ("the one who leads souls away and leads them back again")


Hermes, draw near, and to my pray'r incline, angel of Jove, and Maia's son divine; Studious of contests, ruler of mankind, with heart almighty, and a prudent mind. Celestial messenger, of various skill, whose pow'rful arts could watchful Argus kill: With winged feet, 'tis thine thro' air to course, O friend of man, and prophet of discourse: Great life-supporter, to rejoice is thine, in arts gymnastic, and in fraud divine: With pow'r endu'd all language to explain, of

care the loos'ner, and the source of gain. Whose hand contains of blameless peace the rod, Kerukeion, blessed, profitable God; Of various speech, whose aid in works we find, and in necessities to mortals kind: Dire weapon of the tongue, which men revere, be present, Hermes, and thy suppliant hear; Assist my works, conclude my life with peace, give graceful speech, and me memory's increase.

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