Hermes and the Other Gods in Mathesis

You’d think that, from the past few weeks (months?) on this blog, the only two entities I work with spiritually are Hermes and Saint Cyprian.  A quick glance around my temple room indicates otherwise, of course, and I have healthy and strong relationships with a bevy of angels, theoi, and saints, not to mention the Divine itself.  Still, at least as far as mathesis goes, it seems like the only god I’ve been talking about is Hermes.  After all, we start with the sphaira of Mercury in the Gnosis Schema, and the initiation ritual into mathesis makes Hermes into our guide, if not our salvific figure, in being released from the Agnosis Schema into gnosis.  So what happens with all the other gods?

Well, let’s backtrack a bit and talk about Hermes a bit more.  When I went to the conference on Hermes at UVa this year, I learned quite a bit (see my first, second, and third posts for what was discussed).  One of the things that had struck me was the prevalence of herms, the four-sided pillars with a bust of Hermes at the top and often a phallus on the pillar, in many devotional scenes of work.  No matter the god that was being worshipped, it seems like herms were always present in devotional settings of ritual or sacrifice, as if they were a terminal to interact with the gods.  Given that some of the herms depicted the caduceus or other Hermaic paraphernalia, it’s unclear whether all of these herms are actually Hermes or if there were some non-Hermes herms out there.  I’m unsure either way, but it would make sense if Hermes was each and every herm and, thus, present in each and every rite of sacrifice and worship.  After all, Hermes is the messenger of the gods, but also their interlocutor; he is the one who ferries information between the world of mortals and the world of immortals, as well as sacrifice and praise.  Heck, the Homeric Hymn to Hermes even states that Hermes is the god who invented fire for sacrifice:

…Then, after he had well-fed the loud-bellowing cattle with fodder and driven them into the byre, close-packed and chewing lotus and began to seek the art of fire. He chose a stout laurel branch and trimmed it with the knife ((lacuna)) . . . held firmly in his hand: and the hot smoke rose up. For it was Hermes who first invented fire-sticks and fire. Next he took many dried sticks and piled them thick and plenty in a sunken trench: and flame began to glow, spreading afar the blast of fierce-burning fire.

And while the strength of glorious Hephaestus was beginning to kindle the fire, he dragged out two lowing, horned cows close to the fire; for great strength was with him. He threw them both panting upon their backs on the ground, and rolled them on their sides, bending their necks over, and pierced their vital chord. Then he went on from task to task: first he cut up the rich, fatted meat, and pierced it with wooden spits, and roasted flesh and the honourable chine and the paunch full of dark blood all together. He laid them there upon the ground, and spread out the hides on a rugged rock: and so they are still there many ages afterwards, a long, long time after all this, and are continually. Next glad-hearted Hermes dragged the rich meats he had prepared and put them on a smooth, flat stone, and divided them into twelve portions distributed by lot, making each portion wholly honourable. Then glorious Hermes longed for the sacrificial meat, for the sweet savour wearied him, god though he was; nevertheless his proud heart was not prevailed upon to devour the flesh, although he greatly desired. But he put away the fat and all the flesh in the high-roofed byre, placing them high up to be a token of his youthful theft. And after that he gathered dry sticks and utterly destroyed with fire all the hoofs and all the heads.

Add to the fact that Hermes is instrumental in sacrifice, Hermes was often known as almighty or παντοκρατωρ, “all-ruling”.  Sometimes this word was used to flatter a god being praised, but in Hermes, this isn’t too terrible a description.  The thing about Hermes is that, even though we know he is the god of messengers and of trade and this and that, Hermes is not just any of those things.  To be fair, no god is just one thing or another, but Hermes is especially the jack of all trades because he had no one sphere of influence; he was involved in everything.  This is why it’s surprising that it’s uncommon to find actual temples, or τεμενοι, dedicated to Hermes, not to mention a scarcity of cults that were often given regularly to all the other gods.  I mentioned this when a particular theme of talks dawned on me during the second day of the Hermes conference, that in working with Hermes, we gain the ability to approach and interact with all the other gods:

Hermes, although an Olympian, is certainly not among the important ones, but he’s still a vital god to work with and crucial in day-to-day living.  Hermes has no temple, because he’s in every temple; he has no rites, because he’s in all rites; he has no expertise, because he’s an expert in everything.  Hermes is the go-between that leads us on in anything and everything; he is the road between destinations, but is not the destinations themselves.  He only leads us along the roads, but the road is where we spend most of our lives and times.  The presence of Hermes is required by man to work with any god, and is required to communicate to man from the gods.

However, just as Hermes is god of the roads, he’s also the god of opening the roads, which is essentially what the ritual of mathetic initiation is about: opening the path to the Gnosis Schema from the Agnosis Schema, and proceeding onward from there.  This is fitting, because Hermes has told me that he will not lead me into the sphairai themselves, only along the odoi.  I have a few inklings here and there as to why that might be, but if we consider each sphaira to be a destination, an abode, then chances are it’s where a given divinity or family dwells.  They’re not places of exchange or trade, that’s for sure, else Hermes’d be all up in there.  It’s not a theater, either, since Hermes was often found in plays and can be considered a god of both comedic drama and cajoling song.  The sphairai are places of rest or respite, a pause where we must make the choice to leave, picking up the path again when we contact Hermes to get back on the road.

So, either we don’t need guidance in the sphairai themselves, or we do and Hermes simply isn’t going to be it for us.  It would logically follow that another entity would step in at that point, and to logically follow that, it’d be the other gods.  We only ever work with Hermes on the odoi of the Tetractys, never in the sphairai, and this includes the sphaira of Mercury (even to my own confusion).  Thus, although Hermes is a crucial figure in mathesis, helping us out during times of transition (which is where most of the work is focused), he is of necessity not the only one we work with.  Instead of considering the sphairai the destinations and the odoi the transitions, we might consider the sphairai to be transitions or changes in direction between the individual odoi.  After all, if each of the odoi on the Gnosis Schema is marked by a letter associated with a zodiac sign, then the sphairai are the cusps of the signs, the thresholds between the last degree of one sign and the first degree of the next.

Given this solar image, it makes me wonder whether the sphairai are intimately connected to the god Apollo in a way I hadn’t considered before.  After all, it would tie in with what Hermes said before about not entering into the sphairai themselves.  If Hermes is the god who can literally go anywhere, then why on earth wouldn’t he go to a particular place, and what would that place be?  Hermes himself tells us in the Homeric Hymn again:

Then the son of Leto said to Hermes: “Son of Maia, guide and cunning one, I fear you may steal form me the lyre and my curved bow together; for you have an office from Zeus, to establish deeds of barter amongst men throughout the fruitful earth. Now if you would only swear me the great oath of the gods, either by nodding your head, or by the potent water of Styx, you would do all that can please and ease my heart.”

Then Maia’s son nodded his head and promised that he would never steal anything of all the Far-shooter possessed, and would never go near his strong house; but Apollo, son of Leto, swore to be fellow and friend to Hermes, vowing that he would love no other among the immortals, neither god nor man sprung from Zeus, better than Hermes: and the Father sent forth an eagle in confirmation.

Hermes does not enter the house of Apollo.  Apollo is associated with the Sun, and the sphairai are the cusps, the thresholds, the stations of the Sun as it progresses through the zodiacal odoi.  Apollo, further, is the Μουσηγετης, Muse-leader, the head of the nine Muses.  Together, Apollo and the Muses are ten deities, perhaps one for each sphaira of the Tetractys.  So who are the nine Muses?

  • Kalliopē (“Beautiful Voice”), muse of epic poetry
  • Kleiō (“Make Famous”), muse of history
  • Eratō (“Lovely”), muse of lyric poetry
  • Melpomenē (“Celebrate with Song”), muse of tragic drama
  • Ūraniē (“Heavenly”), muse of astronomy and astrology
  • Polyhymnia (“Many Hymns”), muse of hymns and devotional speech
  • Euterpē (“Giving Much Delight”), muse of song and elegaic poetry
  • Terpsikhorē (“Delighting in Dance”), muse of dance
  • Thaleia (“Blooming”), muse of comedic drama

And if I had to guess off the top of my head which deity goes with which sphaira:

  • Monad: Apollo (leader of the Muses and source of art)
  • Light: Ūraniē (dance of celestial bodies)
  • Darkness: Terpsikhorē (dance of terrestrial bodies)
  • Sulfur: Kalliopē (poetry of action)
  • Mercury: Euterpē (poetry generally of all types)
  • Salt: Eratō (poetry of affection)
  • Fire: Polyhymnia (godly works)
  • Air: Thaleia (joyful works)
  • Water: Melpomenē (sorrowful works)
  • Earth: Kleiō (factual works)

Of course, this is a fairly late list of Muses and their attributes, but it’s an idea all the same.  Even if this little path of association leads us nowhere, it does show that the Tetractys is full of gods, not just of the individual zodiac signs but of everything.  The Tetractys, after all, is the “enformer of gods and men” and present in us all, so why not all of us within it?  I’m sure, over time, a more coherent theogony and theology of the Tetractys and mathesis will come together, and it’s still really early in the game to determine who goes where or what sphaira means what power more specifically than “salt” or “fire”.  I can definitely say, however, that mathesis will lead us to work, in at least some respect, all the gods of this world.

After all, “this world” is the world below Olympos, the cosmos under the rule and sight of the gods.  Every city, every forest, every river, every stone, every person is presided over by a god big or small.  By traveling the paths on the Tetractys, we come to be exposed to all parts of the cosmos, not just the parts that humans live in; we live in only one part of the world, though we have the ability (with practice and the blessing of Logos and Nous and all that good stuff) to go anywhere and everywhere.  In mathesis, that’s quite the point; we need to do that, instead of just getting stuck in a the fraction of the cosmos we know as the human world.  It is only by becoming all that we can become, knowing all that we can know, going all where we can go, and doing all we can do that we experience everything and in every way.

And while it’d be hubristic of me to say that we can conquer the world, we can certainly become unified with it and, while not escaping it (for who can escape the All?), we can certainly come to the All and be with it.  Note that I’m saying the All, and not the One or the Monad; these are generally the same concept and used interchangeably in philosophy, but it’s a slightly different nuance I’m using here.  Consider the Tetractys as a mountain, with the peak at the top.  This mountain is that of Olympus, the center of all divine activity and from which all rules, edicts, and cosmic decisions are made.  By ascending and descending Olympus, we come to know the gods and interact with them (assuming they allow us and they allow Hermes to guide us, lest we get struck by lightning on the way).  However, it is only by integrating all of them into ourselves, and by them all of the cosmos, that we can live in perfect accordance with them even when they themselves conflict.  After all, the Dyad isn’t just two Monads acting independently, but it’s the relationship between them that makes them into a Dyad.  Likewise, we should aim for acting as that which makes the ten monads of the Tetractys into a Decad, a complete whole, and nothing less.

Personally, this is starting to sound like a weird mix of Stoicism, Hermeticism, Buddhism, and Taoism.  Let’s see how it’ll turn out.

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

One Response to Hermes and the Other Gods in Mathesis

  1. Pingback: Another Hermes for less than the cost of a cup of coffee! | Goodwill Buyer

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