The Messengers

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Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

We, at least we who have a background in Judeo-Christian religion, have been taught all our lives about angels. Other religions, of course, have a similar idea. The word, angel, carries so much baggage that I hesitate using it. Immediately, one thinks of winged creatures, usually fat babies, who bring some sort of blessing to humanity. Usually, we think of these beings as originating in some sort of heavenly paradise, but I have an idea as to what they actually are. They are part of the natural order of the universe. Read what the Spanish poet, Juan Eduardo Cirlot, has to say about the angel:

 A symbol of invisible forces, of the powers ascending and descending between the Source-of-Life and the world of phenomena (Cirlot 9).

These messengers may not be empirical beings, but they are, nevertheless, powerful, and very natural forces.  The ascending and descending calls to mind the story of Jacob’s Ladder, where Jacob dreamed of these beings traveling up and down a ladder that reached into heaven (Genesis 28:10-17).

There are not two worlds, one earthly and one heavenly. This is just the way mankind has literalized the manner in which the natural world operates. In our world, there are complementarities, of which the pair, consciousness and unconsciousness, are but one very important example. Also, there are different modes of Being, of which the powers we know as archetypes are one.

These non-empirical forces that, for millennia we have called angels, are the so-called “principalities and powers” of the World Soul. They do her work in Nature, ascending and descending between consciousness and unconsciousness. It is said we all have a “guardian angel,” or what Socrates called his daimon. These beings are a great mystery, since they are non-empirical, but many of us have experienced the whisper in the ear, or the slight nudge in a certain direction when making an important decision. It is part of being human. They bring ideas to us, descending to the depths of the Underworld, procuring what we need at the moment, and ascending back up into consciousness to provide the answer. Those epiphanies and eureka moments that we sometimes experience are brought by these beings. They are our lifeline to the vast ocean lying beneath us.

These beings of the unconscious are real and are at work in our psyches and in our world. They sometimes appear in our dreams. The archetypal power in charge of these forces is none other than Hermes, messenger of the gods, and World Daimon to the Anima Mundi. It is he who marshals these forces to come to our aid, to bring needed knowledge to us from the Underworld. Hermes is the god of secret knowledge and the guide of all souls. Tom Cheetham writes,

These Others come to us as persons: mothers, fathers, lovers, strangers; as angels and demons, as complexes and as  gods. They  all  embody  and  exemplify styles of consciousness, modes of living, ways of being. And  it  is  only  by being able to perceive the work of the real Hermes, that we can feel their presences at all. Without this, our worlds are filled with stereotypes, with typologies, with categories, with prejudices, and we never see a real person, never meet any Others at all. Until they break through in madness and misery, violence and destruction (Cheetham, 28).

We must greet the bearers of those strange voices, we must be the host at the Feast, and welcome the strangers. This is a delicate business. Respect and attention, care and  courtesy  are  required. Again  we  require  the  aid  of Hermes, for  the  ego wants  to  wall  itself off from the  Others. We  need  Hermes  in  order to violate those  boundaries. The  only  way  we  can  establish  the  Communion  that  is required is by moving freely in the spaces between the stars. We can only know who we are  if we know who we  are  not, if we  experience  our boundaries by experiencing where they touch those  of the  Others (Cheetham, 29).

When we encounter these beings, the usual answer from our medical community is to medicate us with various chemicals, to try and silence the messengers. I am skeptical concerning antidepressant medications because they attempt to quell the soul; they try to control what is naturally occurring. How can we be transmuted if we don’t endure the pressure and sometimes pain of their voices? The waking ego, indeed, wants to run away from the messengers, to be walled off from them, as Cheetham says. But we should learn to interact with them, as William Blake and  Emmanuel Swedenborg did. Then, we will be in a position to receive what they have to offer.

Works Cited

Cheetham, Tom. Green Man, Earth Angel. New York: SUNY Press, 2004.

 Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. Jack Sage. London: Routledge, 1971.

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On the Nature of the Archetype

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A Winter Landscape With A Horse Drawn Cart Going Over A Bridge, Peasants Transporting Pigs Over The River, And Children Sledging, by Andries Vermeulen

In his work, On the Nature of the Psyche, Carl Jung differentiates between the modus operandi of the archetype, and the archetype as such:

The archetypal representations (images and ideas) mediated to us by the unconscious should not be confused with the archetype as such. They are very varied struc­tures which all point back to one essentially “irrepresentable” basic form. The latter is characterized by certain formal ele­ments and by certain fundamental meanings, although these can be grasped only approximately. The archetype as such is a psychoid factor that belongs, as it were, to the invisible, ultra­violet end of the psychic spectrum (Jung 213).

Jung compares the the psyche to the electromagnetic spectrum in order to illustrate the difference between the archetype, in its role as mediator between consciousness and unconsciousness, of images and ideas, and the archetype as such, which is “irrepresentable.” This strikes me as an example of Jung’s fondness for Kantian philosophy. Kant distinguished between the empirical thing, and the thing-in-itself. Jung uses Kant’s framework to describe the way an archetype functions as mediator, and the way an archetype is in itself, which, of course, cannot be fully known. Later, he will compare the archetype as mediator to infrared light in the spectrum.

He says the archetype as such is like ultraviolet light, invisible, and is a “psychoid factor” (ibid.), by which he means non-psychic. In other words, the archetype as such is beyond the psyche, residing in the physiological organism as instinct. It is beyond the psyche because it is incapable of reaching consciousness. The archetype as such, as psychoid factor, creates a bridge uniting psyche and matter. This is what Jung means by the unus mundus.

Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and mat­ter are two different aspects of one and the same thing (Jung 215).

By this, Jung is saying that 1) archetype as such (analogous to physiological instincts), and 2) the archetypes (as mediators of images and ideas that reach consciousness) have a common point of origin that is transcendental and irrepresentable. This common source is the unus mundus, the “one world.” It is also what I have called Animatter.

Jung summarizes and explains further:

Just as the “psychic infra-red,” the biological instinctual psyche, gradually passes over into the physiology of the organism and thus merges with its chemical and physical conditions, so the “psychic ultra-violet,” the archetype, describes a field which exhibits none of the peculiarities of the physiological and yet, in the last analysis, can no longer be regarded as psychic, although it manifests itself psychically. But physiological processes behave in the same way, without on that account being declared psychic. Although there is no form of existence that is not mediated to us psychically and only psychically, it would hardly do to say that everything is merely psychic. We must apply this argument logically to the archetypes as well. Since their essential being is unconscious to us, and still they are experienced as spontaneous agencies, there is probably no alter­native now but to describe their nature, in accordance with their chiefest effect, as “spirit,” in the sense which I attempted to make plain in my paper “The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales.” If so, the position of the archetype would be located beyond the psychic sphere, analogous to the position of physio­logical instinct, which is immediately rooted in the stuff of the organism and, with its psychoid nature, forms the bridge to matter in general. In archetypal conceptions and instinctual perceptions, spirit and matter confront one another on the psychic plane. Matter and spirit both appear in the psychic realm as distinctive qualities of conscious contents. The ultimate nature of both is transcendental, that is, irrepresentable, since the psyche and its contents are the only reality which is given to us without a medium (Jung 214-215, emphasis mine).

This is the foundation of Jung’s theory of synchronicity.

Jung, C. G. On the Nature of the Psyche. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. (Vol. 8) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton, 1954.

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Hermetic Intelligence

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Hermes and Athena (ca 1585), by Bartholomeus Spranger

…the great advantage of Mercurial intelligence is its power to keep the soul in motion, spiraling down toward a vortex of significance. Mercury keeps the carousel of interpretation moving, feeding wonder and curiosity instead of granting the stupor of final conquest (Moore 153).

The primary way the soul is deepened is through imagination. When we have new ideas about something we’re thinking about metaphorically, such as how a spiral exemplifies the movement of the soul, or how snowflakes are perfect mandalas, then we are functioning in the area of Hermetic intelligence. One of the main tasks of Hermes as World Daimon is to guide the soul into a deeper experience of the world. In our day, viewing the world metaphorically and imaginatively has taken a back seat to science, engineering and technical learning. What many don’t understand is that our technical concentration of this age is yet another story of soul, and we must view it, not literally, but through the eyes of soul. Most don’t listen to the voice of Hermes. Most are not receptive to the wisdom he provides.   Everything that occurs in this world can be “seen through,” as James Hillman often said. We can view all of the wonders of Nature metaphorically. If we listen closely, Hermes will supply us with a wealth of interpretations that will lead our souls downward into, what Moore calls, “a vortex of significance.”

The practice of hermeneutics, the science of interpretation, is named after Hermes because of his role as messenger. He brings knowledge of a thing from the illimitable depths to the human soul. This nugget of knowledge was previously hidden from the awareness of the seeker of truth. These unconscious musings that arise from the abyss into our conscious awareness are delivered by Hermes. In doing so, he also fulfills his role as the god of the liminal, since, by bringing us to greater awareness, he creates liminal space, the “neither-here-nor-there,” the metaxical reality we call soul.  Of this marginality, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, Paul Friedrich, writes in his book, The Meaning of Aphrodite, that

Hermes moves by night, the time of love, dreams, and theft;

he is the master of cunning and deceit, the marginality of illusions and tricks;

he has magical powers, the margin between the natural and the supernatural;

he is the patron of all occupations that occupy margins or involve mediation: traders, thieves, shepherds, and heralds;

his mobility makes him a creature betwixt and between;

his marginality is indicated by the location of his phallic herms not just anywhere but on roads, at crossroads, and in groves;

even his eroticism is not oriented to fertility or maintaining the family but is basically Aphroditic–stealthy, sly, and amoral, a love gained by theft without moral concern for consequences; and finally

Hermes is a guide across boundaries, including the boundary between earth and Hades, that is, life and death (Friedrich 206)

Of course, Hermes is closely attached to Aphrodite, who is a wonderful image for the identity of the Anima Mundi. Remember, Hermes is daimon to the World Soul.

So, the messages that Hermes brings are messages that have been previously hidden from us, but, upon our receiving them, our souls are deepened. This is Hermetic intelligence in a nutshell. In a later article, I’d like to delve into what Henry Corbin believed about the practice of hermeneutics. It is fascinating and very related to a discussion of Hermes as messenger.

 

Works Cited

Moore, Thomas. The Planets Within. Hudson: Lindisfarne Press, 1990.

Friedrich, Paul. The Meaning of Aphrodite. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

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Why is Hermes Important?

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Return of Persephone, by Frederic Leighton

Hermes, as the World Daimon, plays a crucial role in the lives of all human beings. It is he who is responsible for guiding us through our lives via our individual daimons at his command. Don’t forget, we are not speaking literally here; we are creating mythology. Since there is a correlation between the individual and the collective, microsom and macrocosm,  as above, so below, we can compare the roles of the World Daimon and the various invidual daimons. Their whispers in our ears come to us from Hermes, since he is responsible for guiding our souls  to their ultimate destinies. In fact, he is the guide of the collective soul, the Anima Mundi. In his role as collective psychopompos, he guides the decision-making process of the World Soul. We must have hope that humanity, as a collective, will heed his wisdom.

Hermes is Lord of the Metaxical, the in-between places where we so often travel in life; the neither-here-nor-theres that we so often encounter. It is Hermes that will guide us through these most difficult of places, if we listen to the still, small voice. It is usually just a hint of a whisper. We get so tangled in the affairs of everyday living that we forget many times to listen to those ever-so-slight nudges from inside ourselves. As Richard Stromer writes,

For myself, I think this last aspect of Hermes’ role as guide of souls—his role as the guide into and out of  those passages in our lives which are inherently liminal in nature—is the most powerful one. As someone  who has been dealing for the past several years with the particularly momentous life passage called  “midlife,” I have had considerable opportunity to experience this aspect of Hermes’ energy. As Stein  observes, “at midlife there is a crossing-over from one psychological identity to another” As a consequence, he writes (and I concur), “in our reflecting on the midlife transition and the experience of  liminality within it, the world of Hermes therefore immediately suggests itself as a mythic, archetypal  backdrop” (Hermes as God of Liminality and Guide of Soul, by Richard S. Stromer).

Just as Hermes leads souls to the place of the dead, to Hades, we, too, are sometimes led to the recognition of dead characteristics within ourselves that must be mourned for a time, and then buried forever.

 

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Hermes, God of the Liminal

One characteristic of Hermes that makes him perfect for the role of World Daimon is his mastery of the liminal, the metaxical. The Platonic metaxy, the place of Soul, that intermediate region between contrarieties, this is the state of being that is ruled by Hermes. He has been called, by Edward Edinger, the patron god of depth psychology,  because of the depth psychologist’s’ concern with mediating consciousness and unconsciousness. It is in this place that Soul dwells, and Hermes is the Guide of Souls, the Psychopomp. Hermes is the collective archetype I am calling the World Daimon. He is the collective Daimon of all humanity.  He fits this role because of his plasticity in changing modalities with such suppleness. His role as Guide of Souls was probably most important to the ancient Greeks, since it is he who would lead them to rest in Hades. Without his guidance, the Greeks believed, one wandered the earth eternally as a bodiless shade. Hermes, leader of all individual daimones, is guide of all who wish to heed the call of his subordinates and experience the depths of Hades, where great treasure is to be found.

While these journeys to the underworld may grow to be voluntary, for most of us the initial foray is more likely to be against our conscious wills. Nevertheless, unlike the myth of Persephone and her abduction by Hades into the underworld, the image of Hermes as psychopomp relates to a different and more benevolent kind of descent into that nether realm. As Downing observes, “reflection of Hermes’ role as psychopomp leads us to think about the underworld experience in a particular way, to ask: What is the difference between being guided to rather than abducted to the underworld?” The value of having Hermes as one’s companion in the descent to the underworld rather than Hades is that the psychopomp’s role is to guide us in whatever ways are required to learn the lessons which a knowledge of death brings to the living of life. “The Hermes image repeatedly enforces descents into personal and social underworlds of great power” observes Doty, “into realms where one is lost without a hermetic guide who can recognize the importance of going into the darkness willingly, the importance of hearing the significances of the deathly side of things.” Moreover, because Hermes, again unlike Hades, has the knowledge with which to bring us back to the daylight world of consciousness afterward, “he guides us to an underworld experience which is not limited to death, but makes everyday life more satisfyingly complex (Hermes as God of Liminality and Guide of Souls, by Richard Stromer, Ph.d).

Lest we forget that our world undergoes its own descents into Hades, I’d like to remind you that Hermes is not only in charge of individual daimones, for our sakes, but guides the Anima Mundi in her own dark nights of the soul. These have occurred many times, a few in recent history such as world wars I and II, and the Cold War. During the twentieth century, humanity gained the knowledge to destroy the planet. Hermes led us down into darkness and back into the light once again, thus causing the roots and depths of the World Soul to become greater than before. The Soul of the World must be made and cared for, just as we make and care for our souls. It the task of Hermes, god of the winged caduceus, to guide her toward her destiny.

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The World Daimon

It makes sense that the World Daimon is the god, Hermes. The World Daimon, as I proposed in my last article, is a god of many faces, ever changing, mercurial. Hermes has traditionally been called a god of many faces. He is guide of souls and messenger of the gods. Hermes is closely linked to the Anima Mundi, as we are closely linked to our daimones. The relationship between soul and daimon is really that of mirror image.

According to Henry Corbin, the human soul is individuated not through the union with a physical body (as in Aristotle) but by becoming a perfectly polished mirror of its angel in a strictly one-to-one relationship. We realize our virtual angelicity through a progressive illumination attained on earth; we are called, by right of our origin and if we consent, to an angelomorphosis (Robert Avens, The Subtle Realm: Corbin, Sufism, Swedenborg).

Now, think of this mirror relationship on a macrocosmic scale, the World Soul and Hermes are mirror images of one another. The World Soul is individuating Hermes in her role as mediator between spirit and matter. And in our case, on a microcosmic level, our exclusive umbilicus to Being, our daimon, who is guided by Hermes, is our true face. It is that which we are individuating in this animaterial world. I believe the Anima Mundi is Aphrodite. I say this because, from the union of Hermes and Aphrodite emerged Hermaphrodite, the mythical androgyne who holds such an important place in ancient mythology, religion, and alchemy. It symbolizes the culmination of the magnum opus in alchemy, the creation of the lapis philosophorum. Jung claimed the crowned hermaphrodite symbolized the Self that has transcended ego-consciousness. It is the perfect symbol for the relationship of the Anima Mundi and the Daemon Mundi.

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