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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