Hermes, God of the Winged Caduceus

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Hermes, by Salvador Dali, 1981

 

The story is told by Roman writer, Hyginus, that, one day, while Hermes was traveling through Arcadia, he witnessed two serpents engaged in a fierce battle. When Hermes placed his caduceus between them, they wrapped themselves around it and were at peace with one another. Thus, Hermes’ caduceus, to this day, has been associated with healing and a state of peace.

In the cosmology of the mundus imaginalis, Hermes has been given the task of bringing about peace and healing to all of us. One way he does this is by breaking down barriers that conceal from us the faces of the Others, as Tom Cheetham calls them:

When this Hermes is at work there is a tinge of real fear in the air, because behind the barriers He dismantles we can see the outlines of the Faces of the Others. Then we must consider the proffered opportunity: whether to accept them into our house, or whether to refuse the Feast. 1

Who are these Others with whom we should feast?  They

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. 2

This plethora of personalities will, most likely, never be unified into a single whole, as is the dream of many who seek enlightenment or individuation. It is the task of Hermes to introduce us to these personages, thus allowing us to know them for who they really are. By successfully carrying out this assignment, and assisting the Anima Mundi in the building of her Soul, he fulfills his own role as World Daimon. Hermes wears many hats, but this may be the most important one for our world. If we don’t come to know the Others in this way, we meet them in another, more miserable and malevolent manner, through disease and madness, chaos and violence.

Mr. Cheetham has discovered a very important nugget of truth in the quest for soul-making:

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. 3

By presenting to us and familiarizing us with the Others, Hermes bestows upon us the gift of healing. In doing so, our souls become stronger and more resilient. On a cosmic scale, this, in turn, brings about the strength and resiliency of the World Soul. This we are badly in need of in our day.

  1. Cheetham, Tom. Green Man, Earth Angel. New York: SUNY Press, 2004., p. 27
  2. ibid., p. 27-28
  3. ibid., p. 29
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