Hermes, God of the Winged Caduceus

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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The Messengers

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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Hermetic Intelligence

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?

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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The Changing Face of the Daimon

Guardian Spirit of the Waters, 1878, by
Odilon Redon

For this article,  I am assuming James Hillman’s thesis to be true, that everyone has a personal daimon that accompanies one throughout one’s life. Hillman’s book, Soul’s Code concerns this issue. I also take the words of Marsilio Ficino to be true when he said,

Whoever . . . scrutinizes his mind . . . will find his own natural work, and will find likewise his own star and daemon, and following their beginnings he will thrive and live happily. Otherwise, he will find fortune to be adverse, and he will feel that heaven hates him (Ficino 169).

For background information on this, read Hillman’s Soul’s Code, if you haven’t already.

Hillman also wrote of the so-called “acorn theory,” where a person’s potentiality, their entelechy, is contained in the soul.  Like the potentiality of an acorn to become an oak, so we possess potentiality in the soul, which can grow into what we are destined to become. One’s daimon, a kind of inner mentor, attempts to guide us to our destiny. In my opinion, the daimon is not a supernatural being, as in Christianity’s belief in a so-called “guardian angel.” The daimon is the same principle that guides a seed, say, a mustard seed, (since Jesus discussed this metaphor) to grow into a tree, wherein the birds of the air seek lodging. It is the entelechy of the entity, the pattern that entities already possess when they come into being. Entelechy was discussed by Aristotle, and I have written about it in an article entitled, The Entelechy of Animatter. On Aristotle’s use of the word, translator Joe Sachs says this:

Entelecheia, as can be seen by its derivation, is a kind of completeness, whereas “the end and completion of any genuine being is its being-at-work” (energeia). The entelecheia is a continuous being-at-work (energeia) when something is doing its complete “work”. For this reason, the meanings of the two words converge, and they both depend upon the idea that every thing’s “thinghood” is a kind of work, or in other words a specific way of being in motion. All things which exist now, and not just potentially, are beings-at-work, and all of them have a tendency towards being-at-work in a particular way which would be their proper and “complete” way (Sachs, Joe (1995), Aristotle’s physics: a guided study).

What I’d like discuss in this article is how the inner mentors, the daimones, change through history, and how this relates to the World Soul and her daimon. Since I follow the Hermetic principle, As above, So below, I take it that the World Soul also has a daimon that guides and cajoles her to her destiny, whatever that may be.

The World Soul is a being-at-work, just as all entities are, and will continue to be a being-at-work until there is a state of completion of earth’s destiny. This earthly telos may be viewed in many different ways. None of us know what the future holds for our world. There is one thing we may be sure of, however. The World Daimon has a changing face.

I have felt the influence of many modes or faces of my daimon. Inspirations, ideas, imaginings, illnesses, problems, all the things that compose my personality. Just as one’s personal daimon, if heeded, guides an individual’s destiny, so the World Daimon (henceforth capitalized) guides the destiny of the Anima Mundi. The World Soul, in turn, metamorphoses to heed the call of her Guide, just as we metamorphose in heeding the call of our daimon. This has been occurring since the moment of the Big Bang, when all animatter exploded into existence. Of course, we have no way of knowing what occurred prior to that moment. We can only speculate.

I see reality as being eternal. We are involved in eternity right now. Eternity doesn’t begin when we die. The Big Bang was probably just one of an infinite number of revitalizations that have occurred throughout eternity. Prior to each Big Bang, there is probably a Big Crunch, where the last universe collapses into itself, and then the cycle begins again. This is the nature of Soul. It is not linear, with a firm beginning and an end. It is cyclical, as is the universe. That is why we see the spiral shape  everywhere in Nature. The spiral is painted across the heavens, as if the universe were an infinite gallery of spiral art.

Let’s look at a few examples of how the World Daimon has changed faces during the course of history. We have good reasons to believe that the Big Bang was the starting point for this present universe. This amazing manifestation of energy was the first face of the World Daimon, or at least the one we are related to in our universe. It is the face of creation, or rather re-creation. Henceforward, the making of the Anima Mundi begins in painful birth-pangs, as this world, according to Keats, is the vale of soul-making. The early earth was a hot, violent place. It was almost all molten due to extreme volcanism and violent collisions with other bodies. After vast amounts of time, the earth eventually became a matrix of life, producing the natural beauty we experience today. Even with worlds, world-souls are led through states of adversity and suffering before achieving greater states of consciousness. The earth has been undergoing profound metamorphosis for billions of years. The Daimon changes faces every time further change is needed, as when the earth had cooled sufficiently to allow water to form, and when the first forms of life appeared around 3.5 billion years ago. Each time a new life form evolved, the Daimon was there, all along, nudging the Anima Mundi toward her destiny.

This is a mythical method of discussing very real and powerful forces in our universe. They are not transcendent; they are very much a part of this cosmos. The Anima Mundi and her Daimon are archetypal powers that our world desperately needs to recognize. In my next article, I will offer what I think is the name of the World Daimon.

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