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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Worlds of Being and Meaning

 Nova Aurigae, Stanislaw Ignacy, Witkiewicz - 1918

Nova Aurigae,
Stanislaw Ignacy, Witkiewicz – 1918

This article is dedicated to my brother, Jeffrey, who died July 27, 2014, of complications resulting from congestive heart failure. Jeff was only 49. He was a life-long student of history, religion, and the esoteric. He bequeathed to me his library, which I will cherish as long as I am upon this earth.

…the Gods and Goddesses are worlds of being and meaning in which my personal life participates (Miller 61).

Our ego-centered culture has not yet grasped the fact that the archetypal structures of all reality are these worlds of being and meaning. We do not live in these worlds; these worlds live through us.  To the degree that we recognize the Powers who manifest through our lives, we can become that which we were meant to be.

These Powers are in conflict with each other. Throughout our lives, we undergo our very own Trojan War. Pathologization is the way of the soul. This conflict can be mediated by a “transcendent function,” which is the “transpersonal nature of the archetypal structures…it gives us an Archimedean point of leverage, a perspective on the world from the standpoint of the world whose name is that of a God or Goddess” (ibid.).

This viewpoint transcends both the subjectivity of psychology and the objectivity of science. In essence, there is no inner/outer dichotomy. All reality is founded upon these worlds of being and meaning, the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, and how they manifest through, not only our lives, but through the entire universe: stars, worlds, galaxies, and all animateriality. One can trace all things back to a particular God or Goddess. These are the foundation stones upon which our reality is built.

The Powers have manifested throughout human history in many different forms, especially in the many religious views of the world. I have always wondered why there are so many different factions within Christianity, for instance, since this is where my roots are. There are even factions within the factions. There is a first church of this and a first church of that. It seems so insane, but it is the way of reality, the way of the Powers. They fight and war against each other continually. This is how the Fabric of Reality is constructed.

During the nineteenth century, Friedrich Nietzsche believed that the monotheistic God of Christianity had lost its potency. Each God or Goddess has potency and uniqueness. Because they are at war, a God or Goddess who loses its potency is supplanted by others. This is connected with the idea that a symbol or image can lose its power, and is then subsequently replaced by other symbols. In the case of the monotheistic God, the practice of using symbols and images was, for the most part, eliminated during the Reformation. Symbols possess power, so when the symbol goes, the God will eventually die out. Nietzsche also believed that the monotheistic nature of this God led to his death, and then mankind’s encounter with nihilism. But the encounter with nihilism is but a prelude to transformation. “The death of God gives rise to the rebirth of the Gods” (Miller 4).

Jung’s idea of the archetypes of the collective unconscious was an imaginative historical breakthrough, a watershed event for human psychology. As we hear the stories of the Gods and Goddesses, we are provided with a framework for imagining their worlds of being and meaning, how they live and breathe through us, and through all of reality throughout the universe.

 

Works Cited

Miller, David. L. The New Polytheism. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

 

 

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Polytheism in Archetypal Psychology

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Creation of the World, by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Public Domain

Archetypal psychology is not interested in the integration of the multiple psychic persons to a unified Self, as in Jungian theory. The soul is polytheistic, according to this view. To allow each autonomous Being to have its own place, no attempt should be made to gather them into a central self. The Anima Mundi is diffused throughout Nature, where all animatter is specked with fiery sparks of divinity. As fiery, orange scintillae spark upward from a campfire into a night sky, so do the light-filled blazings of Soul permeate throughout the psyche, symbolized by the innumerable stars that dot the heavens. These are the Archetypal Powers worshiped by ancient civilizations. They do not desire to be centralized. It is contra naturam. Rather, it is better to discover which god is owed its due by dealing with the fragmented messages that arise from the unconscious, alerting us to their presence. These messages come in dreams, symptoms, complexes, illnesses, fantasies, etc.

James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology, writes that archetypal psychology would

…accept the multiplicity of voices, the Babel of the anima and animus, without insisting upon unifying them into one figure, and accept too the dissolution process into diversity as equal in value to the coagulation process into unity. The pagan gods and goddesses would be restored to their psychological domain (Hillman 39).

Each god and goddess have their particular qualities and characteristics. Forcing them into an abstract unity diminishes their valuable idiosyncrasies. These Beings are Images. Images have a multiplicity of meanings, so shoving them into one personality called the Self devalues their place in the scheme of Nature. As an example, Hillman gives us a brief account of how a bout of depression would be dealt with:

Depression, say, may be led into meaning on the model of Christ and his suffering and resurrection; it may through Saturn gain the depth of melancholy and inspiration, or through Apollo server to release the blackbird of prophetic insight. From the perspective of Demeter depression may yield awareness of the mother-daughter mystery, or, through Dionysus, we may find depression a refuge from the excessive demands of the ruling will (Hillman 40).

You see how rich and valuable the insight is if this method is used. In this way, consciousness “circulate(s) among a field of powers. Each god has his due as each complex deserves its respect in its own right” (ibid.).

Our Western notion of upward progress through hierarchical phases, inspired by monotheistic theology, brought about the idea that there is a target to aim for, i.e. integration into a Self. The problem is, though, this is not the way Nature works.

Hillman might look at the thousands of divisions of Christianity, for example, and probably say it was therapeutic. He might say that the many complexes must be cared for, hence the many, many schisms. In order to care for the soul, the many must be recognized and nurtured.

In Jungian theory, to integrate the various complexes, one must withdraw the projections. But, even Jung himself admitted,

The individual ego is much too small, its brain much too feeble, to incorporate all the projections withdrawn from the world. Ego and brain burst asunder in the effort; the psychiatrist calls it schizophrenia (qtd. by Hillman 41).

When dealing with psychological breakdown, Jungians might say mandalas, as images of unity, could compensate the many complexes by bringing about order from chaos. Archetypal psychology would counter with its idea of reversion, which I will discuss in the next article.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. A Blue Fire. Ed. Thomas Moore. New York: Harper, 1989.

 

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