Why does Hermes (Mercury, though I’ve started calling him by his Greek name) carry the caduceus in his left hand? So he can masturbate better with his right, duh. And although I wish that actually were the answer (but who can say?), I asked him recently, and it’s because he’s only the god of messengers, and a messenger himself; scepters and wands are marks of kingship and authority, and he’s only acting as a herald in the name of someone higher than him. While he’s allowed to work in almighty Zeus’ name and with his authority given to him by the big bearded guy, he cannot take it as his own. Instead, he guides others to where he needs to be, letting the authority and might of the High, taking the scepter from his superior’s own right hand in his left, to guide him to where he needs to be so that he can do the same for others. Pretty nifty, no?
This is just one of the things I learned from the god Hermes recently in the course of my life and Work. As a Hermetic magician, I keep bumping into the guy and, after some talking and self-discovery, I’ve decided to volunteer myself as servant and priest to Hermes, god of the way, of thieves, of magic and astrology, and a slew of other things. (Or, rather, he decided to volunteer me, but either way, here I am.) It’s kind of a weird thing for me, never having grown up religious and only interacting with gods and goddesses in the context of magic and exploration of the universe. Then again, I suppose the cosmos itself has a few tricks up its sleeves, and the cog in the machine that is myself fits into several spots in the wheels that keep things going.
To that end, here’s a compilation of some of the things I know, do, and perform in my service to the god, if you’re so interested. For those in the know, I’m not coming from a Hellenismos or similar modern path or organization, though now that I think about it, contacting one or two might not be a bad idea. This is all stuff that I’m learning and doing on my own, but if you have any suggestions, feel free to add in the comments.
First, some background on the god himself. According to Theoi.com,
Hermes was the great Olympian God of animal husbandry, roads, travel, hospitality, heralds, diplomacy, trade, thievery, language, writing, persuasion, cunning wiles, athletic contests, gymnasiums, astronomy, and astrology. He was also the personal agent and herald of Zeus, the king of the gods. Hermes was depicted as either a handsome and athletic, beardless youth, or as an older bearded man. His attributes included the herald’s wand or kerykeion (Latin caduceus), winged boots, and sometimes a winged travellers cap and chlamys cloak.
As a planetary force, the Picatrix and Agrippa (book I, chapter 29) have this to say about the god and planet:
Things under Mercury are these; amongst Elements, Water, although it moves all things indistinctly; amongst humors, those especially which are mixed, as also the Animall spirit; amongst tasts [tastes] those that are various, strange, and mixed: amongst Metals, Quick-silver, Tin, the Slver Marcasite; amongst stones, the Emrald [emerald], Achates [agates], red Marble, Topaze, and those which are of divers colours, and various figures naturally, & those that are artificiall, as glass, & those which have a colour mixed with yellow, and green. Amongst Plants, and Trees, the Hazle [hazel], Five-leaved-grass, the Hearb [herb] Mercury, Fumitary, Pimpernell, Marjoram, Parsly [parsley], and such as have shorter and less leaves, being compounded of mixed natures, and divers colours. Animals also, that are of quick sence, ingenious, strong, inconstant, swift, and such as become easily acquainted with men, as Dogs, Apes, Foxes, Weesels [weasels], the Hart, and Mule; and all Animals that are of both sexes, and those which can change their Sex, as the Hare, Civet-Cat, and such like. Amongst birds, those which are naturally witty, melodious, and inconstant, as the Linet, Nightingale, Blackbird, Thrush, Lark, the Gnat-sapper, the bird Calandra, the Parret [parrot], the Pie, the Bird Ibis, the bird Porphyrio, the black Betle [beetle] with one horn. And amongst fish, the fish called Trochius, which goes into himself, also Pourcontrell for deceitfulness, and changeableness, and the Fork fish for its industry; the Mullet also that shakes off the bait on the hook with his taile.
Other names for the god in similar parts of the Mediterranean include Mercury (Roman), Turms (Etruscan), Terano (modern Tuscan), and there are lots of closely-related gods that resemble functions of Hermes in other pantheons and cultures. However, not all of these are exact fits, and some of them are on weird terms with the god, while others are associated through ancillary functions of the dude (e.g. medicine, longevity).
- Egyptian Thoth, Seshat, Imhotep, Anpu
- Nordic Odin or Wotan, Loki
- Hindu Hanuman, Saraswati, Budha, Rama
- Judeo-Christian angelic Raphael
- Islamic planetary/magical angelic Harqil
- Gnostic aeon Anthropos, angelic Metaxas
- John Dee’s angelic heptad (B)Naspol, (B)Rorges, Baspalo, Binodab, Bariges, Binofon, Baldago
- Roman Meditrina
- Greek Eros, Asclepios
- Orphic Ailoaios or Ailoein
- Akkadian Gudud, Nabu
- Sumerian Ningishzida
- Phoenicio-Caanite Eshmun, Malagbel
- Celtic Nuada, Ogmios, Math Mathonwy
- Chinese K’uei-Hsing, Shen Nung
- Aztec Tezcatlipoca
- Slavic Veles
Next, some background on my connection with the god. He’s pretty awesome, for one, and is heavily involved in all the stuff I’m involved with:
- I’m a software engineer, computer programmer and scientist, linguist, calligrapher, graphologist, classicist, Hermetic magician, and geomancer. These are all my primary hobbies, and these are all under the rulership of Hermes.
- The number of the sphere of Mercury, 8, appears four times in my birthdate, with 4 being the number associated with the god.
- I just happened to work in the Postal Square Building, decked out with invocations and paeans to Hermes and caducei on the outside with the National Postal Museum on the inside, for a software engineering position in a statistics and calculation-focused department. Hermes is all over that shit, yo.
- The color of my graduation tassle, having studied in an engineering program, is orange, the color associated with the sphere of Mercury. Cute.
- Astrologically, Mercury is in the same house and sign as my Sun, Libra. It’s not in the best position (combust, Via Combusta), but it is in mutual reception with Venus, my almuten and ruling planet in Virgo.
As for my altar setup and devotional practices:
- An altar setup shown to me involves a statue of Hermes (I have the “Flying Hermes” by Giovanni da Bologna) in the center with four candles in a square around him, with incense and offerings in front of his statue. This is the basic setup of my Hermaion, or sacred space for Hermes.
- I got a small side table, originally $80 but marked down on sale to $64 (a higher scale of 8, and 8 × 8, respectively, with 8 being the magic number of Mercury), for my altar. I don’t have much space in my room for it, but it turned out to be the perfect size for my needs. As it turned out, it fit perfectly by my bookshelf with the computer programming, science, and astrology books. Apparently, the god is cozy there.
- Under each candleholder (which has a small recess) I placed four Mercury topaz stones and sort of energetically linked them up together with the statue, much as in a Babalon Matrix or crystal grid. I got the stones at a gem show, and Hermes practically jizzed at the sight of them: four stones for $40 for the four corners of his altar. I also consecrated them under a rare Mercury Cazimi election, which makes them powerful treasures in their own right. As the candles burn above the crystals, the force and light from the candles continuously feeds the crystals and the statue itself, keeping the altar and god a powerful force.
- Suitable offerings include barley, olives and olive oil, coins, and wine (preferably a Greek dark red). Candles and incense, especially storax, sandalwood, cinnamon, and frankincense, as desired. The god mentioned live birds, too, but that’s generally not practical unless I have an outdoor altar or temenos. Other artifacts like bone dice, antique coins, keys, and figurines are really cool, too. Instead of barley or food offerings, a candle offering can also be made (like in the picture above).
- The altar is covered with an orange burlap cloth. I wanted to use silk or a fancy cloth, but I couldn’t find any suitable that Hermes explicitly approved of. I joked how I’d default to orange burlap, at which Hermes started laughing in my head; I turned around, and was face-to-face with a roll of that very same stuff. The god has a sense of humor, you know.
- The statue itself of Hermes is placed in front of a wooden platform engraved with the Kamea of Mercury and his name woodburned into it in various Mediterranean languages and scripts: Mercurius (Latin), Turms (Etruscan), Hermes (Greek), and E-ma-a (Mycenaean in Linear B). Four names for the god, one on each side of the square, though I was going to use eight names; these names would have referred to the planet itself in other languages like Sanskrit or Arabic, and not to the god proper, so I left them off. This is another treasure for the god, and though he originally wanted it to serve as a base for his statue, the altar size had a hard time accommodating this layout. Plus, I’d like a portable altar or stand for any specifically Mercurial work, and this Table of Mercury would act perfect for it, so he likes this setup as well. Since it’s properly his and not mine, I’d have to pay him for its use as needed, but nothing extravagant or out of my means proportional to the work being done. It’s reasonable.
- Smaller statues to represent different faces of the god, whenever they become accessible, like Thoth and Hanuman. He’s not on great terms and is sometimes unfamiliar with some of the divine associations and pantheon correspondences above, but what the altar has room for, he’ll enjoy some company.
- Texts I make use of include the Homeric Hymns to Hermes (devotional though long-winded), the Orphic Hymn to Mercury (awesome generally), the Picatrix Invocation to Mercury (awesome for planetary and magical operations), and the Heptameron Conjuration and Catholic Prayer to Raphael (not normally my style, but it works for more angelic or qabbalistic workings). For the god proper, he likes the Orphic and Homeric Hymns, along with prayers written to him specifically; Picatrix and other Hermetic invocations aren’t really his cup of tea, from what I’ve been told, and are more suited to other paradigms of working.
- Tools to be used in my Hermes work include an orange silk scarf to mark my priestly activities, a consecrated bone bracelet to make communicating and communing with the dead and dying easier, the Table of Mercury mentioned above as needed, a caduceus or representation thereof to assist in directing and guiding spirits and forces, and a few oils or balms using scents or materials associated with Hermes for anointing and consecration. Holy water, specifically the ancient Greek khernips, is also useful to have on the altar for purification, and an extra bottle of Greek extra virgin olive oil is a pleasant addition, too.
Times for rituals:
- Every Wednesday (day of Mercury) in an hour of Mercury. There are about four of these: dawn, early afternoon, early nighttime, and godlessly early in the morning. A good time to do any Mercurial ritual, like a conjuration of Raphael or something, but I use one to make a small offering and invocation to Hermes, too. This is more planetary/magical than devotional, however, and it’s a simple way to catch up and clean up the altar.
- The fourth day of the lunar month, starting with the first day being the new moon. This was the day reserved for the god in ancient Greek religious calendars as a monthly event, somewhat like a birthday (viewed more as monthly rather than yearly events). Since ancient Hellenic practices were done at dawn, I use sunrise as my time for the god, even if it’s not an hour of Mercury. This adoration is a monthly ritual, where I make an offering and do a full reading of the Orphic Hymn and Homeric Hymns to Hermes. Coincidentally, the fourth day of the month is held sacred to Heracles, Aphrodite, and Eros, as well. At sunset or midnight on this same day, I do an offering and work for Hermes as chthonic god or psychopomp, as well as making an offering to the local and mighty dead.
- Planetary elections. Again, this is more a magical event than a religious one, but this is when the power of the planet (the corporeal form of the god) is highly powerful and able to effect great change in the world. Good ones are difficult to come by, since the planet Mercury is usually too close to the Sun to be very effectual, but when there are elections, you can bet I’ll be taking those opportunities by the horns.
- Hermaea, the annual Greek festival to Hermes. The Hermaea was a rowdy festival and series of contests, celebrating Hermes’ patronage over gymnastics and physical sport. This was often celebrated with Hercules, but sometimes had a more Saturnalian character inverting social orders. I may not be big on physical activity, but trickery and pranks seem to work really well for this festival. I’m having a hard time finding out about the dates for this festival, but I’m going to guess that it happens somewhere in the period between April 1 and April 15 or so each year. One trick of the Hellenic ritual calendars was that annual celebrations were never to fall on the monthly ones, so the Hermaea would be shifted a few days in either direction to accommodate large events or monthly celebrations of Hermes. I might just stick to using the fourth day of the fourth month, April 4th, as my selected date for this. What I might do specifically for this is unclear to me, since it seemed to be intended for youths and gymnastics, but we’ll see when we get to that point in time.
- Mercuralia, the Roman festival to Mercury held generally on or around May 4th to May 15. This is primarily a festival for merchants and commerce, both words coming from the name Mercury, which itself came from Latin merx meaning wages or merchandise. Roman religion originally never had a correspondence to Mercury, though the Etruscan god Turms was the Italian equivalent of the Hellenic god, and the merchants (who were often Greek or Hellenic) brought over their god. Because of this, Rome never had an official high priest to Mercury, but imported rituals and festivals from Greece all the same; the name Mercury, with its name referring to goods and merchants, stuck. Like the Hermaea, the date may be shifted around if needed. Unlike the Hermaea, the Mercuralia has more literature on it and is much more applicable to my life and goals.
- After a real rough travel during some snowpocalypse or other (the big Christmas blizzard on the East Coast of 2010), Hermes has really helped me out in keeping me safe and swift on the roads. I always make a vow and a bargain with him before any long-distance trip: keep me, my goods, and my passengers safe from all harm, delay, and impediment within reason, and I get you a bottle of nice, dark wine to be dropped off at a crossroads as thanks. I up the number of bottles of wine if something starts looking really awry or desperate, and he hasn’t failed me yet.
All in all, I use 27 or so days of the year as major events for Hermes, plus weekly adorations and any rituals I specifically need to call on him for. As far as religious practices go, it’s involved, but it’s worth it. For those on similar but different paths, a quick search on the internets revealed the following rituals for the god:
- A simple modern Mercuralia ritual to honor a syncretic Hermes-Mercury-Thoth
- A classically Hellenic ritual of thanksgiving to Hermes for a significant purchase
- A Hellenic monthly devotional ritual to Hermes
- A very NSFW male erotic sex ritual to honor Mercury as god of sexual potency and masturbation (lots of penis ahead)