Invocation to Hermes

For a long time I was only interested in the Goddesses. As with many women. I saw the Greek deities as at least partly about not only reclaiming the Divine Feminie, but as a way to establish personal connections with that power.

I like to tell a story about a time when someone told me about a conference being held around the theme of the Goddess Athena. My spontaneous response was "Oh, I'd love to go to that. Athena is a friend of mine." Aphrodite is not just a concept or a series of old stories, she is a presence in my life.

Over the past few years I have maintained my strong feeling for the Goddesses while at the same time becoming interested in at least a few of their brothers. One figure that looms more and more in mind is Hermes.

The word "Hermetic," the name for the Western esoteric tradition, comes from Hermes. However, it is a later version than the original Greek God. The term comes from Hermes Trismegistus ("thrice great"), a semi-legendary figure from Hellenistic Egypt who composed a series of great texts.

Our expression "As above, so below" is a short version of Hermes Trismegistus's "That which is above is the same as that which is below, and that which is below is the same as that which is above, for the preservation of the miracle of one thing." (I used that line as the opening for a "keynote address" at Goddard College, where I teach writing–the theme for the keynote was "Form and Content.")

The Hermes of myth is much older, possibly going back to the Stone Age. He is a trickster, a thief, a guide to dead souls, a teacher of Mysteries, and a swindler.  In my opinion, you have to love a religion that has a God of swindlers!

I hope to say much more about Hermes in the future, especially his great staff, the caduceus. When the group of us go to Greece in October we will call on Hermes to journey with us.  Right now, I want to share a poem I wrote as a direct invocation of Hermes. 

I actually wrote this poem while at Goddard, possibly during the same residency (most of the teaching is done long distance, but we meet for a very intense week at the start of the semester) where I quoted Hermes Trismegistus.

A couple of notes: 

1. Moly is a magical plant.  In the Odyssey Hermes shows Odysseus how he can use moly to stop the sorceress Circe from turning him into an animal.  I am convinced that originally moly was the opposite, an herb used by prehistoric shamans to shapeshift.  "Holy moley!" from the old comic book Captain Marvel, comes from moly.

2. The expression "secret agent lover man" comes from Francesca Lia Block's magical book Weetzie Bat.  Everyone should read it.



I call my brother Hermes,
My snake thief music man,
My dress up dancing man.

I whistle him come to me,
Sliding up the evening
Dripping lies and magic.

Hermes the vampire,
Hermes the conman.
Offers field trips and cruises,
Guidebooks and theater passes,
For lackluster dead.

My razzle dazzle mambo boy,
My scoundrel secret agent
Lover man,
Skin bags full of moly,
Sticks and shiny leather.

My scandal whisper gossip god,
My story serpent mojo man,
My brother,
My Hermes!

Published in: on May 31, 2006 at 8:55 pm  Comments (6)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. "Dripping lies and magic" — what a great line! And this "guide to dead souls" tricks the dead? Wonderful character. I'm eager to read more.

    Good luck on the new blog –

  2. thanks, Melanie. It’s interesting indeed to consider that the psychopomp,or guide to the dead, is famously a trickster. Is it a trick to guide the dead to another life? Is the passage tricky, not to be trusted? In fact, he’s not just a swindler, he’s a thief and swindler. A lot to think about.

  3. Hi Rachel,
    Why do you believe that originally moly was an herb used by prehistoric shamans to shapeshift?

  4. Mary Ann, this is a great question.

    My answer has partly to do with the nature of magical plants, and partly to do with the poem itself.

    Much of Homer’s Odyssey has a subtext of commitment to the outer world and away from the shamanic influence of otherworldly concerns. Thus, Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, is told to hang on to the shapechanging old man until all his magical changes are exhausted and he must answer Telemachus’s questions.

    One of the dangers Odysseus must overcome is the island of the “Lotus-eaters,” which is portrayed as people who are blissed out on magical plants and so have lost their dynamic drive.

    Now, we know that shamans often use plants to experience union with their magical allies, and shape-shifting into the animal is part of the journey. Thus, when changing into animals is shown as evil, and Odysseus is given a plant to protect him, I wonder if that plant originally might have had the opposite purpose, a psychoactive herb to assist the shamanic shape-shifting. Of course, it’s all speculation, since no one has ever identified just what plant moly really is.

    Here’s something else interesting. The drink Circe gives the men to change them to pigs is called kykeon. This name appears in one other place in ancient Greek religious life, as the name of the drink given to the celebrants of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

    Many people believe that kykeon was a psychoactive grain drink containing ergot (natural LSD) to enable people to experience the revelation of the Goddess more fully at the climax of the nine day ritual (which included sacrificing pigs).

    Homer actually strikes me as anti- The Mysteries. He portrays the Land of the Dead as simply miserable, and Persephone as a harsh ruler. Here again is his commitment to the land of the living, to the active world. Odysseus descends to the Underworld not to be changed or initiated, but to get information on how to return home.

  5. Hi Rachel,
    You’ve brought up some fascinating ideas: Hermes as an iniator in the Mysteries may also be indicated by the story of Argos. His songs and stories close the 100 eyes which are continually watching over the outer world, and eventually transfers Argos’ life to the inner world, as symbolised by his death.
    As for Homer, perhaps we should read him as the Platonists of late antiquity did: the Iliad, they said, was the story of the soul’s descent into the material world with all its internal and external tensions, its search for beauty in the enclosed walls of Troy (the Greek named it Ilium, which means ‘mud’), and its deaths (again symbolical) which lead downward. The Odyssey however, says Proclus, is the story of the soul’s liberation from mere materiality and outward forms: hence the symbolical trials that Odysseus must undergo in which he lets go of the treasure he is bring back from the seige of Troy, and also of his crew and ships, in order to find the greater treasure – knowledge of himself. Only when this is accomplished is he able to recognise the presence of Athene as she appears to him in the cave of the Nymphs, and, consequently as he acts on her wise counsel he is able to end his twenty year exile, taking his place in his much-dreamed land of Ithica.

  6. Not something to take lightly – this trickster causes harm!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: