Jake Baddeley "Hermes"
From Puer to Senex:
The Evolutionary Journey of Mercury
As astrologers, when we talk about Mercury, we tend to frame the conversation about the astrological correlations to simply “how we think and how we communicate”. We reference cognitive skills and intellect, the quality and tone of the voice, and so on. Unlike the giant gaseous outer planets that extend outwards beyond the orbit of Mars, Mercury is sometimes reduced in status or importance in the planetary "hierarchy of heavies" because of his speed and size. There is however much that is hidden in this deeply personal archetype, reflecting a widely multivalent nature that reveals an archetypal expression filled with density and latitude. In fact, this sometimes prevalent reductionist approach is a good example of Mercury’s cleverness, already working to convince us that what we see is all there is.
An examination of the mythology, astronomy, and astrology of this quixotic character reveals a much deeper personal story. As Mercury shuttles back and forth, in close proximity to the Sun from our earthbound perspective, he disseminates the “messages” received from the Sun, the source of life force in our solar system. The celestial role that he performs is neither accidental nor coincidental. Hermes/Mercury was the messenger, traveler, guide, trader, orator, magician and mystic. He was also known to be the trickster, thief, liar, and rapist. He was not just a messenger; he was the Messenger of the Gods. He was also the Psychopomp, the guide of souls between worlds. On a mundane level he was also somebody’s sibling, part of a family constellation, just like many of us.
Most significantly, Mercury performs a critical evolutionary role for each of us as he guides us across the boundary between our own light and shadow, the conscious and the unconscious, so that we can perform the alchemical synthesis of self that we call personal evolution. When we explore Mercury from mythological, astrological, and astronomical perspectives, meaning emerges that reveals the diversity
Dosso Dossi: "Fupite Mercury and Virtus or Virgo" c.1540
of ways that Mercury expresses through the natal chart.
There is no single mythological thread that connects the various faces and personalities of Mercury, or Hermes as he was known to the Greeks. In one form or another, the mythology of Mercury extends back to earliest oral and written traditions, and spans multiple cultures. We know him primarily from the mythos of Greece and Rome, who were influenced by the earlier Sumerian, Babylonian, and Egyptian cultures. To the Egyptians he was Thoth, to the Romans he was Mercury, the Celts he was Lugh, and to the Norse he was Loki. The mythos surrounding Hermes spans eight centuries. In the Hellenistic periods, which extended
through last 3 centuries before the Common Era, Hermes the Magician osmoses with Thoth, becoming Hermes Trismegistus the Alchemist.
Hermes was the god of animal husbandry, including cattle herding, shepherding, goat herding and even the breeding of horses and mules. The earliest accounts present Hermes of Arcadia, a shepherd who tended his flock and living a bucolic life peacefully on the side of Mount Kyllene. In this role he is portrayed as more feminine than masculine, nurturing, living close to the land.
As the mythos evolves a different storyline emerges. His exploits in The Iliad and The Odyssey reveal a more masculine persona with Greco-Roman patriarchal. Homer dubbed him the “giant killer”. There are two stories as well where Hermes becomes the rapist of two different princesses; having no remorse for the death of one of them as a result of his behavior and a reflection of the increasingly fragmented and reductionist perspective and the diminishing importance of women in Greek and Roman society.
The Greek poets Hesiod and Homer, c.800 BCE tell stories of Hermes cleverness as a child, his knowledge of music, astronomy, astrology, healing, and magic. The best known is the tale of Hermes’s theft of the cattle that belonged to his half-brother Apollo. The story goes that only one day after his birth, Hermes was bored with being in his crib so he turned himself into a puff of vapor and slipped through a keyhole in the door to escape to find his adventure. Once outside he turned himself back into his normal baby form again and went off on his seen to be famous adventure. He came upon his brother’s cattle and instantly deciding that he needed to have some of them for his own, he spirited them away by making them walk backwards, obscuring the direction they had gone, and also fashioning magical sandals for himself that would erase his tracks.
On his way, his way he came upon a tortoise whose lustrous shell enthralled him. he cleverly persuaded the tortoise to let him pick him up to have a closer look, upon which Hermes immediately and shamelessly cracked open the shell, ate the tortoise meat, and using some sinews from the cows he had stolen from his brother, fashioned the shell into a lyre. His first adventure completed, Hermes returned home to his cradle.
Oracular Sun God Apollo soon divined what had happened and
Edward John POYNTER
"Mercury Stealing the Cattle of the Gods"
confronted his newborn brother with the theft. Hermes argued that he was “just a baby, so how could he have possibly conceived such a complex and devious act?"
Unsatisfied, Apollo escalated the case up to father Zeus for resolution. Hermes again pleaded his case of being just a baby and incapable of such a duplicitous act. Zeus was so taken with the hubris and cleverness of his young son, that he commanded the two siblings to work it out between themselves. Apollo had heard Hermes playing the lyre was captivated by its melodious sound. Sensing that he must obey his father and as recompense, Hermes offered his lyre to Apollo as a gift. Apollo accepted the gift graciously, Hermes returned the stolen cattle, and the two brothers reconciled their differences.
From this famous story there emerges the expression of the puer aeternus, the eternal child. This phrase was originated by the Greek poet Ovid in his description of the child gods of the Greek pantheon. Carl Jung later adopted this as a core archetype that psychologically describes an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level. This concept was popularized by psychologist Dan Kiley, in his 1983 book, The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. Along with the refusal to grow up, an individual expressing as puer aeterna will be often display glibness, glossing over, and even lying to obfuscate the truth, with a total disregard of the consequences of their actions.
As the expression of the puer aeternus, in the natal chart, Mercury reveals where we feel young, describes how we like to play, and our sense of humor. There is a natural curiosity. In it’s shadow, the puer is prone to superficiality of response and expression. Thinking and opinion is often reductionist. There is dishonesty and an obfuscation of the truth in order to retain one’s own established self-identification. There is no evidence of conscience displayed, as there is little regard for the consequences of action or speech.
“Quite often, people with an underdeveloped Mercury can be concerned with dissemination superficial factual knowledge and
with compartmentalizing ideas, holding unopposable opinions and refusing to be influenced by human values and emotions because these are too subjective to be tested against external reality.”
--Freda Edis The God Between: A Study of Astrological Mercury
In the exchange of his lyre, Apollo favors Hermes with the gift of divination, leading him to discover astronomy, astrology and mathematics. Hermes uses these abilities to order and enumerate the phenomena of the natural world with the alphabet and numbers. Hermes also receives through divination the art of magic, which grants him invisibility and other powers.
Zeus was also so impressed and proud of the verbal craftiness and ingenuity of his newborn son, that he appoints him to be the messenger of the gods, and bestows upon him a magical golden staff to facilitate his work. Hermes used the magic rod to help Heracles capture the Cerberus by putting them to sleep. He used his wand as Argeiphontes to aid Priam, to lull the guards to sleep so that he could retrieve the slain and defiled body of Hector from Achilles’ camp in The Iliad. Hermes put the giant Argos to sleep so that he could slay him, becmong the “giant killer”. He saved Odysseus from Circe by giving him the magical herb “moly” that made him immune to her enchantments.
Some accounts suggest that the oldest known imagery of the caduceus have their roots in Mesopotamian origin with a Sumerian god whose symbol, a staff with two snakes intertwined around it, dates back to
4000 to 3000 BCE. By some accounts the caduceus evolved from a rod entwined with a single snake that was carried by Asclepius, known as the father of modern medicine.
This theme of magic re-emerges in the myths of the Hellenistic period as Hermes is synthesized with the Egyptian god Thoth to become Hermes Trismegistus. Caduceus was the staff carried by Hermes Trismegistus in Greco-Egyptian mythology. Both Hermes and Thoth were gods of writing. Hermes, the Greek god of interpretive communication, was combined with Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom, to become the Hermes Thrice Great, patron of astrology and alchemy. In addition, both gods were psychopomps, guiding souls to the afterlife.
“As for honors,
I’m going to get in on the same ones
That are sacred to Apollo.
And if my father won’t stand for it,
I’ll still try.
I’m capable certainly,
To be thief number one.”
--Homeric Hymn to Hermes
The mythos of the stolen cattle also highlights the archetypal sibling relationship between Hermes and Apollo. Both brothers are jealous Older brother Apollo being jealous of the attention given to the newest member of the family, and the younger brother Hermes being jealous of the position, power, privilege and possessions of his elder brother. Challenging aspects from Chiron, Saturn, or Pluto to Mercury can often indicate sibling rivalries and family disconnects.
Hermes mythology is most significant in the stories of his role as psychopomp, guide of souls between worlds. As the messenger of the gods, Hermes was the only god who could enter and leave the underworld without harm. The best-known account is the story of his rescue of Persephone, after her abduction by Hades. Hermes also aided Orpheus, the legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth, in the retrieval of his wife Eurydice who had descended into the underworld. Hermes also guided the slain warriors of the Trojan War down into Hades.
Johfra Bosschart, Hermes Trismegistos
By the late 1st Century BCE, the center of Greek learning and knowledge had migrated to the city Alexander the Great built in his own name, Alexandria, at the fertile delta of the Nile River. Here under the tutelage of Claudius Ptolemy, writer, mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet, the foundations of the metaphysics that would flow through the occult world for the next 2000 years began to emerge as alchemy, astrology, kabbalah, and tarot. Alchemy refers to the process of “the transmutation of "base metals" (e.g., lead) into ‘noble’ ones (particularly gold); the creation of an elixir of immortality; the creation of panaceas able to cure any disease; and the development of an alkahest--a universal solvent. The perfection of the human body and soul was thought to permit or result from the alchemical magnum opus and, in the Hellenistic and western tradition, the achievement of gnosis--the Greek word for knowledge and the insight into man's real nature as Divine.
It was during this period that the Magician/Alchemist appears as Hermes Trice Anointed. It is not known if he was an actual or mythic figure. I prefer to err on the side of the mythic, which
holds so much more density than the perception of an actual personage could.
A suggestion of the meaning of “thrice anointed” is derived from statements in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, that he knows the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe--the three parts being alchemy, astrology, and theurgy. The puer aeternus, Latin for eternal child, revealed in the mythos of Hermes as liar and thief, has now evolved into the senex, Latin for old person, the wise old man or sage. Puer aeternus and senex are both archetypes described by Carl Jung.
What is then that is the astrological/alchemical function that Hermes/Mercury correlates to in the natal chart? The nature of Mercury/Gemini/Virgo is connected in the natural zodiac to the mutable cross: 3rd House/Gemini, 6th House/Virgo, 9th House/Sagittarius, and 12th House/Pisces. There is a natural conflict between left-brain, (Mercury/Gemini) rational inductive reasoning, essentially our opinions and subjective ideas regarding reality, and right brain deductive reasoning, our broader understanding and beliefs regarding of the nature of reality (Jupiter/Sagittarius). There is also a conflict between our individual, practical considerations (Mercury/Virgo) and larger transpersonal universal truths (Neptune/Pisces).
We know that Hermes travels between the 3 worlds: the upper world of divinity, the middle world, our consensus time and space reality, and the lower world, the subconscious. Hermes can navigate through these three realms without
harm. In the same way, we can learn how to navigate through our own personal underworld by understanding the placement of Mercury by sign, house, and aspect in the natal chart. Mercury’s planetary nodes also reveal an archetypal pathway from the Soul’s past Mercurial experiences to the future potentials held, anchored in the present by Mercury’s natal placement.
Because Mercury is never more than 28° from the Sun. Mercury’s close proximity to the Sun correlates directly to his role as the Messenger of the Gods. As he shuttles back and forth he collects and disseminates solar energy. Light cast upon the subconscious reveals, acknowledges and facilitates the release of whatever lies below. The evolutionary journey of the soul embraces the ongoing process of synthesizing conscious and unconscious into a holistic self. This alchemy of light and shadow eases the flow of life force. When conscious and subconscious are fully integrated with solar life force, these self-actualizing energies can be received and absorbed more readily and flow (Moon) more easily throughout the 4 bodies (spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical) without internal psychic or emotional obstruction or distortion.
Because of their close proximity, the only aspect or phase relationship that is possible between the Sun and Mercury is the conjunction, and the new and balsamic phases. There are two types of Sun-Mercury conjunctions, the inferior conjunction when Mercury is retrograde and closest to the Earth, and the superior conjunction when Mercury is direct, opposing the Earth on the far side of the Sun. The Sun-Mercury cycle begins at the inferior conjunction. During the retrograde Mercury phase the seed thoughts for the cycle are gestated and released. At the superior conjunction, these seed thoughts take shape as ideas and mental associations that shape the unfolding of the waning cycle of this planetary cycle.
Michael Meyer tells us, “Those natives born with Sun conjunct Mercury are expressive as speakers and writers. There is a strong need to have a voice in the world in one form or another." The new phase relationship with the Sun correlates to Mercury as the morning star, moving ahead of the Sun. This is an individual with an active, initiative mind, always on the lookout for something new to consider, explore, and learn about.”
In this waxing portion of the cycle, Meyer described this placement as Mercury Prometheus--after the god who stole fire from Zeus who took on the role as agent for the benefit, welfare, and advancement of mankind. This Mercury is forward looking, anticipating the future, thinking ahead.
Meyer continues, “Born anew from the cycle just closing, the Mercurial faculties of mind and communication have been impressed with a new quality of will, purpose and energy — symbolized by the zodiacal and house positions of the inferior conjunction which inaugurated the new cycle.”
Jason Holley correlates this phase to the Gemini expression of the planet—Yang, male, and air. Holley writes, “Mercury ‘steps down’ the energies of the gods of intense situations to levels at which they can be understood, recognized, and creatively engaged.”
As Mercury meets up with the Sun at their superior conjunction, the Epimethean profile of Mercury emerges, correlating to Mercury’s affinity and rulership in Virgo--Yin, inward directed, and Earth-bound. There is more reflection in thought, looking backwards in retrospect during the retrograde portion. It has been said that if Mercury rises before the Sun you think first and then act. If the Sun rises before Mercury you speak first and then seek a justification for your actions.
The Moon and superior planets, (Mars through Pluto) which reside beyond the Earth’s orbit, connect with Mercury across the full spectrum of aspects and phases.
Mercury aspects to the Moon refer to how emotions are integrated with thoughts and vocal expression. Trines, sextiles, and quintiles will facilitate the ability to express how one is feeling emotionally. Conjunctions, squares, oppositions, sesquiquadrate, and quincunxes will refer to places where this natural expression is being blocked or distorted in some way. This can be a conflict between head and heart. Often this is an indication of a deeper karmic complex that is being exposed for healing.
Mercury and Venus also travel in a narrowly defined space, never more than 76° apart, only allowing for the conjunction, semisextile, semisquare, and sextile. A Mercury/Venus blend can bring a beautiful singing or speaking voice, or a beautiful manner of expression via the written word, either as prose or poetry. It is often an individual who is affable, and generally relates well to and gets along with others because they are not prone to disagreements or conflicting opinions. In consort with Venus, our thoughts, ideas, and opinions are innately connected to our values; one necessarily follows the other. In essence we are what we think and the priorities that we set for ourselves are a direct result of the cognitive structure of the world around us. The facilitating aspects will “make our intentions clear”. Our values and priorities will define the context of how and what we are communicating. There will be a tendency to speak to what has real meaning for us individually and our words will state our priorities very clearly. The challenging aspects can potentially spin our words and thoughts in a negative direction, feeling jealous, or holding onto vain self-identification. We may even lash out verbally rather than be able to objectively disagree with someone else.
Mercury Mars natives are prone to impulsive and sometimes hurtful speech. Harsh words can create conflict and this planetary combo is ready for any verbal rumble. In general there is self-centeredness about the native and they are often “in their head”. Even with challenging aspects though, Mars and Mercury will enliven any conversation, with a spark wit and intelligence. The mind is quick and very curious.
Mercury Jupiter natives frequently possess largesse of jovial good nature and playfulness. They are generally broad-minded, within their own intellectual boundaries; they can be a “bottomless pit” of knowledge, always seeking out new thought and ideas. They can be as funny and as fun to be with as they are wordy and long winded. They often have expansive vocabularies. In their shadow lurks the demons of evangelism, and they often play the role of crusader.
Mercury and Saturn correlate to the elder teacher whose authoritative voice maintains the status quo. Speech and voice can have a minimalist quality, yet it is filled with authority and importance. The mind is focused and goal oriented. In its shadow a Mercury Saturn native will often display self-expression that is repressed or suppressed. There can be a tendency to limit one’s imagination and fantasy, anything seeming to be too irrational in any way. There may be insecurity about how smart or skillful someone might feel, but they are still willing to work hard to learn or make it happen. These individuals take their time and think things through. Their thinking is most conventional though and there is resistance to anything unconventional, not “tried and true.”
Mercury and Uranus amplify the channel between lower mind and higher mind. Individuals can be prone to idealistic thinking as well as practical inspiration. Sleep patterns can be disturbed because of the almost incessant internal chatter. Its best expression is an insightful illuminated mind, futurist, forward thinking, and original. Depending on the aspects to the rest of the chart, and especially the placements of the Saturn, Neptune, and Pluto, there can be information overload, thoughts and ideas that come faster than they can be assimilated, sentences aren’t finished, the native often finding themselves in a general state of TMI. To others the mental gymnastics might seem too “far out”, impractical, and unworkable.
Mercury Neptune natives can be blessed with the most imaginative minds filled with romantic, even surreal imagery. They can be highly intuitive and perceptive, even psychic. They can be extremely compassionate and empathetic. These are the poets, storytellers, songwriters, and visionaries. In its shadow are all of the complexes that display as mental imbalance, delusion, deception, and dyslexia.
Mercury Pluto brings the most penetrating and insightful ability to the mind. These native are able to relentless dive into a subject to its core or totally ignore that which is perceived as simply superficial. In its shadow these natives can be mentally controlling and intellectually overwhelming. They are great investigators and researchers. Its shadow holds obsessions and deep-seated phobia that distort their perception and color their ideas and opinions.
It is important to remember that we should not make the assumption that all facilitating aspects by definition are “good” or that challenging aspects are all inherently “bad”. The challenges and crises that occur during our lifetime are the catalysts for personal growth. It is not what happens that makes it good or bad, it is how we respond to the event. An astrologer who has been professionally trained has the toolset to objectively interpret a birth chart and the current celestial influences acting on it. It is most important to recognize that the stars and planets do not control us, they merely reflect us.
The space in which Mercury operates is liminal space. Mercury opens the threshold between "what is not any longer” and “what is not yet”. This vortex is saturated with potentiality, even as it seems to not contain anything that seems real. Wherever Mercury is, wherever he resides in a chart, is a threshold. It is the space of mental construction and intention. In this role Mercury acts as the incubator of who we are becoming. When Gemini thoughts polarize as Sagittarian beliefs and are synthesized with the meaning and values correlating to Venus/Aphrodite, the resulting priorities being handed off to Mars for execution, thoughts become words, words become actions, and actions become deeds.
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