Hermes and I go way back. I started working with him when I was twenty. Our relationship has developed and changed, but has never been exceptionally difficult.
He’s a deity of the market place, of conmen and cowboys, and in ancient times, he was revered as a god of fertility. During his time as a shepherd, he mastered the art of seduction, and had Aphrodite coming back for seconds and thirds after he stole her sandals and demanded a night in bed with her for their return. As a messenger of Zeus, and the husband of Persuasion Herself, he is also a god of interpretation and communication.
In my own personal experience, he’s raucously funny, has a mischievous streak a mile wide, and, perhaps more than anything else, is a strong believer in the idea that you should never throw anyone away.
Though a joyful fellow, on the whole, he’s got a knack for arranging coincidences and even bending the laws of physical reality. He’s got a very earthy sense of humor, and when he isn’t actively trying to be charming (we are way past that, he and I), he can be rather off-color.
Despite being easily characterized as a deified trickster by a lot of anthropologists, I have always found Hermes to be fiercely loyal to his family. After all, his first action after stealing the cattle from Apollon was to split the dividends with his elders. Yet, I definitely see the trickster in him. To him, it seems, rules are a strong suggestion, and the truth is just another tool one can use to accomplish what he considers a good purpose. He’s happy to discard either in the name of a good cause.
This interview suffers from a certain disorganization. Largely, I talk with him so much that I had a hard time knowing what to interview him about. Thankfully, he’s skilled with steering conversations, and said a great deal about the afterlife, cosmology, profanity, sexual politics, how not to be a dick and the art of crochet, not necessarily in that order.
Hermes as a God of Magic…?
Thenea: Recently, I’ve heard lots of people invoking you as a deity of magic. What do you think about that?
Hermes: I dunno. I mean, I’m good at it. You know what its like, though?
One time, I knew a lady. She wanted to learn to crochet. Unfortunately, she was a righty and her mother was a lefty. Her mother said, “I can’t teach you. Go learn from a righty.”
But at length, there was no righty around to teach her. So, quietly, the girl watched her mother crochetting, and mirrored the motions.
As it turns out, the mirror image of left-handed crocheting is not right handed crocheting, but the girl practiced and practiced her “wrong” stitches in secret until one day, she had a blanket. In the end, it was only possible because she had a natural talent for crocheting.
When it came time to teach her own daughter, also a righty, her daughter couldn’t master the overly convoluted stitches of her mother, and thus, could not learn to knit, no matter how willing her mother was to teach.
My magic isn’t correct. It works for me, but it isn ‘t something you could learn. Hekate is a goddess of magic that mortals can use. I never understand why people call me instead of her.
Thenea: What things should we call you for?
Hermes: Gosh, tons of things. Money, jobs, fertility, travel, navigation, negotiation, astrology…
Probably you should call me if you are dying, too. That’s a good idea. When you think about it, death is a kind of travel. If you get lost, some sombre shit can happen
Thenea: What can happen?
Hermes: Gods, Styx and stuffing. Everything. Or Nothing. Wandering into oblivion, maybe? Permanent soul death? An eternity face-diving into the droppings of Kerberos? Whew!
People have this idea that deities will punish people for doing stuff. Tartarus isn’t punishment. Tartarus existed before Justice or the
capacity of one being to judge that another being deserved a hot poker in the butt hole.
Tartarus is the state that exists outside the consciousness of every other god. It is the howling void that exists between where one dream ends and the next begins.
Some deity I knew one time described the creation of the world and said that before it all started, the whole world was “Tohu V’Vohu” which, in his language, means like “Emptiness and WHAT THE FUCK???”
The What The Fuck aspect of reality? That’s what we call Tartarus. Pretty sure. Nice place to visit but I wouldn’t wanna live there. I’m just kidding. It’s terrible to visit. I would not recommend it at all as a travel destination. Though I hear its snow is very useful…
Thenea: So, you say that gods don’t punish people in the afterlife, but you allude to bad consequences.
Hermes: It’s like life. Life isn’t to punish you, either, but bad judgment and misusing opportunities leads one to suffering. You need a guide. That’s me.
Thenea: Or another deity?
Hermes: Well, maybe, if you want their crappy afterlife. I can show you the good vacation spots where you can sun your butt between incarnations. So call me when you are on your way out, and I’ll hook you up.
Hermes on Cosmologies
Thenea: Speaking of Tartarus… you say that it’s sort of a back drop, a place that exists between dreams. Yet, most of my readings on cosmologies indicate that Tartarus was a fair bit younger than that. Then again, I was reading through the cosmogonies of the Greeks, recently. They all contradict. Which one do you think is most accurate?
Hermes: First of all, don’t believe everything you read. A “Greek Cosmogony” is just the writings of some Greek person trying to figure out the way the world started. Every writer has his own ideas. Of all of those writers, though, I’d actually be most inclined to believe Empedocles. I wasn’t there, obviously, at the beginning of the world, but I knew the guys who wrote those cosmogonies, and Empedocles was the cleverest, by a long shot.
Thenea: Not Hesiod?
Hermes: Goddamnit, Hesiod was a loser. Never listen to a guy who gets swindled out of his inheritance by his brother about how the world works. The guy had no clue how to navigate the politics of physical reality, never mind metaphysical reality.
Thenea: What about Orpheus?
Hermes: Look, Orpheus was a nice guy. Largely, still is. But taking it up the ass from Dionysos doesn’t make you a mystic. Again, if he had some clue about how any sort of reality worked, he’d be chilling with Euridike in the Bahamas right now, and not in six hundred pieces in the back of a freezer in somebody’s house on Olympos.
Thenea: Dionysos kept Orpheus in a freezer???
Hermes: Well, no. I meant that rhetorically. Actually, he’s doing ok for himself, but my point stands. He had no idea how to handle Dionysos, forget the Protogenoi.
Thenea: What about Alcman?
Hermes: The cosmogony he was commenting on was destroyed. Want to venture a guess as to why? Plus, he was a Spartan. If it isn’t on the origins of how to stab a guy in the face, don’t ask a Spartan about histories.
Truth is, none of these guys were there at the start and neither was I, but really, if you observe and think hard enough, you’ll get at the important truths. Empedocles was that kind of guy.
He put it really well: Love and Strife are the two principle forces driving all things. Things come together, things fall apart. The rest is commentary.
Strife, or bickering with people, is never constructive. What’s truer? Nothing is truer.
Thenea: Have you ever tried asking older deities in your pantheon about it?
Hermes: Hah. You’re funny. Look, Thenea, when you have some time, go read up on the anthropology of the situation. There is no myth that tells about how Hekate came to Athens from Asia Minor. You will also not learn, from reading Greek mythologies, which of our gods and goddesses came to us from Northern Africa and which were originally Minoan. However, if you study anthropology, it becomes very clear that things are very much a part of the true facts of history. Cosmogonies are meant to reflect something a bit more philosophical. They symbolically state a cultural (or personal) opinion about how the universe really works.
Here is how a pantheon actually comes together.
First deity: “Shit. My people were conquered and my religion just blowed up. I’m out of a job”
Second deity: “Me too.”
Third deity: “Hey, you look like that Lightning God the mortals in that place over there are telling stories about.”
Two deities at the same time: “We’re lightning gods too, though!”
Third deity: “Well, shit. You, on the left, you’re better looking. Best you be in charge.”
First deity: “Screw you! I’m bigger than all of you!”
Second deity: “Whatever. You’re a thug. Go rule the sea.”
First deity: “What? I’m a god of paternity!”
Meanwhile, you guys on Earth are all like, “Oh, Hermes is younger than Apollon.” Like its a fact. Like I wasn’t some Proto-Indo-Eurpean god of Penises and Serpents and outcroppings of stone long before anyone was ever speaking Greek.
Thenea: Let me rephrase my question. As a magician myself, I understand that mythology is symbolic, and that the symbolic mind of the magician plays a very crucial role in magic. Each religion’s egregore, or dream-bubble, or current, or whatever you want to call it, has its own sort of language, its own set of symbols, and its own set of pseudo-facts. Those may change over time, as the people accessing it change, and tell new stories. However, I think what I mean to ask is, what is the present state of the symbolism, with respect to creating stuff. Which cosmogeny most closely resonates to the way your egregore is currently configured.
Hermes: 🙂 What an excellent clarification of your question. So… here’s the thing. With a religion that is constructed out of folk-lore, you often have this problem where — Actually, you’ve been to the Winchester Mystery House, right? Greek history is like a crazy old lady that just kept spontaneously adding rooms onto the original structure in ways that may or may not make sense. There are trap doors, windows and cabinets opening into walls, doors to nowhere, or to a fifteen foot drop into the garden. Asking about the Cosmogeny is like asking to see Sarah Winchester’s “whole blue print” for the house.
I will gladly admit the stalemate. I am standing in a house drafted by a mad woman and hammered together by fools, but it is a wonderful old house. It is full of surprises and things that amaze. I will not move out of this house. I do not want to live in another house. I will grow old in this house, and if I have to, die in this house. You know what I miss, though? I miss the pounding of nails and the sawing of boards. I miss waking up every day to a new contradiction.
I’m sorry to say, but the wonder of this religion is not in its cosmogonies. It’s in the soul and poetry and passion of its gods. It is in the multitude of outlooks and opinions, in the diversity of its people, and the fact that all of these different people, all of these different outlooks, all of these messy, conflicting facts and traditions can co-exist peacefully under a single roof. Arguing over Greek mythology, and what versions have authority, is silly.
I hear it said that the mythologies are either true or false, but that is bollox. I am living proof of the idea that lies can be true.
Thenea: How can lies be true?
Hermes: That’s how my magic works, dear heart. I lie about a thing, and then the lie becomes true. Like with you, Thenea. I pointed at you, and said to other gods, “That is my priestess.” You had no idea who I was at the time, but it is perfectly true now, isn’t it? 🙂
Hermes: Well, it will be soon. Hang in there.
Hermes as a Fertility God
Thenea: So, I do see the evidence for the idea that you were revered as a deity of fertility, especially among rustic folk. It seems, though, to me at least, that most people do not think of you as a fertility god in modern times.
Hermes: Excuse moi? Would these people like to put forth their theory about the images of yours truly with the GIGANTIC ERECT PENIS?
Sometimes, they’d put just a dick. You know, if they didn’t have time to carve a whole dude. Because everyone would know that it was me. I am not a god of the phallus, I am THE god of the phallus. I am the motherfucker with THREE goddamn dicks, one for each “path.”
Three phalloi, two of them snakes, the third reconciling between them. Those feathers? Those feathers are feathers of the COCK. Do the math.
Dionysos? Dionysos thinks he’s a god of fertility? How often to you see grape vines bumping and grinding in the vineyard? I am Oiopolos, Epimelios, a keeper of the flocks. If your flocks are many, then you know what they did at the watering hole.
Thenea: I’m certainly not going to debate the point with you about whether or not Dionysos is a god of fertility, but you lay out a very good case for why you are. Actually, I think there were fertility statues of both of you. In any case, I know which of you I’d rather call for that sort of thing. 🙂
Hermes: Damn straight!
Hermes as Communicator and Wheaton’s Law
Thenea: You say people should call you for communication. You’re the interpreter and messenger.
Hermes: That’s true. True as true gets, round these parts, anyway.
Thenea: I view communication as key to community cohesion. Care to give some advice on that matter?
Hermes: So… the most basic advice is “don’t be a dick.” Largely, you guys seem to be having trouble mastering that level of things.
People do enjoy their dickery. And I dunno what it is, really, that inspires it. I know some solid people, otherwise super nice. The Pagan community makes them dickish. I feel like (and I fully admit that this isn’t actually the case) that these guys are trying to stick it to me personally, by creating drama.
It’s not me. I know it isn’t. No one wakes up in the morning and says, “You know who I wanna stick it to? Hermes!”
But by Styx, it’s me, every goddamn time, who has to bear the brunt.
Thenea: You mean in the Hellenic community?
Hermes: No, sweetie, everywhere. I’m like the Mafia’s cleanup man. Even Jesus has me on speed dial.
Can you imagine that?
“Shalom, it is me, Yehoshua. I have a favor to ask.”
“JC? How did you get this number?”
“I am asking a friend for your number. I have the problem with two churches fighting.”
“Ok, maybe just this once, but can you do something about that commandment not to worship me?”
“Just as soon as I do the gays. You know how it is. Mortals first.”
And as it happens, he is still doing the gays. Liberating them, I mean.
Thenea: So, what you are saying, really, is that most people are dicks.
Hermes: Most religious people, anyway. Which, if you consider who I generally interact with, might as well be everybody. But the Pagans, in particular, are my responsibility. Especially the Greeks, also a bunch of Wiccans. But also just about anyone that a deity calls me to deal with. At the end of the day, basically everyone.
Thenea: So, how can we stop being dicks?
Hermes: Good question. It’s really just a matter of two things:
– Knowing that you are the only person you will ever be able to control, and controlling yourself.
– Thinking before you say or do stuff.
I hate those posters that turn “Think” into an acronym.
90% of shit-headed comments made in the History of Ever have been made because someone thought they were true, and reasoned that this was reason enough to open their big, stupid mouth.
Instead, ask yourself, “Will this lead to a good outcome?”
Or, even better? “Am I the person who should be saying this? Could someone say this in a nicer way than I would?”
Or even better still, “If I say this, will I be unable to go to a community event to which others have invited this person?”
If I had a ring of infinite wishing, I’d use it to cause enemies to always be invited to the same party. Then, they could duke it out with laser beam eyes. Laser beam eyes, again, because ring of infinite wishes. 🙂 I think people would suddenly and very mysteriously start working out their bullshit in better ways.
Thenea: Yeah, I have to say that running into an enemy at a party is something I deffinitely want to avoid.
Hermes: Unrelatedly, can I request that people start using my name an an expletive? I think that “HERMS” or “Balls” would be a better swear word than the name of some Jewish kid.
Alternately, if you are looking for the long form, you could say, “Hermeneutes!” That sounds like a pretty solid cuss word to me.
Thenea: Yeah, I’ve heard people make that point before. It’s interesting that you can’t actually go anywhere in the Pagan community without hearing about the Judeo-Christian deity, even if only in expletive form.
Hermes: Yeah, I’d like to be in the mix somewhere, even if only as an expletive.
I dunno why people gotta talk about YHVH at all. The deity isn’t oppressing you. People are.
Truth is, if history had turned out just a little differently, the same people jamming Jesus down your throat would be trying to force you to gargle Zeus. Socrates died because polytheists can be the same kind of closed minded assholes as monotheists. If you think your religion is better or more true than someone else’s, you are just another part of the machine. If I gave you the reigns right now, you’d be oppressing people.
Hate oppression? Then love tolerance. Or better yet, acceptance.
…Your connection to him is very much like mine; I’ve no doubt whatsoever we know the same amazing being. He is a dear childhood friend as much as he is a guide. This was much like reading a familiar conversation of the past while stumbling over new ideas and statements provoked by a slightly varied stream of questioning on your end. Thank you. If you ever read this…I’d like to talk to you some day.
You are quite welcome.
I’m always open to a chat, and if you happen to be anywhere near San Francisco, let me know.
Feel free to email me: email@example.com
…For the record, I found this post by facepalming at something, having an idea, typing “goddamnit hermes” into google > images > clicked “don’t be a dick” > ended up here.
That is pretty freaking amazing. “Goddamnit Hermes” seems to be the sacred incantation of his devout. 😉
This is one of the best conversations Ive been a fly on the wall to.
Well there I was reading the Corpus Hermetica, thinking about Abraham and off to death and permanent obliteration once more, but in seeking I have found this wonderful piece and feel ok again. Living between life and death isn’t easy you know! Especially when you’re bored!!!
This was beyond words a beautiful experience, I’m very glad Hermes is so approachable and so, heh, human. Though I may have started ugly crying at the mention of Jesus and helping gay people. As a queer ex-Christian this impacted me more than I can explain, and I’m kind of desperate to confirm how true it is.