Q: ERMAGERD HERMES IS A TRICKSTER!!?!1!
A: Yes. He is also a deity of travel, the one to whom wanderers and shepherds looked for protection, and to whom merchants prayed for wealth. He, alongside Zeus, enforced the laws of hospitality. He was the deity who was responsible for conveying you safely to your destination in the afterlife as well. He has epithets like “helpful one,” “bringer of joy,” and “friend of humankind.”
For Heathens: As the deity of boundaries, diplomacy and hospitality, Hermes is a keeper of frith. Don’t think Loki. Think more like… Freyr… only with Odin’s intellect. And Thor’s stomach. Add a dose of mad ADHD, a grand sense of humor, and an inability to take authority seriously, and you mainly have the picture. He’s chaotic, but not destructive. He’s somewhat antiauthority, but loyal to his family and fully capable of working within the establishment. He’s a deity of outsiders, but a mainstream deity. He’s the right hand of the King, and even when Zeus is seen deifying people, it is often through the agency of Hermes.
Yes, Hermes stole Apollon’s cattle, then pretended to be an helpless baby in order to get away with it. And farted in Apollon’s face. I grant you this. In so doing, however, he instituted the practice of offering cow as animal sacrifice to the Theoi, a major institution of worship which created peace between heaven and earth.
He slew Argos to free Io. He did this at the behest of Zeus, in the manner of a trickster, by pretending to be harmless and talking the many-eyed monster to sleep.
Trickster is not WHY Hermes does things. Trickster is HOW he does things. Trickster describes part of his toolkit. Also in that toolkit is persuasion, diplomacy, speed, being good at planning, seduction, magic and politics.
If you are wondering which of the Greek deities is the Loki-like trickster, the closest answer is Eris. ALL HAIL DISCORDIA!
Q: Was Hermes born mortal? Wasn’t his mother mortal?
A: Nope. Hermes was never mortal. He has two stories of parentage. In the majority of texts, his parents are Maia (who is a Pleiad) and Zeus. In one of the Orphic Hymns, we see a “Chthonic Hermes” who is the child of Dionysos and Aphrodite (who are both Olympians).
The misunderstanding happens here: The Pleiades are the daughters of Atlas and the Okeanid Pleione. Okeanids are sea-nymphs. The word “nymph” can mean an unmarried woman, but in this case, that doesn’t mean that they are unmarried mortal ladies who lived on boats. They were, instead, the three thousand daughters of Okeanos and Tethys. For those tuning in late, those are contemporaries of Rhea and Cronus.
So, no. Pleione was not mortal, Atlas was not mortal, the Pleiads are not mortal, and Maia was not a mortal woman. Hermes was never mortal. As much as I would love to write an entire book about the apotheosis of Hermes, I cannot do that, because he was born a deity.
Q: I did this thing! Is Hermes mad forever, now?
A: No. Let me put this in perspective. If a five year old did to you what you just did to Hermes, how mad would you be, and how long would you stay mad?
Give him a hamburger, or a burrito or something, say you’re sorry and he’ll promptly forget it.
Q: How does Hermes get along with (Insert Deity Name)?
A: Hermes seems to like basically everyone. This is one of his more challenging qualities. He does not at all mind with being called alongside non-Greek deities. He loves travel, after all! Whether he’s wandering into the pantheon’s turf, or they are wandering into his, he’s more than open to the experience.
It takes two to tango, however. If you want to understand if the deity in question will like Hermes, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the other power or deity lack a sense of humor?
- Does the other power or deity base a large part of their sense of self on being in control?
- Does the other power or deity require order to function?
- Does the other entity deal poorly with surprises, unpredictability, and thinking outside the box?
If the answer to any or all of these questions is “yes” then the deity or power won’t appreciate being made to work with Hermes.
Q: Is Hermes the same entity as Thoth/ Ea/ Odin/ Uriel/ Refael/ Loki/ Herne?
A: That depends upon your belief system. In the ancient Classical world, when mythology was considered to be inalterable fact, encountering cultures who had their own deities and cultural stories was very confusing. Therefore, these ancient polytheists simply imagined that, since there was only one pantheon, the deities that another culture believed in had to be the same ones, but misunderstood.
In the modern day, there are people who believe that there is one fundamental essence, and that the illusion of multiple deities flows like the branches of a stream, and that, if you go further upstream, all gods are one god, and so forth.
I happen to believe that each religion has its own deities. He may share certain qualities with each of these powers, but none of these deities can do everything that he does, nor can he fully take on their roles.
Q: What About Thoth?
A: Not only am I convinced that they are not the same deity, but I can’t even see them as fully analogous or interchangeable.
This is actually pretty close to how I imagine their interactions…
Djehutti: Hermes, don’t touch my scrolls.
Hermes: Ok. (lets a finger hover over a scroll)
Hermes: I’m not touching them.
Djehutti: Hermes, out!
Hermes: I said I’m not touching them.
Hermes: (slowly walks backward out the door, setting off a party popper)
Djehutti: Goddamnit Hermes.
Hermes: Dude! It’s in the hallway! I didn’t get any in your *precious library.*
Q: What about Hermes Trismegistus?
A: The honest truth is, we’re not sure. Maybe Hermes Trimegistus is a syncretized Thoth/Hermes, representing their shared domain of writing and magic, in a similar way to how Hermanubis is a syncretized Anubis/Hermes representing their shared domain of underworld and afterlife related things. We don’t really have enough writings and archeology on the subject to say definitively.
As for the ancient Greeks and Romans, they regarded Hermes Trismegistus as distinct from the lovable prankster and herald at Zeus’s right hand, and worshipped them as separate deities. My focus tends to be on the Olympians and Hekate.
Some people have personal gnosis in which Hermes says he is the same deity. I respect that. Just don’t expect me to go basing *my* belief system on *your* gnosis.