|Exegesis Volume 07 Issue #056
In This Issue:
From: "JG or DF"
Exegesis Digest Thu, 25 Apr 2002
From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] psychological functions of Mercury
Date: Fri, 26 Apr 2002 13:57:28 +1200
A consideration of the historical strands of hermeticism continues below, in order to identify particular psychological functions of Mercury.
By examining the cultural and political impact of Hermes, the social archetype, we can glean further insights into Mercury, the astrological archetype. [All quotations from "The Eternal Hermes: from Greek God to Alchemical Magus", A Faivre, 1995.]
"The Hermetica contain many elements that have been retained in modern Western Hermeticism: a state of mind, a philosophical attitude, a permanent reference to a mythical scenario of fall and regeneration. This state of mind is, first, characterized by a taste for eclecticism. The Alexandrian Hermetica of the second and third centuries CE, and those of the preceding period, are the result of diverse contributions, of disparate philosophies blended in a melting pot, the theoretical and doctrinal coherence of which is scarcely perceptible. What is apparent in these texts is rather an avid curiosity, ready to feed upon diverse traditions. Similarly, for sixteenth-century Hermeticists, the *philosophia perennis* continued to be the postulate it was during the preceding eras. This state of mind is also characterized by a preference for will, on a human as well as divine level. In fact, in the Hermetica, the notion frequently arises that God's activity is his will, and that his essence consists in `willing' all things."
The Hermetic tradition apparently cultivates a non-sectarian type of person, one who fosters their freedom of will despite cultural/political constraints. There is a common attitude of "avid curiosity, ready to feed upon diverse traditions" that indicates enquiring minds already developed into a pan-cultural perspective. The `perennial philosophy' is a tradition that transcends religion, requiring a will to gnosis rather than conformity to tribal gods or state-imposed belief systems.
"In pagan gnosis, the will is a necessary attribute of all who would see the light; the would-be philosopher must want to know, and it is his will that he calls upon when he evokes intermediary or heavenly spirits. The state of mind that is here under discussion is also characterized by an apparent contradiction between two different ways of approaching gnosis. The Hermetica stress equally the importance of two paths that would appear opposites, one optimistic and the other pessimistic. What is called gnostic optimism considers the universe as divine. Since God reveals himself in all things, Man can become godlike; by contemplating and understanding the universe, he can reach the divine, unite with God by absorbing a representation of the universe within his own *mens*. Gnostic pessimism, on the contrary, rejects the world as evil. Both of these tendencies are represented in modern Hermeticism, the second consisting in strongly emphasizing the consequences of the Fall on the present state of nature. Such an apparent contradiction is rich in dialectical tension, and I would like to emphasize that it is not uncommon to find it in the works of one and the same theosophist, for example Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. There is nothing astonishing in this, since these attitudes are but complementary ways of seeing the universe, both suggesting that in the final analysis Man possesses divine powers that must be regenerated and utilized. It is thus difficult to determine whether a given theosopher is optimistic or pessimistic. A fundamental pessimism would be that of a theosopher who believes in a power of evil ontologically equal to the power of good, but this is hardly ever the case in modern Hermeticism. In any event, both attitudes should be interpreted as a hermeneutical tension rather than a contradiction within the *Corpus*."
There are two important features indicated in this paragraph that point to some archetypal function of Mercury. One is the complementarity of views, which we have touched on previously, and the other is the dialectical tension between them. This suggests that a profound Mercury function may provide the intelligence that enables someone to transcend a duality.
Getting caught up in polarities is not just a trap for young players. Possibly a majority of adult humans still are unable to conceive alternatives to the good/evil dichotomies that tradition indoctrinates them with. Captives of dualism, most people until about 20 years ago figured you must be a communist if you told them you thought capitalism was wrong. If you then pointed out that communism was even worse, you usually encountered a puzzled look, as the normal person struggled to comprehend that someone could find a political niche separate from both left and right. Even today one regularly notices journalists mis-categorising the Greens into one of the old dualities, despite that they occupy parliamentary seats in quite a few different countries now. Simple-minded people find the world is easier in black and white, but this inadequacy leads them into error in the modern world of complexity. Typically values are warped, people are divided into `us and them', violence and war are the traditional outcomes (for instance the Middle East); individuals are wrongly demonized for being different, or for innocent acts interpreted negatively.
Yet, if Mercury catalyses a view that embraces both alternatives in a dichotomy, it does not necessarity empower someone to identify a third alternative. Those who can make such identifications are a minority of the population of any country. Since we all have Mercury in our natal charts, there must be a reason some function better than others. The rationale normally used by astrologers is the apparent strength of Mercury according to the particular set of traditional mumbo-jumbo rules for gauging planetary strength used by each astrologer. My own version is simply based on the aspects it makes to the other major chart points, which together indicate potential for integration of Mercury as a psychological drive. Hermetism seems to suggest an alternative rationale: it's just a matter of exerting one's will. Accordingly, if one applied oneself with sufficient intent and concentration of consciousness and energy, one would develop one's natal Mercury sufficiently to activate the more subtle and profound functions of the archetype within one's psyche.
"These reflections on optimistic and pessimistic attitudes make it easier to understand the philosophical premises of the Hermetica and of modern Hermeticism. In these traditions there is no absolute dualism.. There could not be a real dualism, especially as the world below, so complex, is in homological and analogical touch with the worlds above, which are also extremely complex. In the treatise *Nous to Hermes*, Nous addresses Hermes in order to teach him how to attain Gnostic experience. One gets there, he says, by reflecting the universe in one's own spirit; the adept must learn to seize the divine essence of the material universe and imprint it within his psyche. It is possible to do this because Man possesses a divine intellect. It is thus understandable that there is frequently, though often in a very implicit way, a prolific use of mirror symbolism in Hermetic tradition; this theme was reactualized in the Middle Ages by the famous text of the *Tabula Smaragdina* (or *Emerald Tablet*, printed for the first time in 1541)." This is an implicit reference to `as above, so below', the hermetic doctrine that astrologers share, which is often described as a metaphysical mirror effect, whereby the cosmic pattern is reflected in life on earth.
"The universe, conceived as a system of analogical and dynamic relationships, like a text to be read, decoded, is obviously one of the biggest common denominators within this vast current of thought. An entire aspect of European literature reflects this, but if European romanticisms have done a great deal to accredit this vision of the world, it must be remembered that this vision is often expressed in the Hermetica, numerous texts of which teach the possibility of a knowledge of God through the contemplation of the world.. this tendency is linked in the Hermetica to another apparently opposite, but ultimately complementary tendency, that God, unknowable, reveals himself through prayer and religion.. in the twilight of the Middle Ages, *Pistis* and *Sophia* - belief and knowledge - try to reconcile themselves, each to the other; Paracelsus tries to reconcile Christian mysticism with Neoplatonic tradition and with a real philosophy of nature, preparing the way for Rosicrucian thought and eighteenth-century Illuminism."
One can intuitively attune oneself to the cosmic pattern; contemplation and meditation tend to facilitate such attunement, as may prayer. Such inner gnosis is more felt than understood. Understanding is better facilitated by expression of thought, and subjective beliefs become more objective when held in common. Articulated descriptions of knowledge therefore become the form taken by common beliefs, the manifestation of Sophia. Wisdom thereby can be accessed by others, students, from the reservoir of collective knowledge.
"Because the universe is a forest of symbols, it is natural to wish to examine closely all that it contains. Whereas Aristotelianism had a tendency to be interested in the general, the Hermetic showed an extremely pronounced taste for the particular, for the hidden face and form in beings and in objects." Astrology also has this focus on the uniqueness of events and people. However general patterns, even rules, are required in order to make interpretation possible. The mind must have a categorising and prioritising function so it can make sense of things.
"Another manifestation of this major aspect of modern Western Hermeticism is the romantic *Naturphilosophie*, especially in Germany during the second half of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries. Novalis, G. H. von Schubert, H. Steffens, J. W. Ritter, and many others try, through their research and their writings, to understand and reveal the hidden structure of things by a synthetic approach, but always using nature as a point of departure. It happens, for instance with Schelling, that theory precedes experimentation, but one is not conceivable without the other, which constantly revitalizes an active mind and imagination applied to decoding all the given premises of reality. The discoveries of chemistry, physics, and particularly the new experiments dealing with oxygen, galvanism, and electricity, lead to a form of cosmology or cosmosophy that brings to mind, although in a different style, the world harmonies of Renaissance Hermeticism. Thus one of the main characteristics common to the Hermetica and to the entire modern Hermesian current is this taste for the concrete, tied to a philosophy of incarnation.. The Hermetica teach that "there is nothing invisible, even among the incorporeals," because the reproduction of matter is "an eternal operation." The incarnation is "a force in action"; there must necessarily exist bodies that serve as vessels and as instruments of immortal and eternal forces (Tract XI, *Asclepius*; Fragment IV of Stobaeus)."
The philosophy of nature did lead to science, and to me the key element of natural philosophy is form, which was also a major focus of Dane Rudhyar. I believe that the archetypes of nature are the active agents that form things. Some things are circular because the circle is a formative archetype. Comprehension of the concept of number archetypes is the key to this approach, because they seem to be the most fundamental. For instance, the point (particle) is a unit, thus a consequence of the operation of the number one. The line, or polarity (axis), has two directions, and this duality is manifested by the number two. The circle has a centre (1), and a boundary (1), but the combination of these two into the form of the circle is effected by the number two. Similar analytical logic can be used to identify the operation of the number archetypes in most fundamental phenomena in nature.
The above quote refers to the focus on form, or pattern, in early science. Thus Kepler transformed himself from astrologer to scientist via his removal of the traditional focus on circular planetary orbits. He discovered the laws of planetary motion, which create an ellipse (two focii) rather than the circle (one focus). The relation of this to hermetic thought lies in the relation between the sun and the planet. Kepler was first to conceive this as a force: it was later named gravity by Newton. The final point in the above quote is an ancient hermetic expression of what eventually became a scientific principle. Natural processes are produced by forces. Science does not define the term force. In physics, the fundamental concept is action. Action = energy x time. Action is process, which is the more readily understood term. Incarnation, seen (above) in the ancient hermetic tradition as "a force in action", suggests that we have an internal driver that produces our life process. In astrology, this is the natal Sun. It can operate unconsciously, or it can be expressed via the will. If the former approach is taken, fate moulds our life; if the latter, free-will tends to form our life. When we apply it via our choices and efforts we often prevail over adverse circumstances we encounter.
"The third major point of agreement between the Hermetica and modern Hermeticism is a permanent reference, implicit or explicit, to the mythic themes of Fall and reintegration. To retell the myth and draw philosophical and practical consequences from it, to reenact it through a narrative or by an inspired commentary, is the task of theosophy. It is interesting to note that the theme of Man's Fall by the inducement of the tangible - a very common theme in Christian theosophy at least since Boehme - exists in the *Poimandres* where one sees that the incarceration of Adam in the tangible was due to eros. It is also interesting to remember that this text is the first among all the Hermetica in their traditional presentation; thus the collection starts with this basic mythic narrative, so that one is plunged, from the start, into theosophy. The Fall calls forth a regenerative work, and the characteristic of all Hermesian gnosis is to put the emphasis on human power and will in the climb or reascension. From the Hermetica to the Hermeticism of the twentieth century, each human being is considered to be a potential magus who, by his intellect, can accomplish marvelous actions. One does not talk so much of Man *below* God, as of Man *and* God. Remember here Pico, the *Monas Hieroglyphica* of John Dee, and Christian theurgy; the angels that one can evoke are considered to be Man's ancient servants, as Man before the Fall was directly in the presence of God."
This theme of re-integration with divinity (or cosmos) seems much the same as the self-transformation theme which has been one of the key motivations in therapies, humanistic astrology, and various alternative disciplines and lifestyles of recent decades. These are various routes people take to transcend the confines of our moronic education system, and especially the description of reality promoted by old-fashioned science. For my generation, if not also several others, de-conditioning was also achieved via the catalytic action of mind-expanding drugs. One had to learn to apply one's will to the task however, since clearing out the garbage tends to leave one with an empty mind; the hard part is finding what is suitable to fill that inner space, and managing to internalise it. No doubt the same applies to all esoteric pathways, where the spectre of cultism looms. Many lose their way between the smoke and the mirrors, even if they manage to escape the clutches of gurus or other psychic vampires that tend to infest esoteric groups.
"Apart from "popular Hermetism".. represented by astrology and other occult sciences, there is erudite Hermetism, which is what principally interests us here, and which revolves entirely around the idea that Man can discover the divine, on one hand because of theurgic practices, and on the other hand through establishing a mystical relationship between the universe and humanity. One of the basic concepts of Hermetism (Hermetic as well as modem Hermeticism) is that one can regain his divine essence, lost since the Fall, by renewing his links with the divine.. This aspect was strongly emphasized during the Renaissance. The divine essence enclosed within us is not such as to be freed or regenerated at random, but through very precise means, among which are initiations of different sorts. What is taught during these initiations always leads, even by indirect means, to a belief in an astrological cosmos, even though modern astrology tends more and more to separate itself from initiatic processes and to become exclusively a mere form of divination."
Spirituality is essentially personal, and the hermetic tradition seems to recognise this and facilitate it. In contrast, the psychological function of religion is to bind people into conformity of belief via ritual. It is interesting that some of us tacitly accepted astrology as facilitating a spiritual connection to the cosmos, even if it seems excessive or old-fashioned to describe this as becoming divine oneself. Some astrology overtly promote the subject as `a divine science', and the esotericists lace their treatment of the subject with evocations of spiritual content. Rudhyar was one, and I found it tedious but essential to wade through his theosophical passages in order to reach the substantial content of his thought. On the other hand, astrologers who see the subject as a mere divination tool deserve pity.
"There is finally in the Hermetica the idea that, thanks to Man, the earth, too, is capable of improving itself, of rediscovering its glorious state of before the Fall, of becoming truly active. An extremely fruitful idea that a text of Saint Paul (Romans 8.19-22) has greatly helped to propagate is that Adam dragged nature down with him in his Fall, and consequently nature is capable of being regenerated with Man's help. Here is a possible basis for an ecology founded on metaphysics." Indeed. Perhaps the christians may one day redeem themselves by acting accordingly.
"A few reminders concerning the word "Hermeticism " in modern times are perhaps necessary at this point. Obviously, the word does not always appear where this state of mind, these doctrines, and these practices are apparent. In 1614, Casaubon demonstrated that the Hermetica are not so ancient as had been thought, and consequently, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the word "Hermeticism" had rather a bad connotation. Gradually, "Hermes" and "Hermeticism" came more and more to refer to alchemy or theosophy - or esotericism in the modern sense of the term." "In the 19th century, the word "Hermeticism" reappears, associated with Orphism and Pythagoreanism. This, with preromanticism and romanticism, is the time of it real rebirth." Finally there is "the transposition, in the domain of modern psychology, of Western Hermeticism by C.G. Jung, who greatly contributed to the awareness in our times of the eminently formative and therapeutic aspects of these doctrines. From all of this there emerges an impression of something that is multiformed, yet sufficiently united in its substance to allow us to examine the forms that, in the midst of these currents, clothe the activity of the god Hermes, this god of exchanges and relationships, this god generous with universal and specific knowledge."
This completes the author's review of the historical development of the tradition. How seriously ought we to take it? "Today, historical forgery flourishes, as well as reprints of poorly researched studies, important books badly reprinted or, even when presented in facsimile, not preceded by any introductory notes for the enlightenment of the reader." So, some prudent scepticism is advisable regarding assertions of fact or certainty. The author, described on the jacket by the publisher as "the most prominent scholar of esotericism to appear since Mircea Eliade", expresses his concern at a modern "confusion that reigns in many circles, especially in the United States but also elsewhere, between initiatic symbolism as a means of spiritual knowledge, and the simple - and legitimate - need for psychic integration."
He notes that modern new religious groups, some calling themselves `gnostic' or referring to hermetism, seem not to specify whether their function is to foster "real religious consciousness" or to cater to "a simple need for individual or collective therapy". "Mass media produce a profusion of pseudo-initiatic discourse.." Both points accurately identify the typical manifestation of popular interest in such trendy fringe fields that has characterised the past two decades. The modern age is the era of the superficial dabbler, who is driven by the pace of modern life to a cursory perusal or discussion of whatever catches their fancy, whether that be astrology or hermetism or other alternative fields of knowledge. Few possess the discipline and dedication to make time available in their life for an in-depth investigation of such subjects. Speaking from my personal experience, it takes years of struggle to balance the demands of earning a living in our competitive economy whilst carving out of it a niche that provides spiritual respite, a personal rapport with nature and cosmos, plus some leisurely liaison with folk of similar interests. The mass media (where I had a professional career for 22 years) compels a reduction of subject matter to the lowest-common denominator accessibility. In television, fringe fields of knowledge must be simplified so that 13-year-olds can understand the key points in a 7 second spoken summary. Print allows a somewhat deeper examination of the issues, but there is always an inverse relationship between the funding base and the quality of content. You are comprehensible to more people if you simplify. So you can see why the ancients formed mystery schools, and why the Pythagoreans forbade the release of wisdom to the public. To preserve the sanctity of valued teachings, ensure that only the worthy are taught. Allow astrology to be presented on television, and smart kids are likely to grow up believing it has no content.
"New medicines, new therapies, are oriented toward another imaginary that is better able to respond to the complexity of reality. This fusion of therapy and traditional sciences, such as one sees in the best of cases (for example, in the work and teaching of Carl Gustav jung), is no doubt one of the positive developments of our times. If a practitioner and thinker like jung can recover the heritage of Hermeticism, in the sense of Hermetism as well as of all alchemy in general, it is because he has seen the necessity for the *anthropos* to live with the myth. The Hermeticists of the Renaissance had understood that the reading of the myth is the key to an understanding of art and poetry as well as of science and technology. They placed it in their field of knowledge. There was, therefore, room among them for Hermes, whereas today it is rather Prometheus who reigns, even without our knowledge or when one does not invoke him by name. The risk that our age must take, if it wishes to see the birth of a hew humanism, consists of relearnin the place of myth and mystery in our lives and in our field of knowledge. This task was undertaken by the authors of the Hermetica, who mythologized the cosmos; by those of the Renaissance, an age that corresponded to a powerful remythologization."
The author notes that the term `imaginary' is used as a noun in the humanities in France to refer to "images, symbols, and myths that underlie and/or permeate a discourse, a conversation, a literary or artistic work, a current of thought, an artistic or political trend, etc., whether consciously or not. In this sense the word should not be understood to mean "unreal," nor should it be confused with the term "imagination" which refers to a faculty of the mind. I use the term "imaginary" in the context of esotericism because it comes closest to the notion of a "form of thought," and esotericism is a form of thought rather than a doctrine. As for the term *imagination* in its positive esoteric sense, it refers to the "creative imagination" or *imaginatio activa* (see C.G. Jung).. In theosophies, that imagination is supposed to enable one to have access to the intermediate realms - a mesocosmos between the divine and Nature - that is, to those of the "subtle bodies, " angelic or archetypal entities. Thus understood, it corresponds to what Henry Corbin has called the *mundus imaginalis* - the "imaginal world," or simply the "imaginal." More generally, the creative imagination is the visionary faculty that enables one to grasp the multileveled meanings of reality, i.e. of the Holy Writ and of the Book of Nature."
I must say I find this footnote of the author's to be rather evocative of the essence of the archetype I am endeavouring to illuminate. I have been aware that the use of imagery often seems Neptunian in effect (illusory, delusional, as well as inspirational), yet the imagination is much too influential and constantly operational to be the consequence of an outer-planet archetype. I must therefore suggest, following the author's reasoning above, that the realm of the imaginal is mediated by Mercury.
How does this operate? In everyday life, we face choices all the time, we choose and act on that basis. Think of how we choose. We imagine each possible outcome, and choose by comparison and evaluation in respect to our needs, desires, and goals. Note that the realm of possibilities (imaginal, imaginary) exists in bipolar relation to the realm of actuality. We consequently envisage Mercury as the mediator between the two, and experience it internally as the psychological function that rapidly thinks, in that moment of considering options, and decides in favour of the most intelligent choice. Thus Mercury is that part of our mind that continually selects and initiates us, via our will, into the process of forging our future path.
There is more to Mercury than this function, but I believe this is the most fundamental of those we have identified thus far. It appears incidental to the author's main theme, of course, to which I really ought to return. The hermetic tradition seems to me (as one learning about it late in life, yet seemingly having always unconsciously followed the path of enquiry into deeper learning that it indicates) to be a shared adventure into occult knowledge that is best (and usually) undertaken alone. Gnosis is personal when first acquired, yet knowledge can to some extent be shared. Any that is generally shared tends to be become held in common, such as science or law. Yet wisdom remains personal, even if it is a common aspiration amongst those who venture into this field.
`Occult' has disreputable connotations, but it just means hidden. The deeper function of Mercury, which seems to motivate those who seek wisdom by discovering hidden information (particularly principles, laws, archetypes or other active agents that produce form) is revealed in the relation of individual to collective. It teaches someone something profound by enlarging their understanding, but it can only do this by relating the new information to the prior context of what the person already knows. Thus the mediating function again, where information is imported from a realm without, and inserted into a context within. This time the bipolar relation is that between without and within, and between the subject being studied and that inner context which is what the student already knows. Subjects available for study are accessed from the reservoir of collective knowledge, thus Mercury mediates between individual and collective, between the psyche and the `universal mind' of humanity.
End of exegesis Digest V7 #56
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