Exegesis Volume 07 Issue #057

In This Issue:

From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] the pluralistic function of mercury

Exegesis Digest Mon, 29 Apr 2002

From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] the pluralistic function of mercury
Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 19:29:47 +1200

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.]

We have seen that Mercury is "the ideal mediator, capable of unlocking antagonistic dualisms". How may the student cultivate this function in his/her mind?

"Hermesian reading is an open, in-depth reading, one that lays bare the metalanguages for us, that is to say, the structures of signs and correspondences that only symbolism and myth make it possible to conserve and transmit. To read, to find the depth of things - by looking in the right place."

"A Hermesian reading of the world is necessarily a plural reading. The caduceus of Hermes is plural because it is constituted of a bipolarity whose symbolism reflects back to a ternary." Plurality begins with a third element entering the relationship, enabling the dichotomy to be transcended.

Hermetic philosophy "signifies a recognition of the multilayered and hierarchical character of the elements that constitute the human psyche. What psychoanalysis rediscovered, traditional thinkers had always known and repeated: that we have within us different qualitative levels. It is not only a question of the distinctions among body-soul-spirit, or shadow-persona-anima, but also of what, for example, the psychologist Rafael Lopez Pedraza (*Hermes and His Children*, 1977) says: that there are several gods in sexuality, in our psyche, and not just one, contrary to a narrow perspective. The caduceus of Hermes is also the *tertium datum*, the refusal to stay blocked in the logic of identity and in its corollaries of noncontradiction and exclusion of third parties. Hermes, writes William G. Doty, "leads more to questions than to answers: in no single narrative but in a whole patchwork of ways in which the deity was approached in antiquity in literature and the arts, he is uniquely allied with what is frequently named the postmodern condition." Today, this plurality is made evident by, among other things, the effort of all who contribute to the establishment of a planetary dialogue by deprovincializing ethnology (Mircea Eliade) and by showing what is common and irreducible in the great traditions of the Gnosis and the Sacred (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, *Knowledge and the Sacred*, 1981)."

Here we see the author rationalising the tradition rather well. This rationalisation points to a strand of humanity which has the innate capacity to transcend traditional dichotomies, manifested in the modern world of the social sciences by the philosophy of postmodernism. If he was not academic, he probably would have included those in the more avant-garde fields and disciplines, alternative therapists, new-agers, etc. There are two sexes, yet there have always been bisexuals and homosexuals, not to mention persons of indeterminate sex. You may think it is either night or day, but what about dawn and dusk? The simple-mindedness of christian tradition promotes a view of people as merely `body and soul'. No mind. Naturally the hermetic approach attracted those who preferred both to acknowledge their mind and to use it.

The author notes the contrast between the objective reasoning of science and the subjective reasoning of hermetic thought. "This *ratio hermetica* means saying first of all that nature is pluralistic and that these pluralities are concrete things." Then, it "teaches a pragmatic interest, a subjectifying interest. Medicine, astrology, magic must "operate" concretely.." This does not mean rejecting science but "simultaneously using both.. not throwing out, as Kepler said, the baby with the bathwater (that is to say, in his context, not to throw overboard astrological knowledge under the pretext that astronomical knowledge is being verified). The *ratio hermetica* also adds a principle of similitude, or participation in entity forces, to the causal determination of Aristotle. The mediator Hermes-Mercurius plays here an essential role inasmuch as either with him or by him the complete break between the subject and object disappears. Unification is brought about by the mediation of an energy principle that is seen to assure order in the cosmos and unification of the subject. This is to show how much Hermeticism can today facilitate comprehension of a multiple reality..."

"Hermes mediates between the body and the spirit, sky and earth, God and the World (this is *anima mundi*), passion and reason, the ego and the id, eros and thanatos, animus and anima, heaviness and grace, spirit and matter. Hermeticists have always looked for the epiphanies of the earth to experience the divine in the world. if they see the body as a magical object, mystically linked to the planets and to the elements of nature, it is because they find sense everywhere in things and transcend the illusion of banality.."

"Hermeticists had understood that there is everywhere sense in the concrete. In the twentieth century, Gaston Bachelard, thanks to whom the imaginary established its credentials, has affirmed as a postulate that scientific concepts and explanations derive from the pragmatic and not the other way around. in fact, the fear of or the refusal of sense corresponds today to a convulsive jump by Prometheus, who wants to work for Man's benefit by using a usurped light, a torch that is not nature's. But this refusal leads to the agnosticism of the great abstractions, since saying that sense can only be found in formal relations, in abstract form, in the exchange of empty signs, is to recoil from it. Oriented almost entirely toward formalism, linguistics today leads to a consideration of language as being shut off from the outside, without links outside itself, without heuristics. Solipsism, atomization, incommunicability are the ransom of our *episteme* since the 18th century, whereas Hermes shows the path of otherness, of living diversity, of communication of souls. This otherness, as well as its opposite - shutting out of the outside - are found in our arts and our literature, according to whether Narcissus or Prometheus reigns as absolute master, or whether, on the contrary, Hermes favors and stimulates living relationships within art and literature. Prometheus without Hermes is dangerous, but so are Narcissus and Dionysus. A god, like a child, should not be left alone when he or she plays."

"The warning thrown out by Nietzsche in *The Birth of Tragedy* (1872) - namely that a civilization should not cultivate one god-figure only, but at least two (like Apollo and Dionysus in pre-Socratic Greece) - has shown itself to be even more incontrovertibly true than one had thought. This is so because monotheism without counterpart runs the risk of being transformed into a dangerous philosophical abstraction devoid of links with reality - the words "monotheism" and "polytheism" being used here of course without a theological sense; for example, the Christian belief in angels is a form of polytheism. Pagan gods and judeo-Christian myths can go well together in a healthy soul, in the same way that they got along well together during the Renaissance, that period of abounding health and supreme vitality."

"*Magia*, understood as a search for the unity of Man with nature, teaches us an active manner of being and having, rather than a method of manipulation. What one calls tradition is not a sort of immutable depository, an invariable doctrinal body, but a perpetual rebirth. The tragedy of a culture occurs when everything is perceived in the form of an empty and abstract concept. This could well be our tragedy."

These last three quotes make a subtle point. A god is either merely a cultural projection, or also an archetype. You could call the former a stereotype. An archetype differs from a stereotype in that it possesses an inherent capacity to reproduce itself in natural forms. The relevance to the author's point lies in that special class of archetypes popularized by Jung. These seem typically to manifest in psychological functions. They are in the psyche as behaviour-motivating and attitude-modifying operators. Thus they function as observably in the individual as in the collective. I read the author's point as being that hermetism (*magia*) prefers a focus on function as well as form. In relation to my own theory, this means the archetypes of nature are not merely formal, which seems to be how many writers understand Plato's view of them, they perform an observable function in the way that they manifest.

Applying this focus to the operation of the Mercury archetype in the psyche, we learn from the mythistorical Hermes that "he reigns as the master of reconciling polarities, joining opposites, and guiding our active imagination". When confronted with two obvious alternatives, one's Mercury is liable to produce a third option like a rabbit out of a hat, which may be where the association of Hermes with conjuring comes from. Where a slow-witted person may agonise over two unpalatable choices in an apparently black and white situation, the lateral-thinker will conceive another option from a deeper view of the scenario, often from different angles, and sometimes will even have a range of further choices come to mind. Thus Mercury fosters pluralism where dualism is first encountered.

Dennis Frank


End of exegesis Digest V7 #57

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