Exegesis Volume 07 Issue #060

In This Issue:

From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] typical functions of Mercury

Exegesis Digest Thu, 09 May 2002

From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] typical functions of Mercury
Date: Thu, 9 May 2002 19:14:24 +1200

To conclude my review of the hermetic tradition and commentary on the typical functions of Mercury, here are three quotes pointing to a minor function not previously addressed. [Source: "The Eternal Hermes: from Greek God to Alchemical Magus", A Faivre, 1995.]

"Isidore of Seville (6th to 7th century), also a euhemerist, devotes many passages of his *Etymologiarum Sive Libri XX* to Hermes.. seeing him as a pagan fiction based on the historical existence of a person who invented the lyre, the flute, conjuring and tricks (*Praestigium vero Mercurius primus dicitur invenisse" - "Mercury is said to have been the first inventor of illusions")."

The presence of Hermes Trismegistus "was persistent from the second half of the 17th century onwards" in German-speaking countries.. "in 1700, the Jesuit Joachim Bouvet, a sinologue, mathematician and musician, was writing enthusiastically to Leibniz about this presence of Hermes: "The *I Ching*," he says, "is like a symbol invented by some extraordinary genius of Antiquity, such as Mercury Trismegistus, to render visible the most abstract principles of all the sciences"."

In 1774 "the great Johann Gottfried Herder devoted long passages of his first famous book (.. "On the Most Ancient Document of Mankind") to Hermes Trismegistus and/or Thoth, whom he considered as the symbolic founder and inventor of numbers, letters, etc." A century later "the `Thrice Greatest' made his way into the work of a great poet: *Hermes Trismegistos* (1881), one of H.W. Longfellow's most beautiful poems in verse".

The common theme here is the inventor, although we note that reference is also made to conjuring, tricks, genius, symbols, and the making visible of abstract principles of science.

To extract the key facets of Mercury from the foregoing review (Exegesis 7/53-58), the best methodology is the listing of keywords, which may then be sorted into those corresponding to particular typical functions. In theory, this intellectual process ought to produce an output that describes the primal operations of the archetype in the social context. These may then be used as pointers to how the archetype influences the psyche of an individual.

1. messenger, herald, spokesman (divine function)

2. time measuring, celestial, calendar, numbers, zodiac, astrology, planetary dialogue (cultural function)

3. eloquence, mastery of speech & interpretation, interpreter, hermeneutics, metalanguages, symbolism, signifier multilingual, analogical (personal function)

4. guidance, knowing, intellect, true knowledge, erudition, understanding, clarity, truth, genius, gnosis, wisdom, books/author transdisciplinary, confluence (intellectual function)

5. relational, mediator, middle, mesocosmos, intermediary, reconciling polarities, dialectical, subject/object, polarity/ternary, trinity, linking, conductor, channel, transitional (psychological function)

6. journeying, crossroads, trade (commercial function)

7. inventor, initiator, revelation, hidden treasure, revealing novelty, form/pattern, archetypal structure (revelational function)

8. several, neutral, pluralist, irenical, transcending sectarianism (political function)

9. trickster, conjuror, magus (magical function)

10. myth, axial, perennial, imaginal (mythical function)

chance, force in action, souls in death, soul/psyche

Above are the keywords I originally noted to identify the quotes I used, but now roughly sorted into 10 functional categories plus a few residuals that seemed to defy categorisation. Incidentally, I expected to find 3 or 4 main functions, perhaps 2 or 3 minor ones, so getting up to 10 is a surprise. I'm not sure if the scheme will necessarily withstand critical appraisal, so discerning feedback would be helpful. I'm aware, for instance, that #8 seems similar to #5, but I believe it must be separate because it seems clearly a collective function, whereas the other seems more personal.

Of the residuals, `force in action' seems an archetypal function, but it was only mentioned once so I am not convinced it characterises the Mercury archetype - actually it seems more suggestive of Mars. Chance was also a singular correlation, so I will discount it. However, I will note that support for correlating it with Mercury may be identifiable in the book "Synchronicity: Science, Myth, and the Trickster" (1990) by the psychology professor Allan Combs and Mark Holland (a professor of English and student of Jungian psychology).

Of the remaining two residuals, both involve the soul, and I suspect something like a `soul function' may well be worth postulating. For instance, Mercury may mediate between the soul and the spirit, or function as the intermediary between soul and mind.

In case you wonder, the numbering is intended to be in approximate order of significance or influence. For instance #1 is the most commonly-mentioned in the tradition. Mercury is the messenger of the gods; so goes the typical description. How does this relate to the general understanding of what Mercury means to astrologers? Well, that may be a suitable topic for future discussion here, but it is likely to be intuitively obvious to the reader. Such tacit `knowledge' is ephemeral, being un-formulated in language.

To transform it to meaning that is exportable to others, so that they may agree it is also their understanding, I would suggest taking any description of Mercury from any suitable astrological text, extracting the key elements and summarising them in a paragraph or two. Anyone keen to go further could apply the same analytical procedure to other texts. One would expect each to generate a similar composite description. An overall composite could then be produced, which would distill the commonly-held beliefs of astrologers about the meanings of Mercury.

My guess is that the outcome of such a disciplined research exercise into these collective meanings would be more different than similar to the above 10 functional meanings of Mercury distilled from the hermetic tradition. Which raises a very good question: why?

Dennis Frank


End of exegesis Digest V7 #60

[Exegesis Top][Table of Contents][Prior Issue][Next Issue]

Unless otherwise indicated, articles and submissions above are copyright © 1996-2003 their respective authors.