Planets & Archetypes
The Quicksilver Messenger
© by Judith Enovich Zweiman
With his quicksilver mind, clever tongue and cunning intellect, the Greek archetype Hermes, better known by his Roman name, Mercury, was born to be the messenger of the gods. In traditional astrology, Mercury governs communication, transportation, and activities of the mind, and rules both Gemini and Virgo. A traveler, Hermes crosses borders with ease. Winged Mercury darts nimbly between the Kingdoms of the Sky and the Underworld, escorting souls along their way, and serving as the link between the rational mind, the subconscious, and the unconscious. But Hermes the trickster is a sly salesman, the con artist who can sell snow to an Eskimo.
Mercury is the ruler of the sign Gemini, symbolized by the Twins, Castor and Pollux. A mutable, airy, mental sign, Gemini is the natural third house of the zodiac, associated with all aspects of direct communication, writing, teaching, short-distance travel and transportation, and brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters, you ask? How does this relate to our archetype Hermes?
According to legend, Hermes, the baby brother of Apollo, while still a new-born infant, snuck out of his crib one night and stole a herd of his big brother's cattle. He hid them after cooking and eating a few, (baby gods have hearty appetites!) then scooted back home and slipped off to bed. Feigning innocence, the little scammer denied all knowledge when his dad Zeus showed up next morning, demanding "Where's the beef?"
Besides being a liar, Hermes is credited with being the inventor of the lyre, a seven-stringed musical instrument. His brother Apollo was so desperate to have one that he was willing to trade his stolen cattle for it. Perhaps in this context Hermes could be considered the god of singer-songwriter-guitar players -- Gemini also rules the hands!
Not only did Hermes make out like a bandit on the deal with his brother, but in addition, Apollo gifted him with a golden caduceus encircled with twin snakes. Serpents, as twined strands of DNA, represent the duality of male and female energy, and so Hermes takes on an androgynous quality as a metaphor of pure intellect, yet remains in many ways a pre-pubescent child.
Like the infant Hermes, Mercury-ruled people are highly adaptable, skilled at using their abundance of brains to charm their way out of potential trouble. In contemporary mythology, Hermes is quite familiar to us as Peter Pan, the eternal youth who refuses to grow up. Hermes is somewhat amoral and rather self-involved, more concerned with his own immediate needs than with the greater good or the concepts of right and wrong; if preventive measures are not taken early on, Mercury-ruled children can develop a proclivity for telling white lies and tendencies toward petty thievery.
An archetypical Dashing Dan, Hermes is the commuter of the Greek pantheon who flies around the ethers of the deities' stock exchange floor breathlessly waving the latest up-to-the-minute communiques. Well-spoken, with a talent for language and mimicry, Hermes types are "masters of the fine art of 'pun-ography.'" They have a natural gift of the gab, and much prefer wordplay to swordplay. Mercury people are the original multi-taskers. They're so versatile they can usually be found doing several things at once: a quick glance along the highway at rush-hour will find winged Mercury types hard at work, caught in traffic behind the wheels of their cars, jabbering away on cellular phones, while their portable laptop computers fax off memos to the home office hundreds of miles away!
Mercury is more down to earth when expressed through intellectual, detail-oriented Virgo. The mind functions best when organized, and Mercury is not only the ruler of Virgo, but is also in its exaltation in this sign.The natural sixth house of the zodiac, Virgo is associated with employment, service and physical and mental health. Many mental health professionals, particularly those in administrative positions, are likely to have Mercury and Virgo strongly aspected. Indeed, Mercury enjoys performing a great number of practical activities; he's the god with a day job: bus drivers, train conductors, teachers, writers, entrepreneurs, salespeople, advertising executives, telephone operators, travel agents, and of course, messengers, all have Mercury prominent in their birthcharts.
Mercury types are constantly exploring new horizons, traveling up and down the winding roads of the mind. Avid readers, and often prolific writers as well, they adore books and usually own piles of them, unless they change residence so frequently that they don't bother to settle down at all. 'Mercurial" and changeable, mentally restless, they run the risk of being commitment-phobic; like Peter Pan, they fear and avoid growing up or settling down. Eternally youthful in both mind and body, even mature Mercury people appear a great deal younger than they are.
Gemini types are found either endlessly talking on the telephone or with their noses buried in their beloved books; they own every piece of telecommunications equipment they can get their hands on. Virgo types are out and about, running a dozen minor errands, making detailed lists, and sealing their valuable collections of do-dahs in appropriate-sized dust-free containers, but boy, can they beat everyone hands-down at Trivial Pursuit! Both Gemini and Virgo types are wonderful with children; think of Mary Poppins, playing imaginative games and inventing clever words like "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," while firmly but gently teaching her young charges how to tidy up and organize their nursery "Spit-spot!" and whose preferred mode of transport is via airborne umbrella!
Virgo's reputation as a sharp-tongued critic is yet another manifestation of Mercury's quick wit. Fussy, anal-retentive Felix Unger types abound when Mercury or Virgo becomes dysfunctional -- Virgo rules the digestive system. Food sensitivities, psychosomatic illnesses or phobias about germs and viruses can be annoying side effects as well. In vernacular use, Hermes remains associated with health and cleanliness, as in containers being "hermetically-sealed"; however, less commonly known is Hermes' connection to alchemy.
Apollo's gift of the golden caduceus is an important symbol of Mercury's potential for transformation.* Hermes is associated with the element mercury, or quicksilver, and its alchemical transmutation from liquid metal into gold is a metaphor of the soul's journey toward psychological and spiritual transformation and wholeness. Guiding the soul to its destination in the Underworld, the care-free Hermes is represented in the Tarot as the Fool. Preceding the worldly-wise Magician, Hermes as the Fool symbolizes the mind's capacity for abstract knowledge and child-like innocence. And like the Fool, Hermes travels with a keen sense of adventure through a borderless realm of infinite possibilities.
*See also the article on Hades and Pluto in the September-October 1996 issue of Arcanum.
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Judith Enovich Zweiman has been a musician, recording artist, writer and astrologer for the past three decades. This is the third in her series of articles on astrology, psychology and mythological archetypes.
Contact the author at:
This article appeared in the January / February 1997 issue.