Tag Archives: Hermes

Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi | Rubedo Press

These are selected extracts from a longer article that appeared on September 21st 2017 on Rubedo Press – link can be found at the bottom of this page

Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi

GARY P. CATON.

ANTHROPOLOGISTS suggest it was a “creative explosion” of primal art, such as cave paintings and figurines, which formally marks the transition to what we consider to be modern humans during the upper Paleolithic period. So, it is first our image- and later our symbol-making capacities which stand out as distinctively modern human adaptations and characteristics.

[…]In the 2010 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a researcher is interviewed confessing that the lions painted on the walls of Chauvet cave had invaded their dreams with such a powerful and profound presence that they had to stop going inside the caves in order to process the profound emotions stirred by the experience. This encounter truly exemplifies the raw primal psychic potentials capable of evocation through images.

The zodiac itself is a circular image, the word in Greek meaning “circle of animals.” While the zodiac as a formal coordinate system originated with the Babylonians around the seventh-century BCE, it has been hypothesized that the 17,000 year old paintings of animals in the Lascaux caves represent the constellations in what could be described as a kind of proto-zodiac. This proto-zodiac hypothesis is difficult to prove, however it is generally accepted that at the very least the cave paintings represent a form of “sympathetic magic,” wherein painting the animal becomes a kind of spiritual communion between the souls of the animal and the painter.

Evidence suggests that early modern humans existed in an undifferentiated state of consciousness and lived by a worldview which anthropologists call animism. For these people, there was no separation between the spiritual and material worlds, and so animals were naturally seen to have souls too. In fact, in an animistic consciousness, everything has a soul—including rivers, mountains, valleys and plants, minerals, etc. So, the ritual act of creating the image of an animal is practiced to enable the artist to invoke the sympathy of the animal’s soul—either to gain its sacrifice in the hunt or to take on some of its attributes and power.

Perhaps this sympathetic magic is also partly what was intended in the creation of the zodiac, and helps explain its continued popularity. After all, who has not occasionally wanted to roar like a lion in the face of life’s trials?It is one thing to wistfully wish for the presence of one’s inner lion, or even to accidentally stumble upon and arouse it, but it is quite another thing altogether for someone to consciously and deliberately summon such a presence.  Outside of a children’s story, many modern people might find the concept laughable. And yet, ironically, we can regularly see humans engaging in behaviors that make those of a wild lion seem almost tame.

Is it possible that suppression or repression of our more primordial urges has only fated us to become possessed by them, forcing them to reveal themselves to us in a more perverted form? […]

Philosopher Jean Gebser theorized that humanity has transitioned through several modes or structures of consciousness. The problem with what he calls the mental structure that humanity is transitioning away from is that it seeks to deny the other structures with its claim that humans should be exclusively rational. However the structure that we are transitioning toward is integral, and carries the need to “make present” all the various structures of awareness. When all structures are recognized and accepted this enables a person to see and live through the various structures simultaneously, rather than be subjected to, possessed or “lived by” one of them.

Perhaps this tells us that an openness to and understanding of an animistic perspective or worldview may help (or at least begin) to provide or reconnect us with conscious access to the ancient instinctive resources shared by all human beings, and might also help prevent these same instincts from taking over our lives through unconscious animalistic behaviors.

Although it is quite common for people today to think of god in terms of a trinity, it seems seldom that modern people dare to think of themselves, their lives or their world in these same terms. Yet, some familiar with more ancient forms of awareness know that animistic cultures have long considered there to be three worlds. In many ancient religious systems, there were three cosmic levels: not only heaven and earth, but an underworld as well. Rather than simply the nightmarish vision of hell imagined by Christianity, the underworld was seen by many cultures as a place of natural riches and ancestral wisdom. In this worldview, the axis mundi, the vertical feature of the cosmos, was seen to be at the center of the world and served to link together all three cosmic levels. This axis could be represented by various symbols such as a mountain, tree or ladder. From an animistic perspective, all three of these worlds are not only connected, but also accessible to, and indeed part of every human being.

From an animistic perspective, because there is no separation between the material and spiritual world, we can also conceive of three “selves” with which to navigate these three worlds. For the animist, what most people think of as their entire identity, the every- day awareness of the conscious ego, or what Kahuna shamans call the “talking self,” is actually far from the totality of being. Our “higher” spiritual self has access to transcendent spiritual wisdom, and our basic self accesses our “lower” animal/visceral intelligence, the instincts and inherited tribal wisdom that have kept us alive as a species for many millennia. From this perspective, the admonition to “know thyself” takes on new complexity. There is a need to comprehend, understand, and harmonize all three essential aspects of being human and to bring our three “selves” into alignment and integrated partnership.

In this way, the triple-alignments of Mercury, occurring in the same degrees and also linking the above and below, can become a kind of axis mundi—a sacred linkage, connecting the three worlds and three selves. Remember, from a visual standpoint, the image of Mercury’s retrograde journey is that of a disappearing act: from above to below, and back to above. Images often tell a story. The visual transformation process that Mercury performs every four months, of disappearing in the west and later re-appearing in the east, also happens to the other planets at various intervals and was mythologized by the Babylonians and Egyptians as the journeys of various gods through the underworld.

Of all the Greek gods, only Hermes was able to fully traverse the axis mundi and visit the heights of Mount Olympus as well as the depths of Hades. Sky astrologers can use these visual and mythical perspectives to better understand Mercury retrograde.[7] After Mercury passes evening elongation, his highest appearance above the horizon in the west at dusk, he is in the process of slowing down and descending. Later he turns retrograde and becomes invisible, disappearing in the west. After making the invisible inferior (below) conjunction with the sun, Mercury re-appears in the east and then makes his highest appearance above the eastern horizon at morning elongation. Visually, Mercury is “switching skies,” appearing in the same degrees three times: first as evening star, then becoming invisible and making the inferior conjunction, and finally crossing for the third time as morning star.

Source: Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi | Rubedo Press

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The Sabians and their role in the development of astrological, alchemical and magical traditions

“In what is now southern Turkey stand the remnants of a city called Harran. Part of long ago Babylon, Harran was once the site of the Temple of the Moon god-Sin, one of seven temples in seven cities sacred to the seven classical planets.  Unlike the other great celestial temples, though, the Temple of the Moon in Harran continued to host astral rites long after the coming of Muhammed. From the 6th until the 11th centuries C.E., a wild Hermetic syncretism bloomed, tended carefully by a people who called Hermes their prophet, and themselves Sabians.”

“In alchemy, Jābir ibn Hayyān was known to have spent time among the Sabians, and his work displays the unique fusion of astrology, Neo-Platonism, Hermeticism, Aristotelianism and Galenic medicine developed in Harran.  Jabir’s work hugely influential work spawned a plague of pseudonymous books, and more than 3000 texts have come to be attributed to him.”

Jabir_ibn_HayyanJabir ibn Hayyan was a prominent polymath: a chemist and alchemist, astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geographer, philosopher, physicist, and pharmacist and physician. Born and educated in Tus, he later traveled to Kufa. Jābir is held to have been the first practical alchemist.

As early as the 10th century, the identity and exact corpus of works of Jābir was in dispute in Islamic circles. His name was Latinized as “Geber” in the Christian West and in 13th-century Europe an anonymous writer, usually referred to as Pseudo-Geber, produced alchemical and metallurgical writings under the pen-name Geber.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C4%81bir_ibn_Hayy%C4%81n

 “The Sabians of Harran played a crucial but often under-recognized role in the transmission and development of astrological, alchemical and magical traditions. Harran acted as a crucial bridge for the Hermetic arts and sciences, ferrying them from the decay of Byzantine Rome all the way to the shores of Medieval Europe half a millennia later.  Many all of the greatest Arabic astrologers, alchemists and magicians can be shown to have spent time in Harran.  Without them, astrology would not have survived the West’s dark ages, nor would the complexities of alchemy or the high cunning of astral sorceries have been passed on.

800pxlunaralbiruni

Harran hosted what were perhaps the sole inheritors and practitioners of Babylonian astral magic at a time when both the Christian and Islamic worlds were being steadily purged of them.  Yet the Sabians were not pagan fundamentalists.  Hellenistic influences abound in what record we have of the Sabians’ practice.  They embraced the metaphysics of Neo-Platonism, the experimental philosophy of Hermeticism and the science of Hellenistic astrology, forging a sophisticated framework for the Babylonian astral magick they inherited.  The Gayat Al Hakim, also called the Picatrix, a legendary planetary grimoire, emerged from this elegant syncretism, and may testify to its intricacies best.”

For full article at Clavis Journal, see here: http://clavisjournal.com/the-shadow-of-harran/

Hermes and the Heap of Stones, Snakes Among the Hills

This post is an attempt to gather some thoughts… please feel free to add comments if you have any insights or ideas!  I enjoy exploring ideas, and a good discussion 🙂

In his book ‘The Old Straight Track’ , which is one of the first studies into what are now more often referred to as Ley Lines, Alfred Watkins has a chapter dedicated to Hermes and Hermits.

Watkins writes of how the straight tracks (or leys) were used by man since the earliest times as a means of crossing the country, with strategic markers placed as a guide, these being ‘sighted’ by specialists  (hermits) who have been commemorated in folklore as being able “see” through hills or to tunnel through the earth.

He quotes another writer, Sir John Lubbock, as remarking on all of the different activities associated with Hermes, but who reached the conclusion that they all follow from the custom of marking boundries by upright stones. Watkins believes the word ‘trackways’ should be substituted for ‘boundries’.

Lockyer, among others has spoken of the Egyptian god Thoth becoming Hermes in Greece and Mercury among the Romans. Stone heaps with pillars were sacred to Hermes. These could be found at crossroads, or paths that traders or merchants would use, and he became associated with the Roman god Mercurius as a patron to tradesfolk in this manner. He was also seen as a shepherd with a crook, eventually becoming the messenger of the gods with his staff or caduceus.

Watkins quotes from a book named ‘History of Hampshire’ in which the author, Shore,  has collected records of hermits and hermitages, and says that ideas concerning hermits are very different from the truth. The hermit did live a solitary life, but it was not just for the sake of seclusion; rather, they received means of support for the role they played in guiding travellers on their way. There were 8 in Hampshire, all of whom were employed in this way – guiding travellers across dangerous waterways or through Ancient Forests. Similar hermits are recorded in Cornwall, and those recorded all have archaeological evidence to support that they lived on ley ‘sighting’ points. These sighting points on leys are often marked with an upright stone or mound.

The majority of mounds are sited on the highest point the eye can see, and in-between, the paths regularly go out of sight, though another mound will mark the direction needed to be followed.

If this was not the case, then I’m wondering if there would always have been a hermitage, with the guide taking travellers, traders etc. to the next point where a mound could be viewed?  Did such ‘hermits’ exist in other countries, performing the same duty – might the priests of Thoth have been employed in this capacity? Would hermits (in Britain for instance) also have been seen as performing a ‘priestly’ duty when guiding travellers? And would the travellers have known they were following the earth’s own ‘map’, and considered the paths sacred in some way, or have just known it was the simplest way to get from A to B without getting lost? Would these same people then have trusted the hermit to be able to guide them in the Otherworld – would all hermits have also been Shamans?  Paul Devereux has suggested that the straight lines/leys were used by shamans to guide the spirits of the deceased from one sacred place to another, using the paths and mounds as landmarks.

There is an alchemical illustration ‘Snakes Among The Hills’ included in one of the most famous of all Alchemical books entitled, The Book of Abraham the Jew – who is purported to have been met by – and who influenced – the legendary alchemist, Nicolas Flamel, in the 14th century as he made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.
It shows the Earth’s landscape littered with shimmering snakes or serpents in between mounds. It seems that the artist was trying to convey that the Earth’s landscape is littered with “snakes” and “serpents” – which we might now interpret to be twisting, spiralling and snaking lines of positive and negative energy .

Nicolas Flamel – The Figures of Abraham the Jew: This series of seven figures, purports to be a copy of an original ‘Book of Abraham the Jew’ which Nicolas Flamel is supposed to have found in the 14th Century, and which inspired him to undertake his quest for the secrets of alchemy. There are no early manuscripts of these figures, but there are many beautifully coloured manuscripts dating from the late 17th and the 18th century.

Flamel figures

individual links
Mercurius meets with Saturn
Planetary dragons on a hill
The workers in the garden
The massacre of the innocents
The winged caduceus of Mercurius
The crucified snake
Snakes among the hills

Watkins compares Thoth and the Celtic God Tout (Romanised as Toutates) as guides over pathways. Caesar wrote of the Gods of the Druids that ‘Mercury, whom they regard as the guide of their journeys and marches, also had influence over mercantile transactions and was their chief divinity.’ The God’s name was inscribed on a Romano-British altar.

He draws attention to the fact that many mounds are called Tot, Toot, Tout, Tute and Twt. This is pronounced Toot (places like Tottenham and Tooting in London get their names from this root).

Watkins speaks of how easily it would be to associate these stones with spirits; I would imagine the next step, would be towards actually associating them with ‘personalities’ – maybe as the origin of deities.

The most interesting thing for me is that a collection of real people – who were ‘sighting’ the land, and invaluable to travellers, may have eventually evolved into deities – spiritual guides as well as practical guides.