Over the last few days, I have been discussing Paul Celan and Hermes, two projects that seemed to have overlapped.
This morning I want to backtrack and examine the beginning of the Hermes myth.
In that regard, I was reading a little book by Rudolf Steiner, entitled The Goddess, Sophia Books, Rudolf Steiner Press 2001.
In this book Steiner begins with a discussion of nature and says, “what we regard as nature today, or whatever is veiled from us because we cannot apprehend it spiritually, this was once known as Proserpina, and if this myth of Proserpina (for it has survived only as a myth) is renewed within us, then the images invoked by this myth awaken images of still earlier relationships. They are images from the time when human beings knew neither the abstract not the tragic aspects of the goddess Natura, when they saw Proserpina-Persephone herself, in her aspect of radiant beauty and tragic gloom.”
What I take from this passage is that a meditation on the myths renews us and creates a method to reach distant mysteries. This search is soulful and inspiring and also explains certain aspects of our life. For instance, part of the problem with modern man is that he has lost this vision of the “radiant beauty” of myth. Andrew J. Welburn touches on this in his introduction: “Reason evolves out of Mystery-teachings into philosophy in ancient Greece; myth already contains in unconscious form, a greater reality than just the soul’s experience.”
Hermes began not as a god but as a pile of stones. Walter Burkert in Greek Religion, Harvard University Press 2001, states that Hermes’ name points to a “single phenomenon: herma.” (Burket 156). He goes on to point out that herma “is a heap of stones, a monument set up as an elementary form of demarcation. Everyone who passes by adds a stone to the pile and so announces his presence.”(Ibid).
I don’t want to move much further than this in our discussion. Instead, I want to meditate on the pile of stones on the side of the antique roadway. Imagine travelers passing by and adding a stone.
Immediately, there is a sense of space and place. Stones piled in a space, evidencing the passing of other human beings, demonstrates a tangible connection to the shared experience of the journey.
In the eighties I worked in Anchorage Alaska for an airline. Outside of the town on the way to the glacier there was a tiny bar where visitors, traveling through, would stop and have a drink. At some moment in the past someone decided to hang a piece of underwear from the ceiling. After that other people did the same. When I passed through the ceiling was covered with silky items, evidencing all the people that had passed that way. The act created an intimate connection to all the travelers both past and present. That bar contained soul.
The herma also marked the way. It provided assurance that the traveler was on the right track. It guided the traveler through by presence and location.
It also marked a boundary, the edge of the road. Roads themselves act as boundaries and markers.
As I discussed in an earlier post, the herm took on a formalized and sexualized form later. Burkert postulates that the formalized herm appeared in 520 B.C. when Hipparchos, the son of Pisistratus, introduced the sexualized herm to mark “the midway points between the various Attic villages and the Athenian agora. The herm introduced was a square pillar with a membrum virile-usually erect – and a bearded head.” (Burket 156).
The Greeks projected themselves into the cairn, the pile of stones, and made a god in the form of an anthropos, to represent both a guide on the journey and a boundary or a framework for the road.
Human beings tend to project themselves into their gods or God. It is for this reason that our gods seem to be like us. People also project themselves into inanimate objects. For instance, I believe that my car is a person, breaking down at inopportune moments just to exert her power over me.
Projections can be powerful, such as in love or hate. Collective projections can create a god from stone.
Tomorrow, I will define "projection" and discuss the tendency of polytheistic religions to move toward montheism. I believe this explains how Hermes came to resemble both Apollo and Dionysius.