Monday, March 06, 2006

Today, I want to continue with our meditation on Hermes by focusing on his birth and one of his first day’s activities, the creation of the lyre.

Remember that he emerges from a cave, from darkness, an obvious allusion to the underworld, the situs of his future work.

For us, he is to be known as a psychopomp, a guide of souls. But on his birth date he was “a son who was versatile and full of tricks, a thief, a cattle-rustler, a bringer of dreams, a spy by night, a watcher at the gate.” These are all characteristics that we, as modern men and women, would identify and argue are bad but in the Greek mind, these characteristics were “destined to bring wonderful things to light among the immortal gods.”

And I would argue that they are still things that are useful to us because Hermes is part of us. His image demonstrates an archetype of our unconscious and we need his dark characteristics to grow and progress, to bring us dreams that will initiate us into the drives, ideas and images of the Self.

Since a large portion of the self, the shadow, resides in the unconscious we need a guide and an interpreter and Hermes serves that purpose. Later he will be called an interpreter as well as a guide and be associated with the science of hermeneutics (the science encompassing any interpretive operations).

He was born in a shadowy cave. The cave is a mythologem, a metaphor or a symbol for a type of psychological state. Literature is full of images of a hero entering or emerging from a cave, going down into the underworld, and becoming lost. The cave here represents the earth’s womb and connects him to the natural world.

When he emerges he is his authentic self.

Part of the wonderful things that he accomplishes on his first day is to invent the lyre. “Born at dawn, he played the lyre in the afternoon.”

The invention of the lyre associates him with Apollo and Dionyus, the great musicians of the ancient world. Greeks used to worship the gods and associated the dithyramb with Dionysus and the paean with Apollo.

The lyre and the flute were two instruments used and Apollo appropriates one, the lyre, from Hermes, and the other, the flute from Marsyas. Marsyas is kin to Hermes through his son Pan.

Hermes constructs the lyre from a tortoise’s shell. As Neil Russack states in Animal Guides In Life, Myth and Dreams, Inner City Books 2002, the turtle sometimes represents a life that is contained and protected from the outside world. However, the one-day-old Hermes takes the tortoise and rips it apart to construct the lyre. In psychological terms he takes the contained and protected world of the psyche and rips it apart and rebuilds it to play music-either a paean or a dithyramb-to the gods or the Self.

No comments: