Hermes Guide of Souls by Karl Kerényi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The book is classic especially to those who enjoy reading up on Greek mythology. The author who wrote the book passed on in the 1970’s and academic who was self-exiled from Hungary and lived out his days in Sweden. Yet the Greek God Hermes is alive and well. Hermes, the psychocpompos was active in the life of Karl Kerenyi, often times adding bits of fortune here and there and at other times sabotaging things.
Just who exactly was Hermes? or any of the other Greek Gods for that matter. Some modern scholars would narrowly define these gods as ideas or archetypes. Karl Kerenyi thought that they were more than idea or abstract personalities. The Gods were living beings and could be considered a world unto themselves. So Karl Kernyi goes about defining the lord Hermes.
Hermes is mentioned in the Iliad but not extensively as the Iliad is a story about fighting and wars. These are not the domain of Hermes. Destinies of war that are choses by men just are not his things. He is a god of luck, death and wild unplanned whim. He does soften the blow and instruct especially in thievery. When the slain are laying out of the battle field it is Hermes who summons their spirits to rise and follow him into the realm of the Dead or more apt to say Hades. That is what psychopomps do they guide you after you die. He also teaches Achilles how to enter the city of Troy and he helps a grieving father steal his son back.
Perhaps his best known area is depicted in the story of the Odyssey. This is a story of traveling or journeying not of wars. Hermes is a patron god of the roads and for travelers. The Odyssey is about Odysseus’s travel home. Travelers will move from place to place but they are adding more inches to their home as they travel. The Journey man will journey like he is floating in the wind never settling down permanently but always on the go with no ties. This nomadic existence seems to be Hermes specialty.
So far we have learned that Hermes is a guide to the dead, protector of travelers and now we shall learn that he is the master of trickery and the god of thieves. AS soon as he was born within days he steals Apollo’s sheep. Apollo confronts him but Hermes denies it. In the end Hermes is not only the lord of thieves but also the protector of cattle and sheep as Apollo appoints him that role. Hermes alos shows a cold heartedness to his nature by killing a turtle and making an instrument of it’s shell.
What are the real origins of Hermes? The Olympian mythology paints him as being the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia and growing up in a mountain cave of Cyllenica. In reality though he has rather pre Olympian origins that are rather obscure. In fact I would say that many deities have origins that are outside the Olympian tradition. Hermes may have had his origin in Northern Greece near Samothrace and Lemnos and might have been part of the pantheon Gods called the Cabiri.
Most Gods and Goddesses are paired up with someone, like Zeus with Hera, even if they are not entirely faithfull. Some diety couples do not last forever like Aphrodite and Haephestus. Hermes is not known for staying with one person. He gets it on with Artemis I and with Aphrodite II. The union with Aphrodite produces Hermaphrodite. People had Hermaphrodite statues in their homes and oft prayed to them and gave them gifts. There were also statues of Hermes designed to protect the home. Even Hecate showed her face in the home. Which leads us to the next Goddess he cavorted with.
Much like the maenad of Dionysus Hermes is seen as dancing with three nymphs. These nymphs are seen as being a representation of a three fold Goddess. The one who fits the bill is Hekate, Hekate is a psychomp like Hermes and she has wings. Both were worked with at the crossroads. Both in way were ambassadors to Hades. The Herms were altars at the crossroads with four corners. They marked property boundaries and lead to water. Offering were left there for Hermes.
It is a short book one that I finished in a day yet is totally loaded with information. Quite the enjoyable read. Definitely want to read more of this author’s work.
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