Hermes is a Greek messenger god, swift and cunning, portrayed with winged feet, wearing a winged helmet and carrying a caduceus, a serpent-entwined, magic wand that symbolizes spiritual illumination. Hermes also was a patron god of Magic, using his caduceus to cast spells. As god of travelers, his image was erected at Crossroads;
he was charged with escorting the souls of the dead to the underworld. The dog is associated with Hermes for its intelligence and devotion.
According to myth, Hermes was born of Zeus and Maia, daughter of Atlas. He was a shrewd thief from his earliest hours. Before nightfall on his first day of life, he stole most of Apollo’s heifers. Zeus made him return the heifers. In contrition, Hermes invented the lyre and gave it to Apollo. Hermes continued to play malicious tricks but also was generous in his protection of others: for instance, he saved Odysseus from the magical spells of Circe.
Hermes appears in Greek mythology more often than any other deity. The Greeks identified him closely with the Egyptian god of wisdom and magic, Thoth. Hermes is said to have learned the mysteries of the universe, which he sought to teach others. Hermes has been equated with Odin and Wotan in Norse and Teutonic mythology, and with Buddha.
Hermes, along with Thoth, is personified in Hermes Trismegistus, a mythical figure said to have written the Hermetica texts of ancient sacred learning and lore.
Before Hermes was the winged messenger of Mount Olympus, he was a virile, rustic, pastoral spirit, presiding over the fertility of women and livestock. Hermes was among the best-loved of all Olympian spirits. He is the lord of animal husbandry as well as language, communication, trade, travel, and divination.
Hermes’ specialty is cleromancy, originally divination using small pebbles, which eventually evolved into dice. He is the trickster lord of the crossroads, spirit of luck and patron of gamblers, especially those who play with dice. Hermes protects thieves and also protects against them. He may be invoked for the gift of gab, business success, and true omens. He is the lord of cunning and mother-wit.
Hermes is a shaman: he travels between realms, hence his eventual role as Zeus’ messenger. He is a psychopomp who conveys the souls of the dead to Hades. Sacrifices were made to Hermes on the final day of Greek festivals of the dead to ensure that he would escort the dead souls back to Hades. If a ghost refuses to vacate your premises, Hermes may be asked to escort them to a more appropriate place. Just be careful: Hermes is not violent or particularly aggressive, but he does enjoy playing tricks and the periodic practical joke. He will be a troublesome spirit for those lacking humor and humility.
Hermes killed Hera’s guardian Argus by boring him to death. After he had put him to sleep, Hermes touched the guard with his staff to kill him. He is sometimes considered the patron of euthanasia: the gentle death.
Hermes prowls around at night, bringing dreams. You can request that he deliver prophetic dreams or that he provide relief from nightmares.
Hermes as Divine Child wears sandals and carries a staff: his image closely resembles that of the Holy Child of Atocha. Post-Christianity, many of Hermes’ functions were assigned to Michael Archangel.
Hermes was born in a cave to the goddess, Maia. Zeus is his father. He makes his home in Mekone, “Poppy town.” Hermes is associated with birth, death, and sex. Although now often portrayed as androgynous, Hermes was originally a very virile phallic deity. His sexual partners include Aphrodite and countless Nymphs. The Greek-born Italian goddess Carmenta may be his official wife. Hermes is credited with many inventions, including the musical scale, the alphabet, boxing, gymnastics, weights, measures, and olive culture. (Athena may have brought the olive tree, but Hermes taught people how to process the fruit and oil.)
Merchants; gamblers; travelers; thieves (but only if they’re not violent: he likes clever, tricky thieves, not thugs or muggers); those who live by their wits; boxers
Hermes traditionally wears a traveler’s broad-brimmed hat and sandals.
Hermes has been through many transitions:
• His most ancient images portray him in the form of an erect phallus.
• He is represented by a cairn of stones.
• Statues called “Herms” were used to portray him: tall rectangular pillars displaying his head on top and his erect penis sticking out. Herms were placed at crossroads. Women seeking fertility would petition Hermes at a herm, placing flower garlands around his neck or elsewhere.
• Hermes was then envisioned as a robust man carrying a lamb around his shoulders.
• Finally he was portrayed in the form most familiar today: a winged, sandaled, androgynous messenger.
Caduceus: a staff entwined by two snakes, the emblem of the modern medical profession. He can use the staff to induce sleep.
His mother, Maia; Pan; Nymphs
Hermes is an extremely unpretentious spirit. He is among the Greek spirits least often honored with formal temples. Instead he is present at crossroads and in wild nature. Invoke his presence or summon him by erecting a herm or cairn of stones, especially at a four-way crossroads (X-shaped).
Dog, tortoise, snake
Cakes; honey; olives; goat or sheep’s cheese; wine; water; incense
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
Hermes The Greek messenger god, known as Mercury in the Roman pantheon, represents wisdom, cunning, Magic, spiritual illumination, skill with words, and mischief. He is the initiator, the god of beginnings, and the god of travel, commerce, and sales. Wings on Hermes’s feet and helmet sped him on his way as the communicator between the gods or between the gods and mortals. He is messenger to the gods in heaven and psychopomp of the souls of the dead to the underworld. His swiftfootededness makes him the god of speed and running and of athletics.
Hermes is the gatekeeper, the patron of the traveler; his image often appeared at crossroads in ancient times. As a god of healing, Hermes carries a caduceus, the serpent – entwined staff that symbolizes the reconciliation of opposites and is associated with doctors and medicine; he uses it as his magic wand. He is clever, crafty, and sly—the trickster who deceives with eloquent words. He is a consort of Aphrodite, goddess of love, with whom he unites to form the hermaphrodite of alchemy. Wily and playful, he delights in his role as Trickster, bedeviling mortals and immortals alike. The son of Zeus and Maia, one of Atlas’s daughters, Hermes is a thief, a scoundrel, a guide, and a magician.
To protect homes and to ensure that Hermes facilitates access to the other gods, households placed small figurines representing Hermes, called herms, throughout the house and grounds. As communicator, messenger, and jester to the gods, Hermes shares characteristics with gods of other traditions. The Hellenistic Greeks and Romans associated Hermes most closely with Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom, magic, music, medicine, surveying, drawing, and writing. Hermes, too, loved music; to apologize to Apollo for stealing his prized heifers, Hermes created the lyre as a present for the god. Hermes also closely resembles the trickster gods of West Africa, the Eshus, and the animal deities of Native American peoples.
Thoth’s association with drawing and writing corresponds with Hermes’s role as a bringer of language. Some myths claimed that Hermes invented the alphabet. Both gods function as arbitrators in disputes between the gods or between the deities and humankind. Thoth works in the underworld as well, acting as the recorder of divine judgments on the souls of the deceased. Besides clerking, Thoth sometimes weighs the souls of the dead himself (a job usually performed by Anubis) in a giant scale that is counterbalanced by a feather of Truth from the goddess Maat, sister to Queen isis. If the soul, heavy from sin and degradation, sinks lower than the feather, it is immediately fed to a slathering monster named Ammit, who waits impatiently under the scales.
Hermes and Thoth together comprise aspects of the legendary Hermes Trismegistus, or “thrice-greatest Hermes,” the greatest of all philosophers, kings, and priests.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. 2d ed. New York: Facts On File Inc., 1999.
- “Thoth: Egyptian Moon God.” Available online at https:// osiris.colorado.edu/LAB/GODS/throth.html. Downloaded August 18, 2004.