This WWW is a little different. Instead of an essay, or a Tarot reading,
it features a poem, an invocation to the Greek God Hermes, the God of writers,
scientists, magicians, diviners — and swindlers, businessmen, and
thieves. I love Hermes. He’s playful, a trickster, outrageous. In
the Homeric Hymn To Hermes he leaves his cradle the day after his birth
and goes off to steal his brother Apollo’s cattle. After he’s
had a good time, he sneaks back home, gets in bed, and pulls his baby blanket
over him. When Apollo comes to him and furiously accuses Hermes of stealing
his cattle, Hermes looks at him wide-eyed and says “Me? Steal your
cattle? I don’t even know what cattle are. I’m just a little
baby.” We should probably remember here that Apollo, the Sun God,
is the God of reason, and rational self-knowledge. Hermes the Trickster
runs rings around him, and what does that say about all our earnest attempts
to discover our “true” nature?
If the story stopped there Hermes would become only a sort of charming
con artist, a kind of person probably everyone knows. But the same God
who can steal Apollo’s cattle also invents the lyre, the first musical
instrument. And then he gives it to Apollo, so that the God of light can
become the God of music.
And one more bit of information about Hermes. In a later version (from
the Hellenistic period) he became a somewhat more serious esoteric teacher
known as Hermes Trismegistus (“thrice-great”), also called
Thoth, the name of the Egyptian God of writing and magic. Still later,
in 1781, the occult philosopher Antoine Court de Gebelin declared that
the Tarot, seen then as simply a game, was in fact the concealed teaching
of none other than Hermes Trismegistus. The Tarot became known as The
Book of Thoth, a name it still carries sometimes today.
My own invocation to Hermes looks to his playful wild side, the God’s
untamed creativity and delight. I wrote it at Goddard College, after a
discussion with a writer named Jessamyn Smythe, whose play on Hermes actually
inspired fights in the audience. How many contemporary writers can claim
that sort of response? Hermes would be pleased.
I call my brother Hermes,
— August 2003
My snake thief music man.
I whistle him come to me,
Sliding up the evening
Dripping lies and magic.
Hermes the vampire,
Hermes the conman.
Offers field trips and cruises,
Guidebooks and theater passes,
For lackluster dead.
My razzle dazzle mambo boy,
My scoundrel secret agent,
Skin bags full of moly,
Sticks and shiny leather.
My scandal whisper gossip god,
My story serpent mojo man,