Read an Excerpt
The Inner Planets
Building Blocks of Personal Reality
By LIZ GREENE, Howard Sasportas
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 1993 Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas
All rights reserved.
Tricksters, Thieves, and Magicians
THE MANY FACES OF MERCURY IN MYTHOLOGY
By Howard Sasportas
Back in the late 60s and early 70s I studied astrology in Boston with Isabel Hickey. She taught me something which has always stayed in my mind: if a person or situation is bothering you, try changing your attitude toward it. By doing this, she said one of two things will follow. Either the problem will alter in such a way that it no longer bothers you or feels like a problem, or it will just go away and disappear entirely. So if a person is getting on your nerves, maybe you have to try changing your attitude toward that person, holding them in a more positive light or new perspective. According to Isabel, the person will then change in such a way that he or she doesn't aggravate you as much; or, in some cases, the person will vanish from the scene so that you no longer have to deal with the culprit. The rule is that if you alter your attitude, you alter the whole situation. Such is the power of the mind, the power of the mental plane. As the Rosicrucians are fond of saying, "Thoughts have wings."
Over the years, I've followed Isabel's advice on numerous occasions, and I was amazed to see how frequently it works. You should try it yourself with something in your life which is bothering you. But I do have one condition, one stipulation to add. I'm not sure if it is always appropriate to try too quickly to get rid of things that are worrying or upsetting you. This smacks of running away from a situation that could offer you valuable lessons or insights; it might be more useful to your psychological growth and development if you first took the time to explore why a person or situation is "pushing your buttons" or triggering off your complexes. So rather than immediately trying to do away with the source of your irritation, you ought to go inside and ask yourself questions such as, "Why am I reacting in this manner? Does the person represent a facet of my nature which I find loathesome or embarrassing, and therefore I'm irked to see him or her behaving in that way?" These questions help you to probe into what Jung would call your shadow; by honestly examining your reactions to a problematic person or situation, you can learn a great deal about repressed or denied aspects of your nature which need to be brought into the light of consciousness and worked on. In this sense, the person or circumstances which are bothering you have something important to teach you.
To alter your attitude too quickly as a ploy to rid yourself of the problem could be seen as a psychological cop-out. Nevertheless, I still believe there are times it is right and useful to apply Isabel's suggestions, but try fulfilling the previously mentioned condition first. Later in the day, we'll do an exercise which involves taking something which is a problem for you and seeing if it can be altered or alchemised by a change of attitude. In the meantime you can be thinking about which of your problems you want to use for this exercise. If you can't come up with any, I'd be very happy to lend you one of mine to work on. In fact, I'm such a nice guy that you don't even have to give it back to me. You'd be more than welcome to keep it for yourself.
One of my problems is where to begin with Mercury. This planet has so many faces and manifestations, it's hard to know where to start. For the first part of the morning, we'll be discussing the myths associated with the Greek Hermes, which serve to illustrate and amplify how the Mercurial principle manifests astrologically and psychologically. Since I'm most familiar with the Greek myths, I'll be focussing on Hermes, although equivalent archetypes show up in many different cultures. Besides the Roman Mercury, we have Thoth in Egypt, who was known as the Lord of Holy Words. A Mercurial, Hermes-like figure is found in Nordic mythology in the guise of Loki. Coyote is the North American trickster equivalent to Hermes, and the Eskimos called him Raven.
Hermes has a bewildering number of roles in Greek mythology: he is the thief, the magician, the craftsman, the messenger of the gods, the god of boundaries, commerce, merchants, words and language to name a few. In order to better understand these epithets, I'd like to tell you a few stories about what Hermes got up to in his life, elaborating on these in terms of the psychological and astrological principles they illustrate. As you know, Zeus had numerous extramarital affairs, and one of these was with the wood nymph Maia. He used to sneak off and visit her while Hera was sleeping. In fact, Zeus's affair with Maia was the only one of which the jealous Hera was unaware — otherwise she would have caused trouble and used one of her tricks to break it up. The fruit of this clandestine romance was Hermes, so you can say that he was born of deceit, trickery and cunning on the part of Zeus. We have learned something already: astrologically (and this is one of the less pleasant faces of Mercury), wherever Mercury is in the chart is where we might be deceitful and prone to trickery or cunning, where we may slightly bend the truth to suit ourselves.
Hermes' birthplace was a cave at Mount Cyllene in the region of Arcadia. As soon as he was born, he immediately felt bored and restless. According to the Homeric hymn, Hermes was anxious to find something to do besides just idly lying around in his cradle wrapped in tight swaddling clothes. Again, this fits well with our astrological understanding of Mercury, especially its association with the sign of Gemini. Wherever Mercury shows up in the chart is where we are prone to restlessness, where we need variety, change and room to move. The god Hermes was only one day old, but he went off in search of adventure: not knowing precisely where he was heading or what was going to happen, he just set off and took things as they came. Mercury can thus be associated with the unexpected, with coincidence and synchronicity or with events which seem accidental but may later have meaning or prove to serve a greater purpose. This is especially true if you are under a Uranus transit to your Mercury: it can mark a phase when books fall off the shelf with just the information you need, or you turn on the television and there is a show you didn't know was on which is about something you are currently involved in or about which you have been curious. Even the fast-moving transit of Mercury over your Ascendant or Venus can give you the kind of day when you are out buying groceries and you run into someone you didn't expect to see, and the two of you pop into the coffee shop for a chat — these kinds of diversions or unexpected encounters are hallmarks of Mercury.
Anyway, Hermes followed his impulse to get out of his cradle, went to the front door of his home, and unexpectedly encountered a tortoise. Admiring its beautiful shell, Hermes said to the tortoise, "You are very nice as you are, but I can think of better things to do with you than just look at you." Already he was displaying his inventiveness, his need to get his hands into something. Mercury's house position in a chart indicates the area of life where we are meant to be inventive, playful and willing to try new things rather than just being satisfied with the status quo of that domain. I've used the phrase "meant to be" on purpose. I agree with Dane Rudhyar's theory that the house placements of planets and signs in your chart are actually "celestial instructions" on how you can most naturally unfold your life-plan in that domain of existence. To put it another way, the placements of your planets by sign and house indicate the most authentic way to fulfil your intrinsic potentialities, the most natural way to grow into what you are meant to become. So in order to realise your dharma (it is the dharma of a fly to buzz; it is the dharma of a lion to roar; it is the dharma of an artistic person to create), you are meant to be curious and inventive in the sphere of life associated with the house in which your Mercury is placed, and this also applies to the houses Mercury rules in your chart. It is an area of life where you are meant to keep an open mind, where you ought to be flexible and young at heart. Obviously this may vary somewhat if Mercury is in a fixed sign, for instance, or is obstructed in some way by Saturn — or if you were overly conditioned as a child to sit still, behave and be a nice, quiet good little boy or girl.
We left Hermes face-to-face with a tortoise. In a flash of inspiration, he killed the poor creature, chiselled out its shell, stretched oxhide around it, added a few strings and came up with the first lyre. He did this on impulse, not knowing that the musical instrument would prove itself very useful when he had to deal with Apollo later on. Here we can also detect Mercury as the craftsperson, someone who is ingenious, skilful or adept with his hands. This side of Mercury correlates with Gemini but perhaps even more so with Virgo. Mercury's house may show an area of life where we have natural craft, or where we can be quite crafty, to use the word in a slightly different sense. Hermes also exhibits a certain degree of ruthlessness in this episode — he doesn't think twice about killing the tortoise. I've met some people who are strongly mercurial who may behave quite nastily or unkindly, and yet they do it with such charm and finesse, you're almost prepared to overlook their misdemeanours.
Hermes played with the lyre for a short time, got bored, threw it in his cradle, and went in search of something else with which to occupy himself. He was feeling hungry when he happened upon a herd of cattle belonging to Apollo, his older brother. You probably know the story. Hermes decided to steal the cattle by leading them backwards away from the meadow in which they were grazing. In other words, their footprints pointed the other way from where they were being led. Then he designed and made special sandals for himself so that they covered his own footprints, leaving no trace behind. (Like some mercurial types I've met, you don't know whether they're coming or going. And very often they themselves aren't sure if they're coming or going!) After stealing the cattle, Hermes lit a fire by rubbing two sticks together — in fact, some sources say this is the first time fire had been made that way. He then chose two of the cows to cook, divided them into twelve portions, and used each portion to make a sacrifice to one of the Olympian gods ... including himself of course.
It's worth pausing a moment here to reflect on the significance of this last act. By making a separate sacrifice to each of the twelve gods, Hermes demonstrated that he was prepared to honour and partake of all of them, no matter how different one god may be from another. Likewise, the astrological Mercury symbolises a part of us which is able to identify almost at random with the varying principles represented by the other planets. So Mercury may partake of Saturn one day, extolling the virtues of discipline, patience and thrift, and then honour Jupiter the next by rushing enthusiastically into something new and untried, or by going berserk with the plastic on a shopping spree. If you are predominantly influenced by the planet Saturn, you'll mainly be like Saturn on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, etc. Even if you slip up over the weekend, let your hair down and act more like Venus or Neptune on Saturday night, Saturn will quickly take over again and remind you of its rules and regulations. If you're a Jupiterian by nature, you'll live out that archetype on one level or another throughout the week. But if you are strongly influenced by Mercury, your gift (and it may also be your curse) is your adaptability, a talent for mimicking the archetypal nature of the other planets. Mercury represents the archetype that can be any of the other archetypes. Mercury is Mercury and not Venus, Jupiter or Saturn, but he can take on the attributes of these or the other planets if it suits him to do so, and sometimes even when it isn't that appropriate. He is not any of them but he can temporarily be any of them. Mercury is a mimic, reminiscent of an impersonator on television who can "do" former President Reagan in one sketch and then be Michael Jackson or Sylvester Stallone in the following sketch. I wouldn't be surprised if famous impersonators have Mercury or Gemini prominent in their charts.
Besides displaying his allegiance to all twelve gods of Olympus, Hermes eventually managed to steal something from each of the other gods: Apollo's cattle is not his only theft. He absconded one day with Zeus's thunderbolts, he robbed Athene of her helmet for awhile, and he even borrowed Aphrodite's girdle without asking her. (I wonder what he did with that — a little bit of cross-dressing maybe? It wouldn't surprise me, since it suggests the hermaphroditic quality also part of his mythology, which I'll discuss later.) Stealing from each of the gods is another way of saying he possesses certain attributes of them all. But you can also see how this can be a curse, how strongly mercurial people can be all over the place, one way one day, another way the next. And you can also see how infuriating Mercury types can be to other people. You think you know where they're at, or where they're coming from, but just wait ...
When he had finished sacrificing the cattle and satisfying his hunger, Hermes meandered back home and, according to the Homeric hymn, he entered his house through the keyhole, "like a wisp of cloud"; he climbed back into his cradle, tucking the tortoise-shell lyre under his arm as if it were a toy and slept like an innocent baby. Turning himself into smoke was another one of his tricks. Anyway, what happened is that his mother came home and saw him sleeping there so innocently, but she was not fooled. She was wise to him, and let him know it: "Alas, when your father begot you, he begot a deal of trouble for mortal men and the immortal gods." That's what his own mother thought about him. By the way, if you have the karma to give birth to a child predominantly influenced by the Hermes archetype, you should accept him for what he is, but you also need to set some limits on him. Hermes needs a strong, guiding parent who can say "You're going too far this time, cool it." Similarly, in Mercury's house we may need to learn to discipline the mind or contain some of our thoughts and actions rather than acting these out indiscriminately. Mercury ultimately functions most positively if he has a set of guidelines to go by, or if he has moral or ethical standards to which he tries to adhere. After his mother accused him of being a big pain in the neck, Hermes was not short of a reply:
Why do you try to scare me as if I were nothing but a silly child? I shall follow the career that offers the best opportunities, for I must look after my own interests and yours. It is intolerable that we alone of the immortals should have to live in this dreary cave, receiving neither offerings nor prayers. Would it not be better to spend our days in ease and affluence like the rest of the gods? I am going to get the same status in cult as Apollo. If my father does not give it to me, I will become the prince of thieves. If Apollo hunts me down, I will go plunder his shrine at Delphi. There is plenty of gold there — just you see!
Hermes' aspiration to equal Apollo deserves further consideration. First, we can see this simply in terms of sibling rivalry. Apollo is Hermes' older brother, and one of the archetypes Hermes is associated with is that of the younger brother. Apollo was Zeus's favourite son, the golden-haired boy. Zeus respected Apollo's rationality, intellect and organisational ability. As well soon see, Zeus also liked Hermes, especially his cleverness, his capacity for wheeling and dealing, and the adept way he was able to wriggle himself out of tight corners. While we're on the subject, Zeus did not care for his son Ares at all. According to Homer, Zeus once told Ares that of all the gods on Olympus, he was the one he most detested. He actually accused Ares of having the same intolerable disposition as Hera; in other words, Zeus berated Ares for being too much like his mother. Ares was simply too crass, too bloodthirsty, too pushy and too emotional for the likes of Zeus. Zeus was ambivalent about Dionysus, another one of his sons. While he had himself provided a second womb for Dionysus and in that way was nurturing toward him, he found Dionysus a little too feminine to suit his taste.
Hermes' determination to equal Apollo also can be viewed from a political or social perspective. In Athens during the 5th century B.C., Apollo represented the aristocracy, while Hermes became the patron of the newly emerging merchant classes and the nouveau riche in general. Hermes symbolised their desire to gain as much respectability as the landed aristocracy. The conflict between the commercial classes and the upper-class gentry was projected onto the rivalry between Apollo and Hermes.
Excerpted from The Inner Planets by LIZ GREENE, Howard Sasportas. Copyright © 1993 Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.